Folate, also known as folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin. It plays a very important role in the body for both adults and children. It is needed for vital chemical reactions to occur that stimulate the formation of new cells in tissues and organs. It is also needed for the formation of new red blood cells from our bone marrow. It is very important for a healthy nervous system and is required for the metabolism of proteins we ingest. Folate is sourced from the diet, the body cannot make it on its own, and so it is important that you get enough folate in your daily diet. This article discusses rich food sources of folate, the complications of folate deficiency, the recommended daily dosages and folic acid toxicity.
Food Sources of Folate
Ensuring you get enough folate in the diet is important for all stages of life, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as not getting enough can adversely affect both the mum and baby. To ensure you get enough folate it is recommended to include the following in your diet regularly.
Green Leafy Vegetables
- Try to include spinach, kale, cabbage, collard greens and broccoli. Peas and legumes are also good sources of folate.
- Fresh oranges and orange juice are good sources of folate. One cup of orange juice can provide you with 60 to 100 micrograms of folate. Other fruits which are good sources of folate include cantaloupes and other melons.
Fortified Breakfast Cereals and Loaves of bread
- Most of our commercially produced breakfast cereals and loaves of bread have folate added to them. They can contain 100 to 400 micrograms per serving. Be sure to read the nutritional labels on breakfast cereals and loaves of bread before you purchase them.
- Many pasta products have been enriched with folate. Only half a cup can provide you with 90 micrograms of folate.
Lentils, Seeds, and Nuts
- Lentils are a rich source of folate with 180 micrograms per cup. Most seeds and nuts are good sources too. Peanut butter is a tasty source also.
Folate deficiency is a serious disorder that is quite common particularly in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and the elderly. Other causes include certain medications, alcohol abuse and malabsorption diseases such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. Generally, the symptoms of folate deficiency include fatigue, irritability, mental sluggishness, gingivitis (inflammation and bleeding of the gums), diarrhea and inflammation of the tongue. In children, it can cause stunted growth. These symptoms can indicate some serious complications of folate deficiency which include the following.
- Folate is required for the production of red blood cells. When folic acid levels are low in the body, there are insufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anemia include pale colored skin, fatigue, sore mouth and tongue, headaches and poor concentration. Treatment may include folic acid supplements, dietary changes and or blood transfusion with packed red blood cells.
- It is important for females who are considering becoming pregnant and those in their first trimester of pregnancy to ensure they get enough folate in the diet or may need to supplement. Folic acid deficiency can cause neural tube defects in the fetus. Neural tube defects can include spina bifida resulting in damage to the baby’s nerves and spinal cord. It also can cause anencephaly which is a deformity of the brain and skull in which parts are missing, resulting in underdevelopment of the brain. Low levels of folic acid in the pregnant mother can also cause premature babies and underweight babies.
Recommended Daily Intake of Folate
Adults and adolescents over the age of 14, require 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Infants and toddlers aged 1 to 3 years require 150 micrograms daily. For ages 4 to 8 require 200 micrograms daily and ages 9 to 13 require 200 micrograms daily. Females considering becoming pregnant should try to get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily and during pregnancy need 600 micrograms daily. Breastfeeding mothers require 500 micrograms daily. Most people will get their recommended daily dosages from food alone but in some cases, they may require taking a vitamin supplement with folic acid.
Folic acid toxicity is rare because the kidneys flush out excess folic acid in the urine. Many people who take B vitamins will find that their urine will turn orange. This is a normal reaction from the body to get rid of the excess and causes no problems. If the body cannot effectively flush out the excess, this can lead to folic acid toxicity. Symptoms include indigestion, mouth sores, skin irritations, nausea, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, hair loss, mental disorders, vivid dreams and insomnia. Folic acid toxicity is a serious disorder that requires immediate medical attention.
In conclusion, folate in the diet is essential throughout all stages of life. Without it, or low levels of it can lead to some serious disease processes which can be fatal if not treated immediately. Folate in the diet has also been linked to the prevention of some types of cancer and reducing the risks of heart disease. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of folate deficiency discussed above, consult your doctor. Early intervention leads to effective outcomes.