Folate (Vitamin B9) is a little vitamin with mega versatility!
What Does Vitamin B9 Do for Your Body?
- Folate regulates fetal 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 anemia.
- 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.
- The metabolism of homocysteine depends on folate, and the health of the cardiovascular system thus depends on vitamin B9.
- 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.
- What Does Vitamin B9 Do for Your Body?
- What Food Contains High Folate?
- Folate Rich Recipes
- How can I Increase My Folate Intake?
- Folate and Folic Acid in Pregnancy
- Signs and Symptoms of Folate Deficiency
- Risks for Folate Deficiency
- Satiety Response to Folate in Food
- Multivariate Satiety Analysis
- Folate Fortification and Availability
- Does Supplemental Folate Provide Greater Satiety?
- Optimal Folate (Vitamin B9) Intake
- Bioavailability of Folate vs Folic Acid
- MTHFR, Folate, Folic Acid, and Folinic Acid Supplements
- What Is the Best Source of Vitamin B9?
- The Dark Side of Folic Acid
- Processing Losses
- Synergistic Nutrients
- Nutrient Profile of High-Folate Foods
- How Can I Calculate My Folate Intake?
- Nutrient Density Index
What Food Contains High Folate?
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. Some popular food sources of folate are listed below.
- egg yolk
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.
- alfalfa sprouts
- green beans
Plant foods rich in vitamin B9 tend to be leafy greens, beans and legumes. Optimal folate levels are therefore easy to achieve with a nutrient-dense, omnivorous diet.
Folate Rich Recipes
Some examples of our NutriBooster recipes rich in folate include:
- Sue’s salad
- chicken liver & mushroom pate
- cauliflower & spinach soup (pictured below)
- bacon-wrapped chicken livers
- mashed cauliflower
How can I Increase My Folate Intake?
To increase your folate intake without supplements, you should focus on consuming either a plant or animal source of folate-rich protein every day. Pairing it with one or two different folate-rich vegetables or avocado is an easy way to hit your ONI of folate while making headway towards other nutrient goals.
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 conversion of synthetic folate found in fortified foods,
- consuming a nutrient-poor diet,
- excessive alcohol intake,
- taking medications like methotrexate, Dilantin, or Bactrim.
As shown in the chart below, our satiety analysis indicates that foods with more folate tend to be more satiating. People who consume foods that contain more folate tend to eat up to 33% fewer calories than those who consume 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 when from eating whole and nutrient-dense foods.
The average intake of Optimisers is 560 micrograms (0.56 mg) per 2000 calories with the 85th percentile of 1.0 mg per 2000 calories. In comparison, the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) is 320 mcg/day, and the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 400 mcg/day.
Multivariate Satiety Analysis
The multivariate analysis of Optimiser data shows that folate has a statistically significant impact on energy intake when considered alongside other micronutrients. Furthermore, moving from foods that contain low to high folate aligns with a 1.5% reduction in calorie intake.
Folate Fortification and Availability
In 1998, it became mandatory to enrich grain products with folic acid in an attempt to decrease congenital disabilities.
The chart below shows a clear increase 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.
Does Supplemental Folate Provide Greater Satiety?
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 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.
For this reason, in our Micros Masterclass, we guide people to review their intake of supplements and fortified foods to ensure they are not excessive.
Optimal Folate (Vitamin B9) Intake
|folate (B9) (mcg)||1000||800|
Absorption rates of folic acid (from supplements) is 100% bioavailable when taken without food. 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 methyltetrahydrofolate 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 where it can lead to one or several health problems.
Folinic acid and methyl folate are the other forms of folate that are on the market. These are both bioavailable sources to the body that are well-utilised. Folinic acid is typically recommended if someone responds poorly to methyl folate.
So, what’s the best form of folate?
What Is the Best Source of Vitamin B9?
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 be providing 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. Isolated folate supplements in the context of a poor nutrient diet are unlikely to be as effective.
The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows that we can obtain plenty of folate from a nutrient-dense diet. A diet with more folate tends to have more carbohydrates, fibre, and other nutrients. People following a carnivorous diet without organ meats tend to find it challenging to obtain adequate folate levels, and there have been reports of poor folate status in people following a strictly carnivorous diet.
If you’re interested in checking if you’re getting enough (but not too much) folate in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
Level Up Your Nutrient Density
To help you level up your nutrient density, we’ve prepared a Nutritional Optimisation Starter Pack to ensure you are getting plenty of all the essential nutrients, including folate, from the food you eat every day.
The free starter pack includes:
- Maximum Nutrient Density Food List
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Recipe Book
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Meal Plan.
To get started today, all you have to do is join our new Optimising Nutrition Group here.
Once you join, you will find the Nutritional Optimisation starter pack in the discovery section here.
Nutrient Density Index
- 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