Natural Sources of Folate (Folic Acid)

Welcome back to the Raising Health Families series, join us each week as we take a look at different ways to keep your family healthy and vibrant in a not-so-healthy world.

Natural Folate Sources

Yesterday I shared what I’ve learned about the dangers of synthetic folic acid. “Folate” and “folic acid” are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing and they do not have the same effects on the body. Folate is God-made, folic acid is man-made. In my opinion, God had a much better idea of what we need, so I stick with His version. ;-)

Today, I want to talk about the benefits of folate and give you some good natural sources and alternatives to synthetic folic acid supplements.

Benefits of Folate

Why is it so important to get enough folate? Well, this little water-soluble vitamin, also known as B9, is needed for the proper functioning of many systems in our bodies. Here is a quick overview of some of the benefits, but I encourage you to do some of your own research to learn more!

  • Reproductive System: Folate is important for cellular division, especially to prevent birth defects during early pregnancy.
  • Circulatory System: Folate is needed for the healthy production of red blood cells.
  • Nervous System: Folate is needed for proper serotonin levels and low folate seems to be common in Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Skeletal System: There may be a correlation between low folate intake and low bone density, though there are not any conclusive studies that I’ve found.

Getting Folate From REAL Foods

I want to start by saying that I love real food! If you aren’t familiar with the term “real food”, check out my post about it here. I strive to eat nutrient-dense real foods to meet as many of my nutritional needs as possible. For folate, here’s a list of foods that are excellent sources! Unless otherwise listed, it’s a 1-cup serving. The percentage is based on a daily recommendation of 400mcg, but a pregnant (or hoping to be) mama should get 600mcgs.

  • Calf liver 4 ounces 93.8%
  • Lentils 89.5%
  • Pinto Beans 73.5%
  • Garbanzo Beans 70.5%
  • Spinach 65.7%
  • Black Beans 64%
  • Navy Beans 63.7%
  • Kidney Beans 57.5%
  • Collard Greens 44.1%
  • Turnip Greens 42.4%
  • Lima Beans 39%
  • Beets 37%
  • Romaine lettuce 2c 31.9%
  • Avocado  29.5%
  • Peanuts ¼ cup 21.9%
  • Sunflower seeds ¼ cup 19.8%
  • Asparagus 1c 17.9%
  • Broccoli 14.3%

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you some ideas, right? So, what would it look like in reality to eat a folate-rich dieat? Could a soon-to-be-pregnant mama actually eat enough folate-rich foods to get 600mcgs? Let’s see…

A Real-Life Example:

Breakfast: Eggs with a sliced avocado (120)= 120 mcg
Snack: Apple (5.5) with 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter (79.2)= 84.7 mcg
Lunch: Spinach salad (263) with beets (148) and goat cheese= 411 mcgs
Snack: One cup bell peppers (42) with 1/2 cup hummus (100)= 142 mcgs
Dinner: Meat of your choice, baked beans using navy beans (255) and asparagus (71)= 326 mcgs

Total for the day: 1,083.7 mcgs of real folate!!! That’s well above the 600 mcg recommendation. Clearly, it can be done if we are eating real, unprocessed foods.

Getting Folate From Supplements

Now, if you are like many women (including myself) and you can hardly keep anything down in early pregnancy, you might not be able to eat a folate-rich diet. There are a lot of natural remedies for morning sickness, but until you’re feeling better there is an alternative to popping that folic acid pill. Believe it or not, you can buy supplements that are actually folate!

Folic acid is much, much cheaper to produce, so most companies prefer it. High-quality folate supplements are available and, having researched them, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them if I was unable to get enough dietary folate early in pregnancy.

When looking for a folate supplement, make certain that “folic acid” isn’t mentioned anywhere on the bottle. I’ll list a few brands here that contain real folate at the time that I am writing this post. (*I am not in any way affiliated with any of these companies and do not receive any money from them.*)

  • Solgar has a folate supplement.
  • Garden of Life has a raw prenatal with folate that is very popular.
  • New Chapter has a prenatal with a whole-food folate.
  • MegaFood has a whole-food prenatal with folate.

These are just a few options for high-quality folate supplements that can get you through until you’re feeling better and can eat more nutrient-dense foods.

I hope that this post has helped you to see folate in a new way and has encouraged you as you see how easy it can be to ditch the folic acid and get real folate!

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28 comments to Natural Sources of Folate (Folic Acid)

  • Suddenly I understand why I craved beans, avocado, and sunflower seeds in early pregnancy!! Thanks for this useful information. Last year I had a surprise pregnancy that miscarried, and I had not been taking a folic acid supplement until after I realized I was pregnant, so I wondered if maybe that was the reason it hadn’t developed normally…but now that I think about all the beans in my everyday diet, probably it wasn’t.

