Although they share many similarities, there are some major differences between folic acid and folate. Both are different forms of the vitamin B9, and both contribute to preventing birth irregularities and producing healthy red blood cells.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding folic acid and folate, in this article we will explain the differences between the two.
What is Vitamin B9?
First, let’s begin by explaining what vitamin B9 is. Vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient that naturally occurs as folate. Vitamin B9 serves many important functions within the body, such as in cell growth and in the formation of DNA.
Having insufficient or low levels of vitamin B9 are associated with many different health conditions, which include:
High levels of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Birth defects. In pregnant women, low folate levels have been linked to birth defects, such as neural tube defects.
Cancer risk. Low or poor levels of folate have also been related to an increase in cancer risk.
This is why supplementing with vitamin B9 is common. Plus, fortifying foods with this nutrient is mandatory in most countries, including Canada and the United States.
What is Folate?
Folate is known as the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. It comes from the Latin word “folium” which means leaf. As a matter of fact, some of the highest sources of folate include dark, leafy vegetables. The active form of vitamin B9 is known as levomefolic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). When you consume foods with naturally occurring folate, it is converted into 5-MTHF before it enters into your bloodstream.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, and it can also be known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid. Folic acid is used in supplements and it is added to fortify certain processed foods like flour and cereals.
Unlike the naturally occurring folate, folic acid is not converted into the active form in the digestive system. Instead, it will need to be converted in your liver or other tissues. This process can be slow or ineffective in certain people. After supplementing with folic acid, it will take time for your body to convert it into 5-MTHF.
Even small doses may not be metabolized until the next dose is taken. This can pose risks and challenges, since unmetabolized folic acid can be detected in people’s bloodstreams. High levels of unmetabolized folic acid is associated with many health issues.
However, studies suggest that taking folic acid supplements with other B vitamins, in particular vitamin B6, can help make the conversion quicker and more efficient.
Sources of Folate and Folic Acid
Some manufacturers choose to fortify their food products with folic acid, rather than folate. This is due to the fact that folate is lost during the cooking process where heat and light breaks it down. Therefore, folic acid is the more stable option. Below, you will find some sources of folate and folic acid.
Sources of Folate
The recommended daily intake of folate is 400 mcg per day for an average adult, and 600 mcg per day for a pregnant woman. Folate naturally occurs in a variety of foods and some contain higher levels than others. The foods with the highest folate levels include:
Fortified breakfast cereals
In addition, dark, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, eggs, dairy products, poultry, and grains all contain folate. Consuming a diet that is varied with several different sources of folate will help you maintain a balance of key nutrients.
Meat and dairy products can be good sources of folate, but they are also high in unhealthy fats. Stick to lean meat and lower-fat dairy products, or try getting protein and folate from nuts and beans.
Sources of Folic Acid
Folic acid can be found in a high range of different fortified foods, as well as in a supplement form. Some sources of folic acid include:
Fortified pasta, rice, and corn flour
Fortified breakfast cereals
Folic acid supplements typically contain 400 to 1000 mcg of folic acid. In the United States, the average person will consume 140 mcg of folic acid per day from fortified foods.
Our bodies need folate to function normally and many children and adults get enough folic acid through their diet. You should ideally choose a wide variety of foods to get the most healthy range of nutrients. Women who are in the early stages of pregnancy or who are planning to get pregnant should take a folic acid supplement to help prevent birth defects.
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