Focus on Folic Acid
Folic acid and folate are different terms for the same B vitamin.? Folate is the name of the vitamin as it is found naturally in foods.? Folic acid is the synthetic form found in vitamin supplements and added to fortified foods.
In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration required that folic acid join the ranks of thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin as the B vitamins that are added to fortified refined grain products.? This was in response to the U. S. Public Health Service?s recommendation that all women of childbearing age, whether planning to become pregnant or not, consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in infants.
Recent research suggests that folic acid may play a role in the prevention of heart disease.? Folic acid appears to work with vitamins B6 and B12 to remove homocysteine, an amino acid, from the body. Studies indicate than an accumulation of homocysteine may contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries.
Other research suggests that individuals with a high intake of folic acid may be less likely to get some forms of cancer.? The strongest evidence is linked to colon cancer.
Synthetic folic acid is about twice as absorbable as the folate occurring naturally in foods (Source: Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes). However, relying solely on supplements or fortified foods for folate means missing out on fiber and all the other valuable nutrients, such as iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin C, which occur naturally in folate-rich foods.? Plant foods are the very best sources of folate since little is found in animal products, except liver. Legumes, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are great natural sources of folate. Many of the fruits and vegetables mentioned below are now coming into season.
Excellent sources of folate:
Lentils cooked 1 cup 358 mcg
Black eyed peas 1 cup 358 mcg
Roasted soy nuts 1 cup 351 mcg
Pinto beans cooked 1 cup 294 mcg
Chickpeas 1 cup 294 mcg
Kidney beans 1 cup 229 mcg
Green soybeans cooked 1 cup 200 mcg
Pinto beans canned 1 cup 145 mcg
Spinach cooked 1/2 cup 131 mcg
Asparagus 6 spears 131 mcg
Split peas, kidney beans 1 cup 129 mcg
Avocado 1 cup 113 mcg
Orange juice from concentrate 8 ounces 109 mcg
Soybeans cooked 1 cup 92 mcg
Collards cooked? 1/2 cup 88 mcg
Peanuts 1/4 cup 87 mcg
Wheat germ 1/4 cup 80 mcg
Good sources of folate:
Romaine 1 cup 75 mcg
Fresh orange juice 1 cup 75 mcg
Cauliflower 1 cup 64 mcg
Broccoli? 1 cup 62 mcg
Artichoke 1 60 mcg
Canned pineapple juice 1 cup 57 mcg
Blackberries 51 mcg
Navel orange 1 47 mcg
Brussels Sprouts cooked 1/2 cup 46 mcg
Wheat bran 1 cup 45 mcg
Tofu firm 1/2 cup 41 mcg
Cabbage shredded 1 cup 40 mcg
Fortified breakfast cereals including Whole Grain Total?, Total Corn Flakes?, Total Raisin Bran?, Just Right with Crunchy Nuggets?, Product 19?, Multi-Grain Cheerios Plus?, and Smart Start?, contain 100% of the daily recommended amount (400 mcg) of folic acid while fortified grains contain 140 mcg of folic acid per 100 grams of grain product.
Source: USDA database, USA Dry Pea-Lentil Council, Manufacturer's data, Nutritionist V database, ESHA Food Processor Database.
- According to the FDA, 35% of Americans do not get enough folic acid in their diets.
- Folic acid can reduce the incidence of NTD by more than 50%.
- Labels may be confusing 400 mcg of folic acid is the same as .4 mg of folic acid.
- Taking more than 1 mg of folic acid daily is not recommended.
For more information, visit the web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov. Search on folic acid.
For the easiest way to 400 mcg of folate per day, combine the foods rich in this nutrient. Here are a few easy ideas:
Enriched pasta with 1/2 cup black eyed peas and 1/2 cup cooked spinach per person added to the pasta sauce (378 mcg folate)
Salad made with enriched pasta, 1/4 cup each: cantaloupe, blackberries, kiwi and an orange and sweet nonfat dressing? (153 mcg folate)
Spinach salad (2 cups) tossed with 1/2 cup lentils, your favorite veggies and dressing? (295 mcg folate)
Peanut butter sandwich with 1/2 cup each sliced strawberries and kiwi on enriched bread (119 mcg)
Smoothie made with 1 cup orange juice from concentrate, 1/2 cup strawberries and 2 Tbsp wheat germ? (161 mcg)
Fortified cereal topped with bananas and strawberries (125-425 mcg folate)
Chili made with 1 cup beans per serving (294 mcg folate)
Split pea soup topped with 1/2 cup each steamed broccoli and cauliflower (134 mcg folate)
Veggie snack platter made with chickpea hummus and 1/2 cup each broccoli and cauliflower (210 mcg folate)
Keep the Folate in Food
As much as fifty percent of folate may be destroyed during food processing, preparation, and storage. Canned pinto beans, for example, contain one half the folate of boiled pinto beans. For the best retention of folate, follow these guidelines:
- Do not cut vegetables into small pieces before cooking.
- Steam, boil, or simmer foods using a minimal amount of water.
- Do not overcook foods.
- Serve fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible.
- Store folate-containing foods in a cool place.
(Source: USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council)
By Beth Fontenot, MS, RD.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.