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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.

Folate Facts

  • 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 Search on folic acid.

Think Combinations

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.


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