The Importance of Folate in a Healthy Diet (2023)

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. It is essential for brain development, red blood cell production, amino acid metabolism, and DNA synthesis Obtaining sufficient folate through diet is important as our bodies cannot produce it on their own.

Food Sources of Folate

Folate can be found in a variety of foods, including vegetables (especially dark leafy greens like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach), fruits like avocado, legumes, grains, eggs, and some meats and seafood Additionally, certain foods, such as bread, flour, pasta, rice, and ready-to-eat cereals, are often fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.

Here are some examples of folate-rich foods and their folate content per serving:

  • Beef liver, braised (85 grams): 215 mcg
  • Lentils, cooked (1/2 cup): 181 mcg
  • Spinach, cooked (1/2 cup): 131 mcg
  • Fortified white rice, cooked (1/2 cup): 90 mcg
  • Brussels sprouts, frozen, cooked (1/2 cup): 78 mcg
  • Fortified pasta, cooked (1/2 cup): 74 mcg
  • Avocado, sliced (1/2 cup): 59 mcg
  • Broccoli, cooked, chopped (1/2 cup): 52 mcg
  • Fortified breakfast cereals (1/2 cup): 50 mcg
  • Fortified white bread (1 slice): 50 mcg
  • Frozen green peas, cooked (1/2 cup): 47 mcg
  • Blue crab, cooked (85 grams): 43 mcg
  • Dry roasted peanuts (28 grams): 27 mcg
  • Hard-boiled egg (1 large): 22 mcg.

The Role of Folate in Health

Folate plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow, working closely with vitamin B12. Inadequate folate levels can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by a lack of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body's tissues, resulting in fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Furthermore, sufficient folate intake is particularly important for women during pregnancy and lactation. It supports the rapid growth of the fetus and newborn baby. The recommended daily intake of folate for adults is 400 micrograms (mcg) However, pregnant women are advised to consume 600 mcg of folate per day, while lactating women should aim for 500 mcg per day.

Folate and Neural Tube Defects

One of the most well-known benefits of consuming adequate folate during pregnancy is its role in preventing neural tube defects (NTDs) in infants. NTDs are serious birth defects that affect the brain, spine, or spinal cord. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has mandated the fortification of certain grain products with folic acid since 1998 to help reduce the risk of NTDs in women of reproductive age.

Studies have shown that fortifying foods with folic acid has been effective in reducing the prevalence of NTDs. For example, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the prevalence of NTD-affected births decreased by 35% in the United States between 1999 and 2011.

Folate and Cardiovascular Health

While the primary focus of folate research has been on its role in preventing NTDs and supporting red blood cell production, some studies have suggested potential benefits of folate in relation to cardiovascular health. Elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Folic acid supplements have been shown to lower homocysteine levels, leading to investigations into whether folic acid supplementation can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, a systematic review conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2015 concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that folic acid supplementation for reducing homocysteine levels is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

On the other hand, more recent studies in 2012, 2017, and 2018 have shown that folic acid supplementation (or folic acid combined with other B-complex vitamins) is effective in reducing the risk of stroke, particularly in individuals with low folate levels.

Recommended Daily Intake of Folate

The recommended daily intake of folate varies depending on age and life stage. The following table provides the Dietary Reference Intakes for folate established by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine:

Age Group Recommended Daily Intake of Folate (mcg)
0-6 months 65
7-12 months 80
1-3 years 150
4-8 years 200
9-13 years 300
14+ years 400
During pregnancy 600
During lactation 500


Folate is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in brain development, red blood cell production, amino acid metabolism, and DNA synthesis. It can be obtained through a varied diet that includes folate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, eggs, and certain meats and seafood. Adequate folate intake is particularly important for women during pregnancy and lactation to support the growth and development of the fetus and newborn baby. Fortification of certain grain products with folic acid has been effective in reducing the prevalence of neural tube defects. While the potential cardiovascular benefits of folate supplementation are still being studied, maintaining a balanced diet that includes folate-rich foods is important for overall health and well-being.

Note: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized dietary recommendations.

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