Folic Acid Vs. Folate: What's the Difference?

Folic Acid Vs. Folate: What's the Difference?

Recommendations about vitamin and mineral intake can be a bit confusing, especially when some of the nomenclature is similar. If you’re interested in nutrition, and/or a woman of childbearing age, you’ve probably read about the importance of folate and folic acid. But do you know the difference between the two?

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What Is Folate (Vitamin B9)?

woman holding tray of fruit | folic acid vs folate

According to the National Institutes of Health, folate is a water-soluble B-vitamin (B9) found naturally in some foods.

Folate helps make DNA and RNA and is necessary for cell division. It’s important for cell growth and metabolism and, like all B vitamins, helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy.

 

What Is Folic Acid?

pregnant woman taking folic acid supplement | folic acid vs folate

Folic acid is the supplement form of folate and is used to fortify foods such as cereals and grains. Many doctors recommend that pregnant women take a multivitamin containing folic acid, or a separate folic acid supplement, because it’s believed to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

 

What’s the Difference Between the Two?

“The difference between folate and folic acid is that folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, whereas folic acid is a synthetic form of it,” says Soma Mandal, MD, an internist and women’s health specialist in New York City. “The active form of folate is known as levomefolic acid. The active form of folic acid is pteroylmonoglutamic acid.”

 

Is Folic Acid Harmful?

As with all supplements, taking too much folic acid comes with potential risks.

“One of the risks of too much folic acid is that it may mask a deficiency of vitamin B12,” says Hailey Crean, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in Boston.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the daily value (DV) for either form is 400 mcg for adults. That number increases to 600 mcg for women who are pregnant and 500 mcg for women who are lactating. The agency has set the tolerable upper limit at 1,000 mcg for men and women at all stages of life.

 

What Is the Best Source of Vitamin B9?

food sources of vitamin b9 | folic acid vs folate

“Excellent sources of natural folate include spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, and brussels sprouts, all providing over 20 percent of the daily value,” says Crean. “Breakfast cereals are often an excellent source of folic acid due to the added supplementation.”

According to the USDA, this is the specific folate content of some folate-rich foods:

  • Beef liver (3 oz., cooked): 215 mcg (54% DV)
  • Spinach (½ cup, cooked): 132 mcg (33% DV)
  • Black-eyed peas (½ cup, cooked): 104 mcg (26% DV)
  • Brussels sprouts (1 cup): 93 mcg (23% DV)
  • Asparagus (4 spears): 89 mcg (22% DV)
  • Avocado (½ fruit): 82 mcg (20% DV)

Some of the folic acid/vitamin B9 supplements rated highest by Amazon users:

365 by whole foods folic acid supplement | folic acid vs folate

365 Everyday Value, Folic Acid 800 mcg

nature made folic acid supplement | folic acid vs folate

Nature Made Folic Acid, 400 mcg

solgar folic acid supplement | folic acid vs folate

Solgar Folate 666 MCG DFE (Metafolin® 400 MCG)

If you’re interested in supplementing with vitamin B9/folic acid, it’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement.

About

Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition and lifestyle reporting. Follow him on Twitter.