Folate and Folic Acid: What’s the Difference?

folicIf you are a reader of health news, as I am, you might have noticed that there are a plethora of articles out there talking about folate and folic acid. And, confusingly, these terms are often used interchangeably. But, is there a difference? Well, yes.

While both folate and folic acid are members of the vitamin B family, folate is the form found naturally in foods like fruits and green vegetables and folic acid is the synthetic form typically used in supplements.

Did you know that taking synthetic folic acid is not the same as getting natural folate from food? It’s true that folic acid is about twice as absorbable by the human body when compared to folate. But, since folic acid is recognized by the body to be “unnatural”, it must first be modified in order to be biologically active and usable by the body. Now, your body only has the ability to modify a small amount of folic acid to folate. The means that much of it circulates in your blood and tissues as unmodified folic acid.

It’s not exactly known what the effect of all of this unmodified folic acid does in the body, but, research has linked folic acid supplementation to cancer. Yikes! It would be one thing if supplementation was the only source of folic acid in the diet, but since 1998, the U.S. has required folic acid fortification of refined grained products. So, people who eat these types of products, like breakfast cereals and breads, have the potential to have a large amount of this unmodified folic acid circulating in their bodies. Natural folate from food, however, is different. It comes packaged with other micronutrients and the body regulates its absorption, so it’s impossible to get too much from food.

Getting folate from food is definitely the way to go. The U.S. FDA recommends 400 mcg a day for all of us except pregnant women who need 600 mcg daily. So, what do you need to eat to get your folate? Think green and beans, as they are some of the richest sources of this important nutrient. Some folate-rich goodies to consider are: asparagus, mustard greens, lentils, collards, broccoli, and black beans. Some fruits that are folate powerhouses are: papaya, blackberries, and oranges. If you include a wide variety of greens, beans, and fruits in your diet, you should have no trouble getting the folate your body needs.

To your good health!

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