What's the difference between Folate and Folic Acid?

Folate vs Folic Acid: What’s the difference and why care?

Folate is an essential B vitamin needed for tissue growth and happy, healthy cells.

Just like kids build with those brightly colored blocks to make countless creations, your body uses folate to build and repair DNA, create red blood cells and keep your body merrily humming along.

Folate’s role in methylation

Folate plays a starring role in methylation–a crucial biochemical process for many of the body’s functions including turning on and off genes.

What does this mean for you and your family?

A lack of proper methylation may contribute to headaches, allergies, focus issues, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety from perfectionistic tendencies and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. [note]”Is Undermethylation Keeping You Down? What You Can Do – Jill ….” 5 Jul. 2018,
https://www.jillcarnahan.com/2018/07/05/is-undermethylation-keeping-you-down-what-you-can-do/. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

While folate is just one factor of many that could contribute to less than ideal methylation, it plays an important role. If you’re wanting to dial in your or your kid’s health, then optimizing methylation is a good place to look, and folate is a good place to start.

How much folate do I need?

The recommended daily allowance of folate for adults is 400 mcg while that for pregnant and breastfeeding women is around 600 mcg a day according to the National Institute for Health (NIH). [note]”Folate — Consumer – Office of Dietary Supplements – NIH.” 20 Apr. 2016,
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/ Accessed 23 Oct. 2018.

What about kids? The NIH has specific recommendations based on ages that fall roughly in these categories: [note]”Folate — Health Professional Fact Sheet – Office of Dietary Supplements.” 4 Oct. 2018,
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 23 Oct. 2018.

  • Infants: 65-80 mcg
  • Ages 1-3: 150 mcg
  • Ages 4-8: 200 mcg
  • Ages 9-13: 300 mcg
  • Ages 14-19: 400 mcg

However, high intakes of folate from food sources have not been reported to cause adverse effects in the way the synthetic version can. Upper limits of folate are geared to the synthetic form–folic acid. [note]Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998

Not consuming enough folate can be bad news. Concerns over folate-deficiency have led to prenatal supplementation and US grain fortification in hopes of avoiding neural tube defects, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. [note]”Folate, folic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are not the same … – NCBI.” 4 Feb. 2014,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24494987. Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.

However, folic acid and folate are not the same. Plus, there are concerns that too much folic acid can be a bad thing. [note]Folic acid metabolism in human subjects revisited: potential … – NCBI.” 9 Jul. 2007,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617936/. Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.
[/note] [note]”Unmetabolized serum folic acid and its relation to folic … – NCBI – NIH.” 23 Jun. 2010,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20573790. Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.


What’s the difference between folate and folic acid?

Folate, also called B9, naturally occurs in whole foods, mainly plants. A water-soluble B vitamin, folate is present in organ meats, some fruits, and many vegetables. In fact, it’s those leafy greens from foliage that is reflected in folate’s name.

Folic acid is the manmade version of folate. Created in 1947, this synthetic form is found in cheap supplements and fortified grains. Folic acid has to be broken down in the liver and small intestines in order to be used by the body.

In 1998, the FDA mandated that all enriched wheat flour be fortified with folic acid. Since this enriched flour is the foundation that builds most processed foods, think of the aisles of the grocery store as a folic acid paradise.

Bread, flours, crackers, cookies, cakes, bagels, cornmeal, cake and brownie mixes, pizza crust, wheat tortillas, rice, and pasta contain folic acid if they are made with enriched wheat flour.

Folic Acid and MTHFR: Why think twice about folic acid? Folic acid can only be converted to the usable form of folate called L-methylfolate (5-MTHF) if specific enzymes are present.  

Sadly, more than half of all people have issues with these enzymes due to MTHFR genetic variants. The folic acid may start building up in their systems which can be problematic.

If you or your child have known MTHFR issues, then focus on the above naturally occurring foods full of B9, and consider working with a functional

medicine practitioner to help further dial in nutrition and to address any supplement questions.


Choosing Foods with Naturally-Occurring Folate

Check-out these folate super-stars to add to the family shopping cart:

  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine/Leafy Greens
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers
  • Okra
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Squashes
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Citrus
  • (Nuts, Seeds, Lentils, Peas, Beans, Quinoa*)


*Note: Only consume nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, beans, other legumes, and quinoa if you tolerate them. These foods can cause an inflammatory response in some individuals.

Action Steps:

1. Check the labels in your house. Can you find folic acid in any food ingredient lists or multivitamin labels?

2. Look at the folate food list. What food(s) are you and your family already consuming?

3. Pick one new folate-rich food for your family to try this week.

Are your favorite little humans getting enough folate? Discover Ten Hacks to Get More Folate in Your (Kid’s) diets without using supplements.

About Enlighten Functional Medicine

Known for her successful treatment of mystery illnesses, Dr. Emily Hecker and her team at Enlighten Functional Medicine combine an integrative, functional medicine approach with the appropriate lab testing.

Our unique approach to diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders recognizes that lasting health depends on resolution of the root causes of your disease. Click here to learn more »

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