What is folic acid?

Folic Acid

Folic acid (folates)

Folic acid, one of the B vitamins, is important for the normal development of an unborn child (fetus). Folic acid and its closely related compounds, folates, are needed for the production of red and white blood cells and platelets, the formation of genetic material (DNA) in cells, and growth.

Only a small amount of folic acid is stored in the body. So to avoid a deficiency, you must get folic acid regularly from food or folic acid supplements. Folate, the natural form of folic acid, is found in foods such as liver, leafy green vegetables, beans, oranges, and eggs. It is also found in grains enriched with folic acid.

Taking supplements of folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce the chance of having a baby with birth defects, such as spina bifida.

What foods contain folic acid?

Folic acid is found in vitamin supplements and folic-acid-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and breads. The natural form of folic acid is called folate. Foods high in folate include liver, citrus fruits, and dark greens like spinach. Read food labels to see how much folic acid or folate the food contains.

Folic acid and folate are measured in micrograms using Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). Here is a list of some foods that contain folic acid or folate.

Estimates of folic acid or folate in certain foods


Serving size


Fortified (with 25% of daily requirement) breakfast cereal

1 cup

100 mcg (micrograms) DFE or more

Spinach, cooked

½ cup

131 mcg DFE

Beef liver, cooked

3 oz

215 mcg DFE

Frozen peas, boiled

1 cup

47 mcg DFE

Asparagus, boiled

4 spears

89 mcg DFE

Enriched white rice, cooked

½ cup

90 mcg DFE

Frozen broccoli, cooked

½ cup

52 mcg DFE

Avocado, raw

½ cup

59 mcg DFE


1 small

29 mcg DFE

Bread, white

1 slice

43 mcg DFE

Crab, Dungeness

3 oz

36 mcg DFE

Folic acid tips

  • Breads, breakfast cereals, and pasta are often fortified with folic acid. Read labels for the folic acid amount.
  • Eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed. Cooking may destroy some of the folate found in food.
  • Multivitamins often contain folic acid.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins your body needs for good health. The vitamin is also called folate.

  • Folate is the natural form of this vitamin. It's found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, nuts, and beans.
  • Folic acid is the man-made form. It's put into vitamin pills and fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals.

Getting enough of this vitamin prevents folate deficiency anemia. It also prevents certain birth defects.

Most people just say "folic acid" for either form of this vitamin.

How much folic acid do women need?

Folic acid is measured in micrograms using Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). The recommended amounts of folic acid for women are:

  • 400 mcg DFE for women who are not pregnant.
  • 600 mcg DFE for pregnant women.
  • 500 mcg DFE for breastfeeding women.

Women who don't get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy are more likely to have a child born with a birth defect, such as:

  • A neural tube defect, like spina bifida. Neural tube defects are some of the most common types of birth defects in the United States.
  • A cleft lip or cleft palate.

Even if a woman eats a well balanced diet, she may not get the extra folic acid she needs to prevent birth defects unless she also takes a supplement. So experts say that all women who are able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement that has 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid.

Some women need even higher doses.

  • Women who are pregnant with twins or more should take 1000 mcg a day.
  • Women who have a family history of neural tube defects, who have already had a baby with a neural tube defect, or who are on medicines for seizures should take 4000 mcg a day.

Follow your doctor's advice about how to get higher amounts of folic acid. Don't just take more multivitamins. You could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.

Folic acid recommendations for women who aren't planning to get pregnant

Even if you aren't planning to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend a daily supplement.

Many pregnancies aren't planned. And the birth defects that folic acid can prevent start to form in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. This is often before a woman even knows she's pregnant.

So you can see why getting enough daily folic acid—even before you get pregnant—is so important. If you are pregnant and you have not been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, begin taking it right away.

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