What is folic acid? Why do I need to get enough of it?
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins used by your body. Folic acid is used to make red blood cells and important proteins like DNA. Getting enough folic acid is important during growth spurts and throughout life, regardless of age.
What are the benefits of folic acid?
Also known as Vitamin B9, it plays an important role in facilitating many body processes. Among them are cell maintenance and repair, synthesis of DNA, amino acid metabolism and formation of red and white blood cells.
The benefits of folic acid include inhibiting colon cancer as well as preventing heart disease, as outlined below.
In addition to high cholesterol levels, an equally important risk indicator of heart disease is increased homocysteine, an abnormal protein byproduct. One of the benefits of taking folic acid and other B Vitamins is that they help remove homocysteine from your blood. Too much homocysteine can cause serious artery damage.
What is the difference between folic acid and folate?
Folic acid and folate are different words for the same B vitamin. Folic acid is the man-made type of the B vitamin that is used in vitamin supplements and added to certain foods (called enriched or fortified foods). Folate is the natural type of the B vitamin and it is already a part of some foods. The biggest difference between folic acid and folate is that folic acid is used more easily by the body than folate. Because folic acid is easier for the body to use, , people usually talk more about this type of the B vitamin.
How much folic acid do I need? Where can I find it?
Folic acid is measured in micrograms (mcg). For women of childbearing age, the recommendation is 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Fortified breakfast cereals are the best food source of folic acid. Green leafy vegetables, some citrus fruits, and certain beans are rich sources of folate. Teens who don't eat many fruits or vegetables or those who skip meals may not get enough folic acid or folate. Many multivitamins have between 300 to 400 micrograms of folic acid, too. It won't hurt you to have more than the recommended amount.
How can I make sure I am getting enough folic acid?
Follow all of these steps:
1. Take a vitamin supplement with 300-400 mcg of folic acid daily like:
- Centrum Advanced Formula (R)
- One-A-Day Maximum Formula (R)
- One-A-Day Women's (R)
- Any pharmacy or generic brand with 400 mcg of folic acid
2. Eat one serving a day of a breakfast cereal fortified with 100% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid (check the label for the serving size) like:
- Cap'n Crunch
- Special K
3. Eat more foods naturally rich in folate (Vit. B):
- 1/2 cup canned black-eyed peas, 187 mcg
- 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, 164 mcg
- 1/2 cup canned black beans, 127 mcg
- 1 cup of orange juice, 109 mcg
- 1/2 cup fresh-cooked spinach, 97 mcg
4. Eat more foods fortified with folic acid (look for the words fortified or enriched on the label):
- Enriched Breads
- Enriched Pasta
- Enriched Rice
Remember, your best bet is to get folic acid from enriched foods and/or a daily vitamin supplement and to eat foods naturally rich in this very important B vitamin. It's never too early to get enough folic acid!
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/HealthyLiving