People have always thought that folate and folic acid are one and the same. The fact is, folate (also known as vitamin B9), is naturally found in food, while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods.
Folate yields a lot of vital benefits to our body. For one, it helps make normal red blood cells, contributes in the production and maintenance of new cells, is necessary in making DNA and RNA, and is essential for the metabolism of homocysteine and maintaining normal levels of amino acids in the body.
The recommended amount of folate needed everyday is indicated as Dietary Folate Equivalent (DFE). The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is expressed as micrograms (ug) of DFE. One DFE is equal to 1ug folate and is also equal to 0.6ug folic acid. The RDA, meanwhile, for folate for adults is 400ug a day for both males and females, while pregnant women should consume at least 600ug per day.
Because of the nutrient’s importance to our health, it is not surprising that some food companies add folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flour, pasta, corn meals, rice, and even milk formula. These enriched foods are leading contributors of folic acid in the American diet.
Ever since folic acid has been incorporated in cereals and grains, many diseases have seen a dramatic decrease in North America, particularly birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. However, too much folate or folic acid may not be good as well, as it can delay the detection of vitamin B12 deficiency as well as increase the risk for certain types of cancers such as colorectal and prostate cancer.
There is a greater risk of having too much of the nutrient when eating enriched cereals and grains. Meanwhile, there is little risk of getting too much folate, which is found in foods like leafy green vegetables, natural orange juice, legumes, and lentils. So how do you know that you have too much folate or folic acid? The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends a limit of 1mg (or 1,000ug) everyday for folic acid and folate combined.
What you should bear in mind is that eating a balanced diet is still a great way to keep yourselves healthy.