Folate, also commonly known as folic acid or vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient. It supports the synthesis of DNA and RNA, cell growth and division, as well as blood formation. Folate is also important for immune system function, maintaining neurological health, and supporting reproductive health. In older individuals, folic acid can reduce the risk of cognitive impairments and cardiovascular diseases. Particularly in pregnant women, folate plays a crucial role in preventing birth defects in newborns.
In this article, we will focus on foods rich in folate and folic acid and how to incorporate them into your diet effectively. You can find the respective vitamin B9 contents in the folate and folic acid table above.
What is the difference between folic acid and folate?
The main difference between the two is that folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods, while folate is the natural form of folic acid found in various natural foods. Folic acid needs to be converted into folate in the body before it can be utilized by the body.
Who needs more folate or folic acid?
Groups that may have an increased requirement for folate or folic acid include:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as they require additional folic acid to support fetal development and milk production.
- Children and adolescents need folate to support their growth and development.
- Older adults may have reduced nutrient absorption, which may require higher levels of folic acid.
- People with digestive issues such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease may have an increased need for folic acid due to difficulties in nutrient absorption.
- Individuals with folate-deficiency anemia, particularly those needing support for red blood cell production, require additional folic acid.
- Around 10-15% of the population have genetic variations, such as the C677T variant in the MTHFR genotype, which can impair their ability to process and utilize folic acid in the body. People with this genetic variant may have an increased risk of folic acid deficiency and related health issues.
- Alcoholism can lead to poor absorption of vitamin B9, so consuming more folic acid-rich foods is recommended.
- Some medications like methotrexate can interfere with folic acid absorption. Individuals taking such medications may have a higher need for folic acid.
- Stress can increase the demand for folic acid as the body requires it to alleviate stress.
Foods Rich in Folate and Folic Acid
Plant-based foods are an important source of folate. The following list shows folate-rich foods by food group:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, arugula, lamb's lettuce, and Swiss chard are rich in folate. These vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them an excellent choice for a balanced diet. Vegetables high in fiber like broccoli, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and celery are also rich in folate. Use this table if you want to learn about folate in vegetables or folic acid in vegetable products.
- Legumes such as peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and peas are excellent sources of folate. These foods are also rich in fiber and proteins, which contribute to maintaining a healthy digestion and supporting muscle growth. You can find more legumes with folate here.
- Nuts, seeds, and kernels such as almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds are also rich in folate. They are also a good source of healthy fats, plant-based proteins, and fiber, which can help increase satiety and regulate blood sugar levels. This table shows other nuts, seeds, and kernels that contain folate.
- Fruits are a good source of folate. In particular, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, as well as berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, have higher concentrations according to the table. These foods are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can support the immune system. You can find the table of folate in fruits or folic acid in corresponding products here.
- Grains and grain products also contain folate. Whole grain products like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole wheat flour, and wheat germ are good sources of vitamin B9 in this case. Note that the folate in grain products can be partially lost through processing, such as grinding grains into flour. Therefore, prefer whole grain products and avoid refined products.
- Mushrooms like button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and chanterelle mushrooms are also very rich in folate. You can find the folate content for mushrooms here.
- Herbs and spices with folate include paprika powder, parsley, chives, coriander, cumin, basil, and thyme. They contain a significant amount of folate.
- Some juices like passion fruit juice, orange juice, and plum juice contain moderate amounts of folate. You can view the table for folate and folic acid beverages here.
In addition, the following vegan foods are often fortified with folic acid:
- Plant-based milk alternatives
- Fruit juices
- Breakfast cereals
- Energy and protein bars
Heat Resistance and Water Solubility
When food is heated to temperatures up to 100°C, there are only minor losses since folate is not extremely heat-sensitive. It is only gradually degraded at higher temperatures and longer cooking times. The degradation rate increases with longer cooking durations. However, at extremely high temperatures, folate and folic acid can be completely destroyed. Therefore, it is recommended to use gentle cooking methods to limit the loss of folate.
Folate is water-soluble, which means it can be dissolved in water and easily leached into liquids during cooking or food processing, resulting in its loss.
What does a folate-rich diet look like?
To incorporate enough folate into your diet, there is a variety of plant-based and vegan vitamin B9 foods that you can include as follows:
- Green smoothie: Blend spinach, banana, pineapple, and almond milk.
- Kale smoothie: Blend kale, pineapple, banana, lime juice, and coconut water.
- Lentil soup: Cook lentils, carrots, celery, onions, and spices in vegetable broth until everything is soft.
- Avocado toast: Toast whole grain bread, spread avocado on top, and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
- Veggie burger: Mix cooked chickpeas, carrots, onions, and spices, and form patties. Fry them in a pan.
- Swiss chard quinoa salad: Cook quinoa. Add walnuts, blanched Swiss chard, chopped herbs, and a dressing made of lemon juice, olive oil, and agave nectar.
- Tomato pasta: Cook pasta and a tomato sauce with chopped tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Add fresh basil.
- Bean salad: Combine beans, corn, bell peppers, onions, and cilantro with lime juice and olive oil.
- Zucchini noodles: Use a spiralizer to cut zucchini into noodle shapes. Sauté them with tomato sauce, olive oil, and garlic.
- Carrot ginger soup: Cook carrots, ginger, and vegetable broth. Blend everything until smooth. Season the soup with pepper and fresh herbs.
- Spinach cashew cream: Blend spinach, cashews, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor.
- Peanut noodles: Cook noodles and prepare a sauce with peanut butter, soy sauce, and Sriracha. Add sautéed green vegetables like spinach or kale on top.