Folate vs Folic Acid
First things first:
Did you know that folate and folic acid are not the same thing?
Often mistakenly interchangeable by pregnant mamas (and even some caregivers) looking for prenatal vitamins, folic acid and folate have been an essential piece of prenatal nutrition.
So what’s the difference?
Simply put, folate is a B vitamin found in whole foods. Folic acid is a substance created in a lab to mimic the functions of whole food folate in the body.
Lately there’s been heaps of research coming out about the benefits of folate over folic acid and specifically the MTHFR gene.
It’s always my goal to keep things super simple and easy to understand so I’m going to do my best to stay away from too much biochemistry here ;)
In order for our bodies to actually use folate and folic acid and get the benefits (protecting against neural tube defects is the big one. read more about that HERE), the body needs to break it down in to L-methylfolate. Unfortunately, recent research has suggested that most women (50-60%) have a mutation or variant in one or both of their MTHFR gene which inhibits the breakdown of folate and folic acid in to its usable form and increased folic acid from either supplements or fortified foods and can actually make symptoms of the mutation worse.
Wondering if you have the MTHFR gene variant? A simple test to check your homocysteine levels can be done with your doctor. You don’t need a full DNA workup (that’s expensive and most physicians really don’t recommend it) - if your homocysteine levels are elevated, then you’ll need to make some dietary changes.
If you don’t want to get that blood test and you just want to cover your bases, skipping the folic acid and upping your intake of dietary folate (aka foods high in folate) and considering a folate supplement that’s already broken down into its usable form. This is the course of action I generally suggest to many of my clients. While I haven’t seen conclusive research on other issues with folic acid supplementation and fortified foods, there are certainly emerging studies that suggest we need to start thinking about alternatives to synthetic folic acid.
Ready to ditch folic acid?
How much folate do I need:
Pregnancy: 600 mcg folate daily
Breastfeeding: 500 mcg folate daily
Non-pregnant or lactating women: 400 mcg folate daily
Eat foods rich in folate:
Asparagus (128-141 mcg / 1/2 cup)
Brussels Sprouts (83 mcg / 6 sprouts)
Broccoli (89 mcg / 1/2 cup)
Spinach (121-139 mcg / 1/2 cup)
Edamame (106-255 mcg / 1/2 cup)
Okra (97 mcg / 1/2 cup)
As you can see, it’s not so difficult to get your daily dose of folate from food. A cup of spinach in a morning smoothie, a sprinkle of edamame on your lunch, some roasted Brussels sprouts with dinner and you’re pretty much there! No supplement needed.
If you can’t get enough folate in your diet, then try a supplement like the prenatal or essential for women from Ritual (not affiliated with them, I just personally trust the brand). They use the methylated form of folate so you don’t have to worry about having the proper genes to break it down. It’s ready to go!
Honestly, I worry a bit about how supplement-dependant we are. When you start thinking about having children or you get pregnant, often the first thing your care provider asks is if you’re taking a prenatal. And then they send you on your way. No explanation, no diet analysis, no warning about vitamin and mineral toxicity (yes, you can have TOO MUCH). Just a prescription and they say you’re good to go. Before you start taking any kind of supplement for anything, I always suggest having a nutritionist evaluate your diet. Often, clients are shocked at how much they’re already getting from food! Yes, supplements are super trendy right now in the wellness world, but that doesn’t mean that you need any or all of it.