What is folic acid?
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins your body needs for good health. The vitamin is also called folate.
- Folate is the natural form of this vitamin. It's found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, nuts, and beans.
- Folic acid is the man-made form. It's put into vitamin pills and fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals.
Getting enough of this vitamin prevents folate deficiency anemia. It also prevents certain birth defects.
Most people just say "folic acid" for either form of this vitamin.
What is the recommended daily amount?
Folic acid is measured in micrograms using Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). Here are the daily recommended amounts of folic acid:1
- Babies 0–6 months old need 65 mcg (micrograms) DFE each day.
- Babies 7–12 months old need 80 mcg DFE each day.
- Children 1–3 years old need 150 mcg DFE each day.
- Children 4-8 years old need 200 mcg DFE each day.
- Children 9–13 years old need 300 mcg DFE each day.
- Children over 13 years old need 400 mcg DFE each day.
- Men need 400 mcg DFE each day.
- Women's needs vary.
- Pregnant women need 600 mcg DFE each day.
- Breastfeeding women need 500 mcg DFE each day.
- Most other women need 400 mcg DFE each day.
How much do women need?
Folic acid is measured in micrograms using Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). The recommended amounts of folic acid for women are:1
- 400 mcg DFE for women who are not pregnant.
- 600 mcg DFE for pregnant women.
- 500 mcg DFE for breastfeeding women.
Women who don't get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy are more likely to have a child born with a birth defect, such as:
- A neural tube defect, like spina bifida. Neural tube defects are some of the most common types of birth defects in the United States.
- A cleft lip or cleft palate.
Even if a woman eats a well balanced diet, she may not get the extra folic acid she needs to prevent birth defects unless she also takes a supplement. So experts say that all women who are able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement that has 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid.2
Some women need even higher doses.
- Women who are pregnant with twins or more should take 1000 mcg a day.3
- Women who have a family history of neural tube defects, who have already had a baby with a neural tube defect, or who are on medicines for seizures should take 4000 mcg a day.4
Follow your doctor's advice about how to get higher amounts of folic acid. Don't just take more multivitamins. You could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.
Folic acid recommendations for women who aren't planning to get pregnant
Even if you aren't planning to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend a daily supplement.
Many pregnancies aren't planned. And the birth defects that folic acid can prevent start to form in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. This is often before a woman even knows she's pregnant.
So you can see why getting enough daily folic acid—even before you get pregnant—is so important. If you are pregnant and you have not been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, begin taking it right away.
What foods contain folic acid?
Folic acid is found in vitamin supplements and folic-acid-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and breads. The natural form of folic acid is called folate. Foods high in folate include liver, citrus fruits, and dark greens like spinach. Read food labels to see how much folic acid or folate the food contains.
Folic acid and folate are measured in micrograms using Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). Here is a list of some foods that contain folic acid or folate.5
Estimates of folic acid or folate in certain foods
Fortified (with 25% of daily requirement) breakfast cereal
100 mcg (micrograms) DFE or more
131 mcg DFE
Beef liver, cooked
215 mcg DFE
Frozen peas, boiled
47 mcg DFE
89 mcg DFE
Enriched white rice, cooked
90 mcg DFE
Frozen broccoli, cooked
52 mcg DFE
59 mcg DFE
29 mcg DFE
43 mcg DFE
36 mcg DFE
Folic acid tips
- Breads, breakfast cereals, and pasta are often fortified with folic acid. Read labels for the folic acid amount.
- Eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed. Cooking may destroy some of the folate found in food.
- Multivitamins often contain folic acid.
- Food and Nutrition Board, et al. (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, vitamins. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t2/?report=objectonly. Accessed October 29, 2019.
- U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (2017). Folic acid supplementation for the prevention of neural tube defects: U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA, 317 (2): 183–189. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.19438. Accessed February 3, 2020.
- Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Multifetal gestation. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 859–889. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Prenatal care. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 189–214. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health (2010). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate. Available online: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional.
Current as of: September 23, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine