Folate, a B vitamin, plays a critical role in many biological processes. It participates in the crucial biological process known as methylation and plays an important role in cell division: without sufficient amounts of folate, cells cannot divide properly. Adequate folate intake can reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent serious birth defects, and it may lessen the risk of developing certain forms of cancer.

Requirements

Folate requirements rise with age. The official US and Canadian recommendations for daily intake are as follows:

  • Infants
    • 0-6 months: 65 mcg
    • 7-12 months: 80 mcg
  • Children
    • 1-3 years: 150 mcg
    • 4-8 years: 200 mcg
  • Males
    • 9-13 years: 300 mcg
    • 14 years and older: 400 mcg
  • Females
    • 9-13 years: 300 mcg
    • 14 years and older: 400 mcg 
  • Pregnant women: 600 mcg
  • Nursing women: 500 mcg
Food Sources

The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements offers this list of foods that are high in folate:149

Food Serving size Folate content
(milligrams [mg])
% Daily Value
100% fortified breakfast cereal ¾ cup 400 mg 100
Beef liver, cooked, braised 3 ounces 215 54
Lentils, cooked ½ cup 179 45
Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled ½ cup 155 29
Enriched egg noodles, cooked ½ cup 110 28
25% fortified breakfast cereal ¾ cup 100 23
Great Northern beans, boiled ½ cup 90 23
Asparagus, boiled 4 spears 89 22
Enriched macaroni, cooked ½ cup 84 21
Enriched white, long-grain rice ½ cup 77 19
Avocado, raw ½ cup 59 15
Spinach, raw 1 cup 58 15
Papaya, raw 1 cup 52 13
Corn, canned ½ cup 52 13
Frozen broccoli, chopped ½ cup 51 13
Tomato juice, canned 1 cup 49 12
Green peas, frozen, boiled ½ cup 47 12
Orange juice 1 cup 47 12
Bread 1 slice 43 11
Peanuts, dry roasted 1 ounce 41 10
Folate Deficiency

Our bodies do not manufacture folate, so we must get it through the foods we eat.150Until recently, folate deficiency was fairly common in the developed world, causing thousands of children to be born with preventable birth defects.1-3However, in 1998, widespread fortification of cereal products began in the US. and Canada. As a result, the prevalence of folate deficiency has begun to decrease in these countries.114Deficiency appears to be most common today among individuals who are African-American, Hispanic, or of Asian/Pacific Islander race/ethnicity, as well as younger people and those who are overweight.134

Folate Absorption

Folate supplements are converted into levomefolic acid, the metabolically active form that the body can use. Some people cannot convert folate from supplements into levomefolic acid (also known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) while others can only covert a limited amount. People who have this deficiency may need to take 5-methyltetrahydrofolate instead of folate. All of the food content values and dosages in this article refer to folate.150-153

Various drugs may impair your body's ability to absorb or utilize folate, including antacids, bile acid sequestrants (such as cholestyramine and colestipol), H2blockers, methotrexate, oral medications used for diabetes, various antiseizure medications ( carbamazepine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, primidone, and valproate), sulfasalazine and possibly certain NSAID-type drugs, high-dose triamterene, nitrous oxide, and the antibiotic trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.4-30,120,130In addition, some of these drugs might put pregnant women at higher risk of giving birth to children with various kinds of birth defects; taking folate supplements may help reduce this risk.31Oral contraceptivesmay also affect folate slightly, but there doesn't appear to be a need for supplementation.32-34