The relationship between folate and folic acid can be confusing because the terms are used interchangeably. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate found in most supplements and fortified foods. When the body encounters folic acid it needs to convert it to folate in order to make use of the vitamin.
Folate on the other hand is found naturally in food. Most common in fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Oddly enough one study found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that folate from food is less bioavailable than a folic acid supplement.
However it really depends on what type of supplement you take. You see many people have a condition called MTHFR that prohibits the conversion of folic acid into folate in the body. For those with that condition there is very little absorption of folic acid from fortified foods and supplements with folic acid.
There is good news though, the active form of folic acid called l-methylfolate or methylfolate can be absorbed by the body much more successfully even for those with the MTHFR gene mutation.
This methylated folic acid is found in many supplements on the market, you just have to be aware of the difference between methyl folate and the synthetic folic acid.
If you eat a healthy diet rich in folate foods there shouldn’t be a need to supplement with folate. On the other hand pregnant women or those who think they might become pregnant should probably take additional folate. Folate is especially important for the development of the fetus. It has been found to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects by as much as 70%.
What are the Most Nutrient Dense Folate Foods?
If you are looking to up the amount of folate you get from foods choosing the following foods will get you to your daily intake allowance pretty quickly. The current recommendation for adults is 400 micrograms per day. For those that are pregnant or trying to become pregnant the number goes up to 600 mcg per day. After the baby is born and you are breastfeeding the amount drops a bit to 500mcg a day.
According to the National Institutes of Health these are the top ten sources of folate in food.
Beef Liver: 54% of the Daily value comes from only 3oz of beef liver which is 215 mcg.
Spinach: The top vegetable at 131 mcg is spinach from 1/2 cup of cooked spinach.
Black-Eyed Peas: Not the lively group of musicians but the amazing legume 1/2 cup of black-eyed peas will give you 26% of your daily folate or 105 mcg.
Fortified Rice: While not really a natural source of folate 1/2 cup rice fortified with folic acid will give you 90 mcg of folate.
Asparagus: Grill up some of these delicious sprouts and enjoy 89 micrograms of folate from 4 spears of asparagus.
Enriched Spaghetti: Again kinda cheating here NIH as this is fortified with synthetic folic acid but 1/2 cup will technically get you 83 mcg of folate.
Brussels Sprouts: Love em or hate em the ol childhood nightmare brussels sprouts will net you 78 micrograms from 1/2 cup. (side note I just found out it isn’t spelled brussel sprouts!)
Romain Lettuce: Another leafy green good old romaine comes in at number 8 – 1 cup gives you 64 mcg.
Avocado: The millennial favorite (and mine too) a 1/2 cup of avocado gives you 59 micrograms of folate.
Broccoli: 1/2 cup of the “tree vegetable will rack up 52 micrograms of folate per serving.
No matter your food pickiness level there is sure to be something folate rich that you love enough to get your daily allowance of folate. But if you aren’t much of a vegetable eater and the liver is a no go there are plenty of great mentholated folate supplements to choose from.
Below you’ll find a cute video that goes over why folate is the smart choice when pregnant.