folate in fortified cereal The B vitamin folate, also called folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are stored in the body in very limited amounts and are excreted through the urine. Therefore, it is a good idea to have them in your daily diet. Folate is considered a crucial vitamin before and during pregnancy. Research has shown that folate deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to neural tube birth defects in babies.


Folate's functions include:

  • Helping amino acid metabolism and conversion
  • Producing and maintaining new cells
  • Making DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells
  • Preventing changes to DNA that may lead to cancer
  • Making red blood cells, preventing anemia
  • Assisting in the creation of neurotransmitters (chemicals that regulate sleep, pain, and mood)
  • Recommended Intake:

    Age Group (in Years)Recommended Dietary Allowance
    1 - 3150 mcg150 mcg
    4 - 8200 mcg200 mcg
    9 - 13300 mcg300 mcg
    14 - 18400 mcg400 mcg
    Pregnancy, 14 - 18600 mcgn/a
    Lactation, 14 - 18500 mcgn/a
    19+400 mcg400 mcg
    Pregnancy, 19+600 mcgn/a
    Lactation, 19+500 mcgn/a


    Folate Deficiency

    Folate deficiency is a common vitamin deficiency. It can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Need is increased, as with pregnancy
  • Dietary intake is lacking
  • Body is excreting more than usual
  • Medications interfering with the body's ability to use folate include:     
  • Anti-convulsant mediations
  • Metformin
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Triamterene
  • Methotrexate
  • Barbituates
  • Signs or symptoms of folate deficiency include:

  • Megaloblastic anemia
  • Irritability, hostility
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Apathy, forgetfulness
  • Anorexia, loss of appetite
  • Sore tongue, glossitis (inflammation of tongue)
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Paranoid behavior
  • Diarrhea
  • Too Much Folate

    Large doses of folate can cause symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency to appear. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in older adults. Although folate supplementation will alleviate the anemia caused by the B12 deficiency, the nervous system damage caused by the B12 deficiency will continue. This is why it is important that you talk to your doctor before you take a folate supplement. It may be necessary for you to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate.

    There is no upper limit for ingesting folate found naturally in foods. However, there are tolerable upper intake levels for folate consumed from fortified foods and supplements:

    AgeMicrograms (mcg) per day
    1-3 years300 mcg
    4-8 years400 mcg
    9-13 years600 mcg
    14-18 years800 mcg
    Pregnant or nursing women up to 18 years800 mcg
    19 years and older1,000 mcg
    Pregnant or nursing women 19 years and older1,000 mcg

    Major Food Sources

    There is a variety of foods that contain folate. Some foods, like cereal, rice, and flour, are fortified with folate. Here is a list of major food sources and their folate content.

    FoodServing Size Folate Content
    Chicken liver, simmered3.5 ounces770
    Fortified breakfast cereal3/4 cup 100-400
    (check Nutrition Facts label)
    Soy flour1 cup260
    Beef liver, braised3 ounces215
    Chickpeas, cooked1 cup282
    Pinto beans, cooked1 cup291
    Spinach, boiled1 cup263
    Lima beans, cooked1 cup156
    Papaya1 medium112
    Avocado1 ounce25
    Wheat germ, toasted1/4 cup100
    Asparagus, boiled1 cup243
    Orange juice, fresh8 fluid ounces74
    Spinach, raw1 cup58
    Whole wheat flour1 cup53
    Green peas, boiled1/2 cup50
    White rice, long-grain1/2 cup45
    Orange, navel1 medium44
    Peanuts, dry roasted1 ounce41
    Wheat flour, whole grain1 cup53
    Broccoli, boiled1 spear40
    Tomatoes, sun-dried1 cup32
    Tomato juice, canned1 cup49
    Peanut butter, crunchy2 tablespoons30
    Banana1 cup30
    Cashews, dry roasted1 ounce20
    Bread, whole wheat1 slice14

    Health Implications

    Populations at Risk of Folate Deficiency

    The following populations may be at risk of folate deficiency and may require a supplement:

  • Pregnant women—Folate is critical for the production and maintenance of new cells. This is especially important during pregnancy—a period of rapid cell division.
  • People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol—Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and increases excretion by the kidneys. In addition, many alcoholics tend to have diets low in essential nutrients, like folate.
  • People on certain medications—Certain medications can interfere with the body's ability to use folate. Check with your doctor about supplementation if you are on medication that may affect your folate levels.
  • People with inflammatory bowel diseases—Malabsorption of folate can occur with inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • The elderly—Many elderly have low blood levels of folate, which can occur from low intake of the vitamin or problems with absorption.
  • Birth Defects

    In 1991, a landmark study found a relationship between folate and birth defects. Subsequent research has supported the finding that adequate folate intake during the period before and just after conception protects against a number of neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly.

    The crucial period is before and very early after conception—a time when most women do not know they are pregnant. Therefore, the recommendation is that all women of childbearing age make sure they have a folate intake of at least 400 mcg.

    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.