Folic acid and folate: How are they different?

January 17, 2020

You may have heard about folic acid, but have you heard of folate? Folic acid and folate are similar but not the same thing. Read on to learn how they are different but equally important for your baby’s health.

Folic acid is a B vitamin. Every cell in your body needs it for healthy growth and development. If you take folic acid before pregnancy and during early pregnancy, it can help protect your baby from neural tube defects (NTDs) and birth defects of the mouth called cleft lip and palate. NTDs are birth defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord.

Is folic acid the same as folate?

When folic acid is naturally in a food, it’s called folate. Foods that are good sources of folate are:

  • Beans, like lentils, pinto beans and black beans
  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and Romaine lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts (But don’t eat them if you have a peanut allergy.)
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit
  • Orange juice (100 percent juice is best. This means one serving of juice is equal to one serving of fruit.)

Folic acid is the manmade form of folate that is in fortified foods and vitamin supplements. Fortified means a food has folic acid added to it. Check the product label to see how much folic acid you get in each serving. Look for the word “fortified” or “enriched” on labels on foods like:

  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Cornmeal
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Products made from a kind of flour called corn masa, like tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, tamales and pupusas
  • White rice

How can you get more folic acid?

Eat healthy foods that have folate in it. But it’s very difficult for most women to get enough folate through food alone. You can get folic acid through a supplement. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat.

Your folic acid supplement can be:

  • A multivitamin. This is a pill that contains many vitamins and other nutrients that help your body stay healthy. Check the label to be sure it has 100% of the daily value of folic acid, which is 400 mcg.
  • A prenatal vitamin. This is a multivitamin that is made for pregnant women. Your health care provider may give you a prescription for prenatal vitamins, or you can get them over the counter without a prescription.
  • A supplement that contains just folic acid

Even if you eat foods that have folic acid in them, take your vitamin supplement each day, too.