Is there a difference between folic acid and folate?
Posted on May 23 2019
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin also known as vitamin B9. It’s one of the more confusing members of the B vitamin family, as it has a few different names. When it’s found naturally in food, the correct term is ‘folate’, whereas ‘folic acid’ is the version commonly found in supplements and fortified food. Both refer to vitamin B9, which is essential for our health. Whatever you call it, it’s key to staying healthy for a number of reasons.
Why is folate important?
Here’s the short answer:
- It supports healthy blood and bones in general.
- It prevents folate deficiency anemia.
- It plays a role in forming DNA.
- It’s essential for development of babies in the womb.
To go into a bit more detail, when levels of vitamin B9 are low, the body struggles to make red blood cells, which in turn can cause anemia.1 This can result in fatigue, lack of energy and depression if left untreated. Low levels of folate can also affect white blood cell division, so it’s essential for your immunity.2
Folic acid is also essential in the formation of DNA within every cell in our bodies, helping them to reproduce properly.3
Folic acid is often taken during pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects in the baby, such as spina bifida. It’s essential for the growth of the spinal cord in the womb, which is one of the first parts of the body to form.4
How do I get enough?
Folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, so you can up your intake by adding more of these into your diet. The problem is, folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin (dissolves easily in water), so it’s easily lost from vegetables during cooking. This can be reduced by making sure you’re not over-cooking your veg. To make sure you’re getting all the folate from your vegetables, you can steam or microwave them instead of boiling. Whatever way you choose to cook, these are some of the best sources you can pick from:
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Beans and legumes
- Liver, pork, chicken and shellfish (although liver should not be consumed during pregnancy).
It’s key to make sure you’re getting enough, particularly if your body changes. For example, your requirements increase during pregnancy. Whatever your circumstances, our bodies don’t store vitamin B9, so it’s important to consume it regularly. You should make sure you get enough folate every day to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.