Folate and Your Health

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
December 2016

What is folate?

Folate is a B vitamin found naturally in foods.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a form of folate. You can find it in vitamin supplements and fortified foods. Fortified foods, also called enriched foods, are foods that have had specific nutrients added to them.

Why is folate important for my health?

Everyone needs some folate in their bodies. Folate helps make red and white blood cells. If you do not get enough folate, you could get a blood condition called anemia (an-ee-me-yah). People who have anemia feel tired or weak and have trouble focusing or concentrating.

Folate is also needed for growth, especially in developing babies. Folate helps prevent some birth defects, such as defects of the brain and spinal cord. Brain or spinal cord defects are called neural tube defects (NTDs). For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #38c Pregnancy and Nutrition: Folate and Preventing Neural Tube Defects.

How much folate do I need each day?

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Folate (Daily)
Age (years) Men Women
0 to 6 months 65 mcg 65 mcg
7 to 12 months 80 mcg 80 mcg
1 to 3 150 mcg 150 mcg
4 to 8 200 mcg 200 mcg
9 to 13 300 mcg 300 mcg
14 and older 400 mcg 400 mcg

mcg = micrograms

Adults need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate each day. 400 micrograms (mcg) = 0.4 milligrams (mg). You can usually get enough folate every day by choosing foods that are good sources of folate. If you are not sure you are getting enough folate from food, you can take a multivitamin each day.

Do some people need more folate?

Yes. Women who could become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding need more folate.

All women who could become pregnant need to eat foods that are high in folate and take a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid every day.

Pregnant women need at least 600 mcg of folate each day from foods and supplements. The brain and spine of the unborn baby form in the first 4 weeks of the pregnancy (the first or second week after the first missed period). Taking a folic acid supplement each day helps reduce the chance of a neural tube defect in their developing child.

Breastfeeding women need at least 500 mcg of folate each day from food and supplements.

It is recommended to not take more than 1000 mcg (1 mg) of folate from foods and supplements each day unless your health care provider has told you to take more. Too much folic acid can cause other health problems.

Which foods are good sources of folate?

Good sources of folate include:

  • peas, beans, and lentils (cooked, not canned);
  • dark green leafy vegetables;
  • other vegetables and fruits; and
  • enriched grain products.

For more nutrition information, call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered dietitian.

Food Sources of Folate

Food Portion Folate (mcg) Notes
(see below)
Asparagus, cooked 6 spears 134  
Avocado 1/2 fruit 81  
Beets, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 72  
Black beans, navy beans or dark red kidney beans, cooked 175 mL or 3/4 c 183 1
Bok Choy, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 37  
Broccoli, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 89  
Broccoli, raw or cauliflower, raw or cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 30  
Brussels sprouts, cooked 4 sprouts 50  
Cold breakfast cereals 30 g 21-36 3
Cranberry beans, lentils, or black eyed peas, cooked 175 mL or 3/4 c 267 1
Eggs, cooked 2 large eggs 54  
Gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) or parsnips, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 47  
Green peas, frozen, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 50  
Hazelnuts or cashews 60 mL or 1/4 c 25  
Liver, beef, cooked 75 g or 2 1/2 oz 193 2
Liver, chicken, cooked 75 g or 2 1/2 oz 420 2
Liver, pork, cooked 75 g or 2 1/2 oz 122 2
Orange juice, fresh 125 mL or 1/2 c 39  
Orange juice, from frozen concentrate 125 mL or 1/2 c 25  
Orange 1 medium 39  
Papaya 1/2 fruit 56  
Pasta, enriched, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 62 3
Peanut butter, natural 30 mL or 2 Tbsp 46  
Peanuts, roasted 60 mL or 1/4 c 36  
Romaine lettuce, raw 250 mL or 1 c 80  
Pinto beans or garbanzo beans (chickpeas), cooked 175 mL or 3/4 c 214 1
Soybeans, cooked 175 mL or 3/4 c 69 1
Soybeans, green/edamame, cooked and shelled 125 mL or 1/2 c 106  
Spinach, cooked 125 mL or 1/2 c 139  
Spinach, raw 250 mL or 1 c 61  
Split peas or home-prepared baked beans, cooked 175 mL or 3/4 c 92 1
Sunflower seed kernels, dried 60 mL or 1/4 c 81  
Tomato juice or vegetable juice cocktail, canned 125 mL or 1/2 c 27  
Wheat germ, toasted 30 mL or 2 Tbsp 50  
White beans, canned 175 mL or 3/4 c 181 1
White bread 35 g or 1 slice 39 3

c = cup, g = gram, mcg = micrograms, mL = millilitre, oz = ounce,
Tbsp = tablespoon

1 Canned beans usually have less folate than cooked beans.

2 Liver and liver products (e.g. liverwurst spread and liver sausages) are very high in vitamin A. Too much vitamin A may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester. The safest choice is to limit these foods during pregnancy. If you choose to eat liver or liver products, have no more than 75g (2 ½ ounces) per week.

3 The amount of folic acid in enriched foods varies. Check the label for accurate information. If the amount is given as a percentage of the daily value (DV), the standard used is 220 mcg. For example, if a serving of cereal has 17% of the daily value, it has 37 mcg of folic acid (0.17 x 220 mcg = 37 mcg).

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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