Are you getting enough folate?

June 30, 2015

Find out what the benefits of folate are and how you can add more into your diet.

Are you getting enough folate?

What is folate?

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin also called folic acid (the synthetic form of folate). It was first identified in the 1940s when it was extracted from spinach. Getting enough of this B vitamin could prevent 50,000 deaths a year from cardiovascular disease. It could also reduce by nearly half the number of babies born with common birth defects such as spina bifida and possibly prevent many cancers. Because the body can't store it very long, you need to replenish your supply daily. Today, many cereals and other grain products are fortified with this nutrient, making fortified cereals one of the best dietary sources.

Conditions it fights

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anemia
  • Birth defects
  • Certain forms of cancer
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Memory problems
  • Stroke

Folate diminishes some effects of alcohol

If you like to drink alcohol, even moderately, make sure you load your plate with plenty of foods that supply folate. It protects cells from the potentially carcinogenic effects of alcohol. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of breast cancer if you drink more than one drink a day. If you decide to drink this much, you should consider taking a daily supplement containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.

Taking folate during pregnancy

Folate performs countless vital tasks in the body. Adequate folic acid at conception and for the first three months of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of serious birth defects, including spina bifida.

This B vitamin also appears to regulate the body's production and use of homocysteine, an amino acid-like substance that, at high levels, may damage the lining of blood vessels and impair brain function, making folate an important weapon against heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.

Getting adequate folate food can not only decrease the risk of dementia but also help with everyday memory. In addition, folate may be useful in warding off certain cancers, including those of the lungs, cervix, colon, and rectum.

Tips for incorporating folate into your diet

  • Low levels of folate can interfere with antidepressant medications, delaying symptom relief. People with depression may want to take 400 micrograms a day as part of a vitamin B-complex supplement.
  • Women who might become pregnant are often advised to take 400 to 800 micrograms a day.
  • Folic acid supplements may mask a type of anemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin B12 levels before you begin taking supplements and/or take 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B12 to prevent a B12 deficiency.

Foods that contain folate

  • Whole grain cereal
  • White rice, long-grain, enriched
  • Turkey giblets
  • Lentils
  • Pinto beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Spinach
  • Soybeans
  • Broccoli
  • Collard greens
  • Papaya
  • Orange juice, from concentrate
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