Folate Rich Foods: The Key to Vitality and Well-Being

Folate rich foods are essential for supporting overall health and well-being, particularly for cell growth and development.

Also known as vitamin B9, folate is crucial in DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, and preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy.

In this article, we will explore a variety of folate rich foods that can help you meet your daily nutritional needs.

From leafy green vegetables and legumes to fruits and fortified grains, incorporating these nutrient-dense options into your diet will ensure you reap the numerous benefits of folate.

High Folate Foods (Per Serving)

Folate can be sourced plentifully from plant and animal foods, so it’s easy to obtain enough from a nutritious, omnivorous diet.  Food forms of folate are arguably the best 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.

Once you’ve obtained the minimum amount of folate your body needs, you can focus on foods that deliver more folate per calorie to increase your satiety and nutrient density, like:

  • endive
  • lettuce
  • asparagus
  • spinach
  • arugula
  • chicken liver
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • beets
  • celery
  • cauliflower
  • zucchini

The infographic below shows popular foods that provide more folate per calorie.

high folate foods (per serving)

For more variety, check out our printable list of folate-rich foods per calorie.

Folate Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Once you’ve obtained the minimum amount of folate your body needs, you can focus on foods that deliver more folate per calorie to increase your satiety and nutrient density, like:

  • kidney beans
  • lentils
  • liver
  • black beans
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • lettuce
  • chickpeas
  • broccoli
  • cod liver oil
  • edamame
  • Brussels sprouts

The infographic below shows popular foods that provide more folate per calorie.

folate rich foods (per calorie)

For more variety, check out our printable list of folate-rich foods per calorie.

Folate (B9) Rich Food Chart

Curious to know how your favourite foods stack up in the folate game?  Dive into our dynamic chart showcasing popular foods, comparing folate content per calorie and serving.  For an immersive experience, explore the interactive Tableau version

Folate (B9) Rich Food Chart

How Much Folate Do You Need?

Our satiety analysis reveals that your body craves at least 380 mcg of folate per 2000 calories. However, achieving the Optimal Nutrient Intake of 1200 mcg per 2000 calories from foods aligns with an impressive 22% reduction in energy intake.   

satiety response to folate in foods

Folate Rich Recipes

Elevate your culinary game with our chart, showcasing over 1750 NutriBooster recipes used in our Micros Masterclass.  We’ve plotted these recipes based on folate content versus protein percentage.  The further right you go, the more folate you can enjoy with fewer calories.

Dive into the details with our interactive Tableau chart on your computer.  Click on each recipe to uncover the magic behind it and even feast your eyes on mouthwatering pictures!

Folate Rich Recipes

Why is Folate (B9) Important? 

  • Cell growth and development: Folate is necessary for cell growth and development, particularly during pregnancy when the body rapidly produces new cells for the developing foetus.
  • DNA synthesis: Folate synthesises 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. Red blood cells may not form properly without enough folate, leading to anaemia.
  • Neural tube development: Folate is critical for developing 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, a process responsible for neurotransmitter synthesis, detoxification, and the 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 vitamins B12 and 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 is essential 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:

  • diarrhea,
  • mouth ulcers,
  • extreme fatigue,
  • low energy,
  • a sore or red tongue (glossitis),
  • disturbed vision,
  • muscle weakness,
  • depression,
  • histamine problems,
  • growth problems,
  • pale skin,
  • shortness of breath,
  • irritability,
  • anxiety,
  • cognitive problems,
  • and anaemia (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.

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 the 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, folic acid is 85% bioavailable if taken with food.  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 is supplemental, such as pills or food fortification. As you will see below, this distinction is important!   

Folate, in its folic acid form, is considered 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 daily (see video).  Any excess above this builds up in our system as un-metabolised folic acid, leading 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 that are well-utilised in the body.  Folinic acid is typically recommended if someone responds poorly to methyl folate.

To avoid all the complications, confusion, and headaches over which folate form is the best, 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 and limiting folic acid supplementation is crucial.  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. 

Processing Losses

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 storage and around 65% when 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. 

For this reason, we recommend consuming folate from food with a complete nutrient profile. 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)? 

Curious about your folate intake?  Take our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge and discover if you’re hitting the folate sweet spot in your diet.

After just one week of tracking your daily meals with Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will unveil a personalised roadmap, your guide to a healthier, more nutrient-rich lifestyle. 

You’ll receive a curated list of foods and tantalising NutriBooster recipes that not only fill your folate gaps but also ensure you’re not missing out on critical nutrients.

Ready to unlock your nutrient potential?  Join the challenge and journey towards a brighter, healthier you!

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