Folic Acid: How Much You Need and How To Get it

Folic acid is one of those nutrients that you hear about occasionally, but most of us aren't very sure what it is or what it does. Folic acid is actually a man-made form of folate, which is found naturally in food.

Most adolescents and adults require an intake of 400 micrograms (mcgs) of folic acid each day. Breastfeeding women should get up to 500 mcgs, and pregnant women need up to 600 mcgs. But what is folic really all about? And how do you ensure you're getting enough?

Why We Need Folic Acid

Your body is made up of cells, as you probably know. Cells don't live forever. Cells can get damaged, grow old, or even die. Everywhere in your body, old cells need to be replaced by new cells. Folate is what helps your body do this.

It's particularly important in matters of fertility-- because it helps to form sperm cells or egg cells, and helps a baby's cells develop in utero. This is why one of the first things a fertility doctor or obstetrician will check is your folate levels.

One other function of folate is to help remove levels of the amino acid homocystein. Too much of a build-up of this amino acid can be toxic.

Foods Rich in Folic Acid

There is an easy little rhyme to help you remember the best foods to eat for your folate intake: beans and greens.

Virtually any kind of legume—lentil, kidney, navy, lima, black, garbanzo, etc.—contains a healthy dose of folate per serving. In addition, dark leafy greens like spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, collard and turnip greens also contain it. Likewise, folate is found in many seeds and nuts.

Your folate intake will be fine if you regularly eat your veggies. It's found in many popular vegetables, like asparagus, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, and squash.

Fruits that contain folate include papayas, strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, raspberries, and oranges. Breakfast can be another great source of folic acid, as many fortified breakfast cereals will provide you with a good portion of your daily dose.

Supplements

While many foods will provide you with folate, unfortunately, the body does not absorb it as readily as it normally absorbs folic acid. Many people – particularly pregnant and nursing women — will require supplements despite their best efforts to eat a nutritious diet. A quick blood test at the doctors should tell you if supplements are warranted. If so, remember that folic acid is like any other nutrient— more is not automatically better. Talk to your doctor about the best dose size to meet your needs.

Photo: Pexels

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