Folate is a B vitamin that is partially responsible for the production of DNA and other genetic material in the body.
Folate helps our tissues grow and plays a vital role in the formation of healthy red blood cells. It is also one of the most vital nutrients for the development of healthy babies in the womb.
What is Folate?
Folate (also called vitamin B-9) is a water-soluble B vitamin.
Folate is also essential in the formation of DNA and other genetic material. It is especially important in unborn babies as it helps develop their nervous system.
Folate, along with vitamin B12, is necessary to form red blood cells. These are the cells that carry oxygen around our bodies.
Deficiency of folate can cause a type of anaemia called ‘macrocytic’ anaemia.
As it is a water-soluble vitamin, it dissolves in water and isn’t stored in your fat cells. This means that you need to make sure you are getting enough folate, as your body cannot keep a reserve.
What is the difference between folate and folic acid?
Folate and folic acid are different terms for the same B-vitamin.
While the words are often used interchangeably, there are important differences.
The main difference between folate and folic acid is that folate is the form of the vitamin found naturally in our foods. Liver, spinach, asparagus and brussel sprouts among the foods with the naturally highest folate levels.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, meaning it is man-made. It is more bioavailable than naturally occurring food folates, which means the body absorbs it better than natural food folate.
Folic acid and neural tube defects
Folic acid is used in the fortification of foods, and in dietary supplements. In 1988, the US Food and Drug Administration required that folic acid be added to enriched grain products such as bread, pasta, rice and cereal, to help the public meet their daily recommended amount.
A folic acid deficiency can cause neural tube defects (NTDs) in the unborn child. NTDs are birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. A baby’s brain and spine are fully developed by week 4 of the pregnancy.
It’s so important for women who are sexually active and of childbearing age to take an additional daily supplement containing 400ug of folic acid. It is estimated that more than 50% of all NTDs could be prevented by taking a folic acid supplement
In sum: The major difference between folate and folic acid, is that folate is naturally occurring in our food chain in the form of liver, green leafy vegetables, and beans. Folic acid is the synthetic version found added to our foods such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
Written by Niamh Brosnan, RD. BSC | Edited by Gwen Murphy PhD, MPH