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Folic Acid

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FOLATE

Folate: What is it?

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements and added to fortified foods.

Folate gets its name from the Latin word "folium" for leaf. A key observation of researcher Lucy Wills nearly 70 years ago led to the identification of folate as the nutrient needed to prevent the anemia of pregnancy. Dr. Wills demonstrated that the anemia could be corrected by a yeast extract. Folate was identified as the corrective substance in yeast extract in the late 1930s, and was extracted from spinach leaves in 1941.

Folate helps produce and maintain new cells. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as infancy and pregnancy. Folate is needed to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia. Folate is also essential for the metabolism of homocysteine, and helps maintain normal levels of this amino acid.

What foods provide folate ?

Leafy green vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), fruits (like citrus fruits and juices), and dried beans and peas are all natural sources of folate .

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published regulations requiring the addition of folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products. Since cereals and grains are widely consumed in the U.S., these products have become a very important contributor of folic acid to the American diet. The following table suggests a variety of dietary sources of folate.

Table 1: Selected Food Sources of Folate and Folic Acid
FoodMicrograms% DV^
*Breakfast cereals fortified with 100% of the DV, 1 cup 400 100
Beef liver, cooked, braised, 3 ounces 185 45
Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature, cooked, boiled, 1 cup 105 25
*Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV, 1 cup 100 25
Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled, 1 cup 100 25
Great Northern beans, boiled, 1 cup 90 20
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears 85 20
*Rice, white, long-grain, parboiled, enriched, cooked, 1 cup 65 15
Vegetarian baked beans, canned, 1 cup 60 15
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 60 15
Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1 cup 50 15
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 50 15
*Egg noodles, cooked, enriched, 1 cup 50 15
Broccoli, raw, 2 spears (each 5 inches long) 45 10
Avocado, raw, all varieties, sliced, 1 cup sliced 45 10
Peanuts, all types, dry roasted, 1 ounce 40 10
Lettuce, Romaine, shredded, 1 cup 40 10
Wheat germ, crude, 2 Tablespoons 40 10
Tomato Juice, canned, 6 ounces 35 10
Orange juice, chilled, includes concentrate, 1 cup 35 10
Turnip greens, frozen, cooked, boiled, 1 cup 30 8
Orange, all commercial varieties, fresh, 1 small 30 8
*Bread, white, 1 slice 25 6
*Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 25 6
Egg, whole, raw, fresh, 1 large 25 6
Cantaloupe, raw, 1 medium 25 6
Papaya, raw, 1 cup cubes 25 6
Banana, raw, 1 medium 20 6


* Items marked with an asterisk (*) are fortified with folic acid as part of the Folate Fortification Program.

^ DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for folate is 400 micrograms. Most food labels do not list a food's magnesium content. The percent DV (%DV) listed on the table indicates the percentage of the DV provided in one serving. A food providing 5% of the DV or less is a low source while a food that provides 10-19% of the DV is a good source. A food that provides 20% or more of the DV is high in that nutrient. It is important to remember that foods that provide lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet. For foods not listed in this table, please refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database Web site: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl.

What are the Dietary Reference Intakes for folate ?


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