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Why you need folate, not folic acid

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Most of us have heard about how important it is to get enough folate in pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

You may have also noticed that folate is sometimes called folic acid. In fact, most prenatal supplements have folic acid in them instead of folate. So, what’s the difference and why does it matter?

Folate vs folic acid

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate which means, it’s been manufactured in a lab.

Most supplements on the market today have synthetic vitamins and minerals in them because it's much cheaper to produce and sell. And the catch is...  these "vitamins and minerals" aren't as bioavailable as the vitamins and minerals found in real food (FYI, bioavailablility means how much of that nutrient your body is able to absorb).

This applies to folic acid which is significantly less bioavailable than folate in its pure and natural state, found in real veggies, fruits, beans and lentils. 

Research has also found that 4 in 10 people might have a gene mutation that doesn't allow their bodies to recognize and use folic acid. For more info on that, click here.

Why you need folate

Folate (otherwise known as Vitamin B9), is one of the most important nutrients your baby will need in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Folate will help ensure your baby’s “neural tube” forms correctly. Your baby's “neural tube” extends right down from your baby’s brain to form your baby’s spine and includes all the nerves along the way. Extensive research has found that a deficiency in folate, especially as the “neural tube” forms in the first few weeks of pregnancy, can lead to birth defects such as spina bifida.

How much do I need?

Pregnant women need about 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate each day.

If you eat a lot of greens and veggies, chances are you're easily getting this amount. However, I highly recommend taking a good-quality prenatal supplement as an insurance policy.

I took a couple of brands during my pregnancy that made me feel great and my son was born (and still is), very healthy. I loved Garden of Life Raw Prenatal and Naturello Wholefood Prenatal supplements. The best thing about these two prenatals is that they both have real folate in them and not the cheaper folic acid stuff that your body has a harder time using.

Folate in food

As the name suggests, folate is richest in “foliage” type food like leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens and romaine lettuce.

Brussel sprouts, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, beans, peas and lentils are also great sources of folate too. 

What to eat

As a guide, here are some ways you can get your daily folate intake.

You can easily boost your daily folate-intake by adding beans and lentils to your meals, or adding a cup or two of spinach in a smoothie you can have in between meals. 


1/2 avocado smashed onto whole-wheat toast (50mcg)


1 cup of spinach in a smoothie (50mcg)


Choose two

2 cups of spinach, kale or romaine in a salad (100mcg) 

1/2 cup Garbanzo beans (175mcg) 

1/2 cup black beans (100mcg)

1/2 cup Kidney beans (50mcg)


Choose two

2 cups of spinach, kale or romaine in a salad (100mcg)

5 spears asparagus (100mcg)

1/2 cup Brussel sprouts (80mcg) 

1/2 cup peas (65mcg) and 1/2 cup broccoli (50mcg)

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