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Folate or Folic Acid

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

How much you need each day:

200mcg for adult women and men

Why you need it:

This is a member of the B vitamin group and is essential for the formation of red blood cells. It also works with vitamin 12 to protect the nervous system and is needed for growth and the reproduction of cells. Good intakes when planning a pregnancy and in the first 12 weeks also protect against birth defects.

Good food sources:

The best sources of this vitamin are dark green leafy vegetables, especially sprouts and spinach, green beans, peas, oranges, fortified breakfast cereals and bread, yeast extract, nuts and pulses.

Too little:

A mild deficiency may lead to tiredness, apathy and depression. Severe deficiency, results in a type anaemia. Low intakes prior to conception and during the early stages of pregnancy may increase the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida and cleft palate.

Top tip:

There’s good evidence that folic acid can help to prevent the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. It’s difficult to get sufficient amounts from the diet alone, so the Department of Health recommend that all women trying for a baby and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy take a supplement containing 400mcg of folic acid each day, as well as having a diet rich in folate-containing foods.

How to get enough:

Food Folate Content (mcg)
90g Brussels sprouts 99
90g boiled spinach 81
30g branflakes 75
90g French beans 50
1 orange 50
70g garden peas 33

Watch out!

An excess of folic acid can mask a deficiency of vitamin B12. If you’re planning on taking folic acid supplements, you should be aware of this – to be on the safe side, ask your GP for advice.

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