Good Food Sources of Folate
Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B vitamin that is essential for good health. Specifically, it can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering the level of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood. The level of homocysteine in blood increases due to age, vitamin deficiencies, and some genetic abnormalities. At high levels, homocysteine can damage coronary arteries or make it easier for blood clotting cells to clump together and form a clot. This can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Taking supplemental folic acid and other B vitamins may help reduce the risk of heart attack and/or ischemic stroke by lowering homocysteine level. Although the relationship between elevated levels of homocysteine and risk for cardiovascular events have been noted in many studies, some vitamin trials failed to confirm that treatment with folic acid reduces the risk. Also, the exact and most optimal dose of folic acid supplementation is not known. For example, a recent trial (called VISP—Vitamins in Stroke Prevention) looked at the role of vitamins in prevention of stroke. More than 3600 patients participated in a trial that lasted for almost two years. Patients with a recent history of ischemic stroke and elevated levels of homocysteine were divided into two groups. One group received a low dose of folic acid, and the other group a high dose. The trial failed to show a difference in risk reduction between the groups.
Another extremely important role of folic acid is in preventing birth defects. Low blood levels of folate during pregnancy can cause neural tube defects—anencephaly and spina bifida. Because these defects occur in the first month of pregnancy, before a woman knows she is pregnant, it is important for any woman of childbearing age to get 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
Also, deficiency of folic acid can result in megaloblastic anemia. This is due to the role that folic acid plays in the DNA synthesis and red blood cell division. Without folic acid new red blood cells can’t divide and stay large and immature.
|Age group (in years)||Recommended Dietary Allowance|
|1 - 3||150 mcg||150 mcg|
|4 - 8||200 mcg||200 mcg|
|9 - 13||300 mcg||300 mcg|
|14 - 18||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|Pregnancy, ages 14-18||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, ages 14-18||500 mcg||n/a|
|19 - 50||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|Pregnancy, ages 19-50||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, ages 19-50||500 mcg||n/a|
|51 - 69||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|70 +||400 mcg||400 mcg|
Major Food Sources
|Food||Serving size||Folate content (mcg)|
|Chicken liver, simmered||3.5 oz||770|
|Fortified breakfast cereal||3/4 cup||100-400 (check Nutrition Facts label)|
|Soy flour||1 cup||260|
|Beef liver, braised||3.5 oz||217|
|Chickpeas, canned||1 cup||160|
|Pinto beans, canned||1 cup||144|
|Spinach, boiled||1/2 cup||131|
|Lima beans, canned||1 cup||121|
|Wheat germ, toasted||1/4 cup||102|
|Asparagus, boiled||4 spears||85|
|Orange juice, fresh||8 fl oz||75|
|Spinach, raw||1/2 cup||54|
|Whole wheat flour||1 cup||53|
|Green peas, boiled||1/2 cup||50|
|White rice, long-grain||1/2 cup||45|
|Orange, navel||1 medium||44|
|Peanuts, dry roasted||1 oz||41|
|Wheat flour||1 cup||40|
|Broccoli, boiled||1/2 cup||39|
|Tomatoes, sun-dried||1 cup||37|
|Tomato juice, canned||6 oz||35|
|Peanut butter, crunchy||2 T||29|
|Cashews, dry roasted||1 oz||20|
|Bread, whole wheat||1 slice||15|
Tips For Increasing Your Folate Intake
To help increase your intake of folate:
- Spread a little avocado on your sandwich in place of mayonnaise.
- Drink a glass of orange juice or tomato juice in the morning.
- Add spinach to your scrambled eggs.
- Slice a banana on top of your breakfast cereal.
- Sprinkle some toasted wheat germ on top of pasta or a stir-fry.
- Throw some chickpeas or kidney beans into a salad.
- If you take a vitamin supplement, make sure it contains folate.
American Dietetic Association
Food and Nutrition
US Department of Agriculture
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
The Nutrition Desk Reference . Keats Publishing; 1995.
Folic acid information. WIC Learning Center website. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Learning_Center/WICfood_folic.html . Accessed on: November 12, 2006.
Folic acid: Frequently asked questions. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs.htm . Accessed on: November 12, 2006.
Herrmann W. Significance of hyperhomocysteinemia. Clin Lab . 2006;52(review):367-374.
Hankey GJ. Is plasma homocysteine a modifiable risk factor for stroke? Nat Clin Pract Neurol. Jan 2006;2(review):26-33.
Toole J, Malinow R, Chambless L, et al. Lowering homocysteine in patients with ischemic stroke to prevent recurrent stroke, myocardial infarction, and death: the Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Prevention (VISP) randomized controlled trial. JAMA . Feb 4, 2004;291:565-75.
Last reviewed June 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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