Folate Foods: A Practical Guide

Benefits of Vitamin B9 (folate) in your body

Folate (Vitamin B9) is vital for healthy growth and development and 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.  It is also essential in forming new red blood cells and replicating DNA.  

Folate and folic acid in pregnancy 

Folate is particularly important for pregnant women, as it plays an essential role in closing an embryo’s neural tube (i.e. the structure that eventually becomes your brain and spinal column).  

Inadequate folate status at the time of conception leads to congenital disabilities, including:

  • spina bifida (“split spine”) which can cause nerve damage and paralysis to the legs, or 
  • a commonly fatal condition known as anencephaly (“without a brain”).  

Inadequate folate deficiency can also cause diarrhea, mouth ulcers and anemia.  

Satiety response to folate in food in your 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 that contain more folate tend to eat up to 40% fewer calories than those who consume the least folate.  

As shown in our satiety analysis chart, the lowest satiety response corresponds to the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for folate!  It seems that more folate is better, at least when it comes from the food you eat.

The average intake of Optimisers is 0.56 mg per 2000 calories with the 85th percentile of 1.0 mg per 2000 calories compared to an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of 0.32 mg/day and the Recommended Daily Intake of 0.4 mg/day.  

Stretch target for folate 

Based on our satiety analysis, we have set a folate stretch target of 800 mcg per day for men and 640 mg for women from foods (not supplements).  

nutrient averageEAR DRIULstretch (men)stretch (women)
folate (B9) (mcg)6003204001000800640

Folate vs folic acid supplements 

Vitamin B9 is called ‘folate’ when it occurs naturally in food and ‘folic acid’ when it comes in a supplemental form which is used pills or to fortify foods.  As you will see below, this distinction is important!    

Folate fortification and availability 

In 1998 it became mandatory to enrich grain products with folic acid in an attempt to congenital disabilities.  

The chart below shows clearly the increase in vitamin B9 in the food system when folate fortification became mandatory (data from USDA Economic Research Service).  With fortification, typically available processed foods now provide enough folate to meet the DRI.  However, you will need to go out of your way to obtain more optimal folate intake levels from whole food.  

Bioavailability of folate vs folic acid

Folic acid (from supplements) is 100% bioavailable when taken without food.  If taken with food, folic acid it is 85% bioavailable.  Meanwhile, naturally occurring folate in food is only 50% bioavailable.  

The dark side of folic acid 

While there are no adverse effects associated with the consumption of folate in the diet, an upper limit of 1.0 mg per day has been set for synthetic supplemental folic acid.  

Synthetic folic acid lacks a methyl group which is required for it to be metabolised.  

According to Dr Ben Lynch, only 0.2 mg of folate can be methylated per day (see video below).  Any excess above this builds up in our system as unmetabolised 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, it is crucial to get as much of your folate as possible from food and limit folic acid supplementation.  More supplemental folic acid is not better, especially in the context of a diet that contains limited intakes of B12 (e.g. strict vegans).  

Popular foods that contain folate  

Animal 

  • liver 
  • egg yolk

Seafood 

  • shrimp
  • caviar
  • oyster
  • cod

Plants 

  • lettuce
  • asparagus  
  • parsley
  • endive
  • chives
  • kimchi  
  • kale 
  • broccoli  
  • cauliflower 
  • alfalfa sprouts
  • zucchini
  • cabbage
  • sauerkraut
  • green beans

Processing losses 

Vitamin B9 is unstable in the presence of heat, acid and light.  We lose 20 to 75% of the folate in our food in storage and around 65% in cooking.   

Hence, consuming fresh food is critical to obtaining adequate amounts of folate.  

Synergistic nutrients 

Vitamin B9 works synergistically with vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, biotin, copper, iron, magnesium, methionine, serine and zinc.  

Nutrient profile 

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 and fibre. People following a carnivorous diet without organ meats tend to find it difficult to obtain adequate levels of folate, and there have been reports of poor folate status in people following a carnivorous diet.  

Nutritious meals to boost your folate

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low folate or are concerned that your current folate intake is low, then you may be interested in our lists of folate-rich foods and meals. 

What you will get:

  • Our Nutritional Optimisation Kickstart Guide.
  • A list of the most popular 50 foods that contain more folate.
  • A list of 100 popular foods that contain folate, 
  • An even longer list of 150 common foods that contain more folate to allow you to expand your nutrient-dense repertoire further, and 
Marty Kendall
 

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