Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Blog by request: folate

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Lacking in blogspiration, I went back through my inbox and realised that I had a few topic suggestions that I’d never written about. While this isn’t my usually ranting hopefully it will be useful information to some!

So… folate/folic acid, what is it?

Folate refers to the generic name for the vitamin as well as the various forms found naturally in foods. Folic acid is the form of the vitamin found in supplements and fortified foods. Naturally occurring folate usually has additional glutamate molecules attached that can reduce absorption as they need to be removed before the folic acid can be absorbed in the intestine.

What does folic acid do?

The main reason that the government introduced mandatory fortification of white flour with folic acid is due to the role it plays in preventing neural tube defects in infants. While prenatal vitamins contain folic acid many women don’t begin taking them until after they learn that they’re pregnant. This is often too late to promote proper neural tube development. However, as bread and other refined grains are widely consumed, the government decided to have it added to most refined grain products.

Folic acid plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair as well as in the formation of neurotransmitters. It’s also involved in amino acid metabolism and blood pressure normalization.

How much folate do I need?

The RDA (recommended Dietary Allowance) for adults is 400 mcg a day. However, about 10% of the North American population has a defect in folate metabolism and may need up to twice the RDA to compensate. The RDA is based on the amount of folate needed to maintain normal blood concentrations as well as to prevent neural tube defects during fetal development.

Where do I get folate?

As mentioned above, most refined grain products and flours are fortified with folic acid. This includes breakfast cereals and dried pasta. Foods naturally containing folate include dark leafy greens (e.g. asparagus, spinach, romain lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale), lentils, peas (black-eyed peas, chickpeas), beans, turnips, beets, orange juice, sunflower seeds, avocado, edamame, okra, artichoke, potatoes, papaya, marmite and vegemite, and everyone’s faves: fried liver and brewer’s yeast.

This list, while extensive, may not include all food sources of folate. You can search for food items using the USDA Nutrient Database to find out how much folate they contain. Yes, Canada has a similar database but I’m not confident it’s entirely up to date and I find it  little bit more frustrating to use.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

Folate deficiency can result from low intake, inadequate absorption (often due to alcoholism), increased need (often due to pregnancy), poor utilization (often due to vitamin B12 deficiency), excessive excretion (often due to long-standing diarrhea), and the use of certain chemotherapy medications.

One of the first signs of folate deficiency is a form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. It may also result in persistent diarrhea and decreased immune function.

If insufficient folate is consumed or absorbed during the first 28 days of pregnancy there is an increased risk of the infant experiencing neural tube defects (i.e. spina bifida or anencephaly).

Can I get too much folate?

The upper level for synthetic folic acid is set at 1000 mcg due to its ability to mask B12 deficiency when consumed in high doses. There is no upper level given for folate naturally occurring in foods as absorption is limited.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

0 thoughts on “Blog by request: folate

  1. Pingback: The harm in fad diets | bite my words

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