Folate vs Folic Acid: Understanding the Difference for Pregnancy

The terms folate vs folic acid are often used interchangeably, however there are a few subtle differences between them that you should be aware of. In this guide, we’ll break down what separates the two, why this essential nutrient is especially important during your pregnancy, how you can ensure you get your recommended intake, and more.

What is folate?

Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is a naturally occurring nutrient that’s present in a variety of healthy foods. It’s important in red blood cell formation, as well as the healthy growth and function of cells. This nutrient becomes especially crucial during the early stages of pregnancy, as it reduces the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine.

Most people will naturally get the amount they need through a well-balanced diet. However, when you’re trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, it’s important to keep a close eye on your intake and take supplements if necessary.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the man-made equivalent of folate. This synthetic water-soluble vitamin can be found in supplements and fortified foods, which can be consumed in tandem with naturally folate-rich foods to ensure you get the recommended amount. Because folic acid differs structurally from folate, it has slightly different biological effects on your body. This includes absorbability, which is considered when creating supplements and fortified foods that contain folic acid.

Foods high in folate vs folic acid

Vitamin B9 is naturally present in a wide range of foods. It can also be found in its synthetic form (as folic acid) in fortified foods. Foods that are naturally high in folate include:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
    • Spinach
    • Mustard greens
    • Romaine lettuce
    • Asparagus
    • Broccoli
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Artichokes
  • Legumes
  • Seafood
  • Fresh fruits and juices
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Liver
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Eggs

The United States and Canada require manufacturers to fortify enriched grain products with folic acid. In the United States, this includes:

  • Bread
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Cornmeal
  • Breakfast cereal

To find the amount of folate vs folic acid in a particular product, just look at the nutrition label. If any folate in a fortified food product comes from folic acid, it will be listed in parenthesis. As the body can absorb folic acid more effectively than folate, it will often appear underneath the total amount of folate as a lower percentage.

What does folate vs folic acid do?

At all times, folate vs folic acid is important to the formation, growth, and function of red blood cells. It is also used to make and repair DNA and RNA, and breaks down an amino acid called homocysteine that can be harmful if present in high amounts. There is also some evidence to suggest that folate vs folic acid can prevent other serious health complications. This includes:

  • Strokes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Depression

How much folate vs folic acid is needed?

The CDC advises that all women of reproductive age have a minimum of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day. It’s especially important to maintain your intake of folate vs folic acid when trying to become pregnant, as developmental complications can occur even three to four weeks after conception—when many women are not even aware they are pregnant. When planning a pregnancy, between 400 to 1,000 mcg of folate vs folic acid per day may be advised.

Folate vs folic acid deficiency

Because folate is naturally found in many healthy foods, we typically get the amount we need from our diets—but that’s not always the case. As pregnancy causes your blood volume to increase, more folate vs folic acid is needed to produce healthy red blood cells. This puts pregnant women at a higher risk for folate vs folic acid deficiency. Additionally, a diet that lacks folate- or folic acid-rich foods can lead to a nutrient deficiency. Other causes of folate vs folic acid deficiency include:

  • Surgeries and diseases that lower folate absorption
    • Celiac disease
    • Crohn’s disease
    • Gastric bypass surgery
    • Short bowel syndrome
    • Dialysis
  • Conditions that cause absent or low stomach acid
    • Achlorhydria
    • Hypochlorhydria
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Alcoholism

Folate vs folic acid deficiency symptoms

A deficiency in folate vs folic acid can happen quickly if you aren’t getting enough through your diet or supplements. Because folate vs folic acid is water-soluble, it isn’t stored in your fat cells for later. As a result, you’ll have to consistently maintain your intake of it to avoid a deficiency. A lack of folic acid in the blood can also lead to folate-deficiency anemia.

For most, subtle symptoms of folate vs folic acid deficiency or folate-deficiency anemia will begin to appear after just a few weeks. These symptoms will likely become more severe if left untreated. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Light-headedness
  • Headaches
  • Sores on the tongue or in the mouth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

What does folate vs folic acid do during pregnancy?

Folate vs folic acid is most essential during the earliest stages of your pregnancy. During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a baby’s body is formed, along with the majority of their internal organs. A deficiency in folate vs folic acid can increase your risk of neural tube defects and potentially lead to other developmental problems.

Why should you take folate vs folic acid?

Combining a healthy diet that’s rich in foods high in folate and taking a folic acid supplement will help to prevent neural tube defects during the early stages of pregnancy. Additionally, folate vs folic acid are essential to ensuring the body has the nutrients it needs to function normally.

Which is best before and during pregnancy?

Folate vs folic acid have very similar effects, however, there are a few subtle differences. Folic acid is absorbed by the body more easily when compared to the naturally occurring folate that’s found in foods. A diet that’s rich in foods high in folate will help ensure you meet the recommended amount. However, the CDC also advises taking a folic acid supplement at least one month before you become pregnant.

Folic acid supplements and vitamins

Folate vs folic acid is included in Premama supplements. Fertility Support For Her helps to optimize egg quality and ovulation and spotlights this essential nutrient as a key ingredient. Premama Prenatal Vitamins also contain folate vs folic acid, along with other key ingredients that help ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Is unmetabolized folate vs folic acid harmful?

As folate and folic acid are both water-soluble, any excess nutrients are easily processed by the body. Unused nutrients will simply go through the kidneys and into the urine, where it will be removed.

Because the body absorbs folic acid from supplements and fortified foods more easily, consuming too much in this form in a short period of time can cause it to build up. When folic acid is consumed, it is absorbed by your bloodstream. It’s then broken up into smaller compounds by the liver. However, the liver is able to process a limited amount of folic acid at one time, causing the excess to remain in the blood. This is called unmetabolized folic acid. However, there are no confirmed health risks associated with this.

We hope now you understand the difference between folate and folic acid and their importance for pregnancy. Follow the instructions on your supplements to avoid taking more than necessary, and speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about your intake of folate vs folic acid.

Keep Reading

Woman eating dinner

The Science Behind Pregnancy Cravings: What Your Body Is Telling You

As your body prepares for the arrival of your baby, it will undergo a wide range of changes. Many of these changes will affect your ...

Person sleeping under the covers

Why You Can't Sleep While Pregnant: Unraveling the Mysteries and Finding Solutions

If you're one of the 25 to 30 million Americans who suffer from insomnia each year, it's safe to say you're not alone. However, this...


"Berry Balanced" Parfait Recipe

Rise and shine, mama! Breakfast is about to be served and it’s something berry sweet. We have the parfait recipe to bring balance to...