Folate is a crucial nutrient that plays many important roles in the body.
Folate is especially important during pregnancy and for the development of the nervous system, but it is also necessary for many other bodily functions.
This article will help you find foods and recipes that contain the most folate (B9) using the tools and charts used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.
- Folate (B9) Food Chart
- Folate Rich Foods (Per Serving)
- Folate Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
- Folate Rich Recipes
- Why is Folate (B9) Important?
- What Does Vitamin B9 Do for Your Body?
- Folate and Folic Acid in Pregnancy
- Signs and Symptoms of Folate Deficiency
- Risks for Folate Deficiency
- Satiety Response to Folate in Food
- Folate Fortification and Availability
- Bioavailability of Folate vs Folic Acid
- MTHFR, Folate, Folic Acid, and Folinic Acid Supplements
- The Dark Side of Folic Acid
- Processing Losses
- Synergistic Nutrients
- How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Folate (B9)?
- Nutrient Density Starter Pack
- Nutrient Series
Folate (B9) Food Chart
The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of folate (B9) (per calorie) vs folate (B9) (per serve). Foods towards the right will provide more folate (B9) per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more folate (B9) in the serving sizes we typically eat them.
For more detail, you can dive into the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer), check out the food lists of popular foods below or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.
Folate Rich Foods (Per Serving)
Folate can be sourced plentifully from both plant and animal foods, so it’s easy to obtain enough from a nutritious, omnivorous diet. Food forms of folate are arguably the best forms as they’re the most bioactive and readily available.
Vitamin B9 foods from animal sources are most concentrated in organ meats and seafood. For this reason, they are also an excellent source of other vitamins and minerals and can help you achieve other nutrient goals.
The popular foods listed below will give you more folate (B9) in the typical serving sizes we consume them in.
- brussels sprouts
- white bread
- bok choy
- green peas
Folate Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
Foods highest in folate (B9) per calorie tend to be green veggies like the ones listed below.
- bok choy
- chicken liver
- coriander leaf
- red bell peppers
Folate Rich Recipes
The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of folate (B9) vs protein %. Recipes towards the right will help you boost your folate (B9) with fewer calories.
To dive into the detail, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer). Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe.
A selection of NutriBooster recipes that contain the most folate (B9) is shown below.
Why is Folate (B9) Important?
- Cell growth and development: Folate is necessary for the growth and development of cells, particularly during pregnancy when the body is rapidly producing new cells for the developing foetus.
- DNA synthesis: Folate is involved in synthesising DNA, the genetic material that makes up our cells. Without enough folate, cells may be unable to produce DNA properly, leading to genetic mutations and other problems.
- Red blood cell production: Folate is essential for producing red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Without enough folate, red blood cells may not be able to form properly, which can lead to anaemia.
- Neural tube development: Folate is critical for the development of the neural tube in foetuses, which eventually becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Adequate folate intake during pregnancy can help to prevent neural tube defects, which can cause serious disabilities or even be fatal.
- Heart health: Studies have suggested that adequate folate intake may help to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage blood vessels.
What Does Vitamin B9 Do for Your Body?
Folate (Vitamin B9) is a little vitamin with mega versatility!
- Folate regulates foetal development and is crucial for spinal cord development. As a result, a deficiency is one of the leading causes of spina bifida.
- Red blood cells require folate to be synthesised, and deficiency is the leading cause of megaloblastic anaemia.
- Folate is a core player in methylation or a process responsible for neurotransmitter synthesis, detoxification, and production of essential substances.
- Because of its role in methylation, folate is needed to balance hormones.
- Folate is necessary for cognition, and adequate amounts have been shown to assist in the prevention of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- The human body needs folate. Without adequate folate, your cells cannot divide.
- Folate works synergistically with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to enable your body to break down, use, and make new proteins.
- Folate is also essential in forming and replicating DNA and RNA.
Folate and Folic Acid in Pregnancy
Folate is critical for pregnant women as it plays an essential role in closing an embryo’s neural tube, or the structure that eventually becomes your brain and spinal cord.
Inadequate folate levels at the time of conception and throughout development can lead to any or all of the following congenital disabilities, including:
- spina bifida (“split spine”), which can cause nerve damage and paralysis to the legs,
- a commonly fatal condition known as anencephaly (“without a brain”),
- low birth weight. And
- premature delivery.
While folate is vital to get enough of during pregnancy, too much can come with adverse health conditions. Studies have shown that pregnant women consuming excess folate with levels achievable from supplementation are at a higher risk of their child(ren) developing diabetes, obesity, autism, and certain cancers.
Signs and Symptoms of Folate Deficiency
Aside from congenital disabilities, folate deficiency also has rather profound detriments to health. Symptoms of low or inadequate folate levels can look like:
- mouth ulcers,
- extreme fatigue,
- low energy,
- a sore or red tongue (glossitis),
- disturbed vision,
- muscle weakness,
- histamine problems,
- growth problems,
- pale skin,
- shortness of breath,
- cognitive problems,
- and anemia (megaloblastic).
