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Folic acid is the synthetic form of the water-soluble vitamin B9. Vitamin supplements probably are the most familiar of sources of folic acid. Certain fortified foods, such as breads and cereals, are also good sources of folic acid. Flours, pastas, cornmeal, and white rice often have folic acid added to them. Foods that are high in folates, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, are good sources of folic acid as well.
Vegetables that are good sources of folate include lettuce, spinach, collard greens, Chinese cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables. Also good are brassicas, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Asparagus and artichokes are good choices, as are beets, corn, green onions, sweet peppers, and okra. Beans, lentils, and all types of peas contain folate, too, as does wheat bran and other whole grains.
Juice-lovers typically drink their daily folate in the form of grapefruit, orange, pineapple, or tomato juice. Whole fruits to look for include avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melons, and strawberries. Other good options include nuts, peanuts and peanut butter, soymilk, sunflower seeds, and certain organ meats, such as liver and giblets.
The amount of folate varies in each of these foods. Many dietary software programs offer a nutritional analysis feature, as do several websites on the Internet. The search terms "nutrient search tool" and "nutrition data" should yield helpful sites for more detailed folate content information on many foods, as well as other useful nutritional data.
The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference is one of the more extensive nutritional listings. Foods are rated in terms of dietary folate equivalent, which is 1 microgram of dietary folate, or 0.6 micrograms of folic acid supplement. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 600 micrograms for pregnant women.
For nutrient values of folic acid in fortified foods and supplements, a person can check the label. It may be listed as folic acid, food folate, or dietary folate equivalents. The numbers can be confusing, and that's because there are different systems for measuring different forms of folic acid and folate. Also, folic acid and folate are absorbed differently by the body, and thus require different systems for measuring their values.
To add to the confusion, some sources of folic acid may have naturally occurring folate plus added folic acid. The labels on many fortified foods and supplements often list what percentage of the RDA for folic acid is provided per serving. This is in addition to the folate and folic acid amounts.
Most experts recommend a balanced diet with a variety of foods as the best way to get the daily essential vitamins and nutrients. Supplements often are recommended sources of folic acid for pregnant women because of folic acid's role in reducing the risk in certain birth defects. Also, supplements may be recommended for other health conditions that are helped by increasing folic acid intake. Since folic acid is water-soluble, excess amounts of the vitamin leave the body in urine instead of being stored.
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