• Dr. Julia Culbertson

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

Have you ever gone into the health food store and got stuck in the supplements aisle? There are SO MANY products to choose from with so many long words in the list of ingredients. As a consumer, this was always daunting to me and still can be after doing my research. How do I know I’m supplementing with the best versions of each vitamin and mineral? Is it even worth supplementing with?

The biggest one for me as a woman of child-bearing age is folate/folic acid. In science class I was taught they were the same thing (I can’t blame the high school science teacher for trying to simplify things…) and I’m sure a lot of you out there were taught the same thing. But are they really?

The Answer

The answer is NO, they are totally different.

Some Backstory

Folic acid and folate are forms of vitamin B9 which your body needs for many process including DNA creation and repair, cell growth, tissue healing and is especially essential in early pregnancy for normal nervous system development. That’s why you hear about it so much when you are trying/or are already pregnant.

But What is the Difference?

The difference is that folic acid is the synthetic form of folate (it’s man made), whereas folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9.

Why Do I Care?

Folic acid converts very slowly in the body compared to folate and is not well excreted by the body if you take in too much (especially if your supplement bottle reads that it has over 100% of your DV of folic acid). Folate on the other hand is excreted through urine with little difficulty making you less cautious about overeating/over-supplementing folate. Furthermore, unmetabolized folic acid can negatively affect the immune system and also reduce the effectiveness of certain medications.

What do I do?

I stand by the idea that supplements are meant to be exactly what they are called, supplements…meaning that they shouldn’t be your main source of vitamins and minerals. Thankfully, lots of whole nutritious foods contain plentiful amounts of folate so you may even be able to put the supplement to the side! Foods rich in naturally occurring folate include dark green leafy veggies (what isn’t in this highly nutritious food?), spinach, kale, egg yolks (don’t throw those away!), brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lentils, beans, avocados, asparagus, citrus fruits, almonds, sweet potato, bananas, and more.

Take Away: Eat a diet high in whole foods and less in “fortified” foods. If you are choosing a supplement, try your best to get FOLATE instead of folic acid and remember to follow the recommended dose by your healthcare provider!

Reference: Global Healing Center

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