Risks for Folate Deficiency
Various pre-existing health conditions can predispose someone to folate deficiency, including:
- Celiac disease,
- inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD),
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
- other GI conditions affecting absorption,
- certain types of cancers,
- severe kidney problems requiring dialysis,
- genetic factors affecting the conversion of synthetic folate found in fortified foods,
- consuming a nutrient-poor diet,
- excessive alcohol intake,
- taking medications like methotrexate, Dilantin, or Bactrim.
Satiety Response to Folate in Food
As shown in the chart below, our satiety analysis indicates that foods with more folate tend to be more satiating. People who consume foods containing more folate tend to eat up to 26% fewer calories than those with less folate.
Our analysis chart shows that the lowest satiety response corresponds to the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for folate! It seems that more folate per calorie is better, at least from eating whole and nutrient-dense foods.
The median intake of Optimisers is 440 mcg/2000 calories, with the 85th percentile of 1000 mcg/ 2000 calories. In comparison, the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) is 320 mcg/day, and the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 400 mcg/day.
Folate Fortification and Availability
In 1998, it became mandatory to enrich grain products with folic acid to decrease congenital disabilities.
The chart below shows a jump in vitamin B9 in the food system when folate fortification became mandatory (data from USDA Economic Research Service).
With fortification, readily available processed foods now provide enough folic acid to meet the DRI for folate. However, you will need to go out of your way to obtain more optimal folate intake levels from whole food.
While folate from whole foods tends to have a strong satiety response, it does not appear that high levels of supplemental folate or folic acid from food fortification provide greater satiety. Instead, very high folate intakes align with a higher calorie intake.
Because we have a strong appetite for folate in foods, consuming foods fortified with folate, like breakfast cereals and white flour products that are otherwise nutrient-poor and minimally satiating, can lead to overconsumption of these foods, and a loss of appetite for foods naturally containing folate.
Bioavailability of Folate vs Folic Acid
Folic acid (from supplements) is 100% bioavailable when taken without food. However, if taken with food, folic acid is 85% bioavailable. Meanwhile, naturally occurring folate in food is only 50% bioavailable. While this study measures the uptake of folic acid and folate, it does nothing to analyse the utilisation of folic acid vs folate or the ability of the body to put these different forms to use.
MTHFR, Folate, Folic Acid, and Folinic Acid Supplements
Vitamin B9 is called ‘folate’ when it occurs naturally in food and ‘folic acid’ when it comes in a supplemental form as pills or to fortify foods. As you will see below, this distinction is important!
Folate in its folic acid form is considered to be the least bioavailable. Folic acid is often the form of folate that is used in fortification. Here, it requires the addition of a methyl group to be converted into folate. This requires the adequate activity of the enzyme methyl tetrahydrofolate reductase, or ‘MTHFR’ for short. It is estimated that around 30-40% of the population may have a genetic mutation affecting how well this enzyme works.
According to Dr Ben Lynch, only 0.2 mg of folate can be methylated per day (see video). Any excess above this builds up in our system as un-metabolised folic acid, which can lead to one or several health problems.
Folinic acid and methyl folate are the other forms of folate on the market. These are both bioavailable sources to the body that is well-utilised. Folinic acid is typically recommended if someone responds poorly to methyl folate.
To avoid all of the complications, confusion, and headaches over which folate form is the best, simply focus on nutrient-dense, folate-rich whole foods! This is the most bioavailable form of folate for everyone.
The Dark Side of Folic Acid
While there are no adverse effects associated with folate consumption in the diet, an upper limit of 1.0 mg per day has been set for synthetic supplemental folic acid.
High supplemental intake of B9 has been associated with adverse neurological effects in people with a B12 deficiency, as the supplements can precipitate and exacerbate the deficiency.
Hence, getting as much of your folate as possible from food is crucial and limiting folic acid supplementation. More supplemental folic acid is not better, especially for someone consuming limited intakes of B12, like a strict vegan.
If you are already meeting the DRI for folate (400 mg/day), you should ideally eliminate any supplements or fortified foods that may provide excessive folate.
Like most B vitamins, vitamin B9 is unstable in the presence of heat, acid, and light. As a result, we lose 20 to 75% of the folate during food in storage and around 65% when cooking. Hence, consuming fresh food is critical to obtaining adequate amounts of folate.
Vitamin B9 works synergistically with vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, biotin, copper, iron, magnesium, methionine, serine, and zinc.
For this reason, we recommend consuming folate from food where a complete nutrient profile is available. Conversely, isolated folate supplements in the context of a poor nutrient diet are unlikely to be as effective.
How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Folate (B9)?
If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting the right amount of folate (B9) in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium.
Nutrient Density Starter Pack
We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible. So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including folate (B9), when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:
- Food Lists – optimised for each essential nutrient, goals, preferences and conditions.
- The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World – see what a week of nutrient-dense eating looks like.
- Recipes – check out samples of each of our NutriBosoter recipe books.
- 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge – identify your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that contain them.
- Biotin (B7)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1
- Vitamin K2