    Another food I eat regularly and especially craved while pregnant is nutritional yeast flakes. Each tablespoon contains 30% of the Daily Value of folic acid as well as a lot of other nutrients. I know it sounds like a weird thing to eat, but they are delicious on buttered toast or sauteed vegetables or any other oily food.

    • I’m so sorry you lost your baby, Becca! There are so many possible reasons that it would be impossible to say, but whatever it was, I’m sorry you went through that.

      Yes, nutritional yeast is great for folate, but from what I’ve been reading you have to be very careful about a few things. It should be low-temp processed, because high-temp (what they normally do) causes something in it to convert into a ton of MSG. I tried to take it and have my normal MSG reaction, so I know that’s true. ;-)

      Also, it shouldn’t have any added “folic acid”, which some of the companies add.

      If you can find and afford a really good brand, it’s a great option! Thanks, Becca!

  • Justyn, this is a great break down about folate. And research on how to get it in real food and if we’re unable how to find healthy, natural supplements. I will definitely referring back to this if God blesses us with another baby or encourage other trying/pregnant ladies to read.

  • Amanda

    Hi! This information was very timely for me. I am not pregnant nor do I plan on becoming pregnant: I just started a medication to help with my severe psoariasis that has a side effect of canker sores in the mouth-this is countered by folic acid. I have a prescription, but think I would prefer to try it the real food way. Thank you for posting about this.

    Amanda

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Amanda. You might also want to talk to your doctor about trying topical magnesium for your psoriasis. A lady with a severe case of it ordered my magnesium lotion and within a few days her skin was much better. I hope whatever you end up doing that you find some relief! :-)

  • What timing for me to read this. I have already been eating some of those items and will be sure to add the other things. And thank you for sharing how there is a difference between folate and folic acid. Glad I stopped by today. Blessings to you.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Naomi! I was very excited to learn all of this, too. I had no idea how easy it really could be to get enough folate through food until I ran all the numbers. :-) Blessings to you, too!

  • I love this! I recently learned about the difference between folic acid and folate. Basically folate does protect against neuro defects as does folic acid- how folic acid also increases leukemia and other disorders. Unfortunately synthetics are not as good as the authentic version. Thanks for the list~
    http://www.facebook.com/ashleighglutenfree2
    http://postpartumdoulapeterborough.blogspot.ca/

  • I am so thankful you have shared this info! I am not looking to become pregnant anytime soon however folate is essential for maintaining health in general. I have been experiencing a sore red tongue (as well as digestive issues and quickly graying hair and I’m only 31) which for me does indicate that I have a folic acid deficiency. I know because as soon as I begin eating folate rich food the symptoms go away quickly. Also, I love to refer to my Prescription for Nutritional Healing book to see what i can do to prevent the issue in the future. It’s great to have your list that show’s the percentages available in each serving and I look forward to referencing it!

  • Thorne company makes a few varieties of folate – the one I take is the methylated folate (a broken down version of folate – not folic acid) that is easier for me to absorb since I am homozygous MTHFR. If you haven’t heard of this it is a genetic disorder that (when homozygous like me) means your body only breaks down/absorbs about 30% of the folate you consume. The methylated folate is supposed to be easier to absorb for folks like me.

    It’s not just for pregnancy, being homo or heterozygous for MTHFR means your at greater risks for cancers, schizophrenia, and whole list of things that a low folate absorption can cause or exacerbate.

  • Excellent post, Justyn! Thank you so much for sharing! I completely agree that sticking to what God created is always BEST! :)

  • This is great info Justyn! Another point for whole foods!

  • Dd

    I was just perscribed folgard for a folic acid deficency. do you know how much real foods would be comparable to the amount of folate in this supplement? My fear of trying one of the above suggested supplements is that it wouldn’t be enough for someone like me who needs a ton of it. even diet alone wouldn.t be enough. Thank you for your input. It’s been a blessing just to read this article. There’s a lot I didn’t know.

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I’m glad to hear my post was helpful for you.

      Folgard is prescribed at different amounts, so how much folic acid it has depends on the dose your doctor has prescribed for you. It should say on the bottle. What you need to look for is the number of mg (milligrams) or mcg (micrograms) of folic acid per pill. Also, Folgard has synthetic B6 and B12. I would imagine you could take enough of the natural source folate supplements to get the equivalent of the folic acid, but I’m not sure about the B6 and B12. I’d suggest that you find a more naturally-minded doctor to help you safely get your folate levels where they need to be without flooding your body with synthetics. He or she should be able to evaluate your specific needs and get you the supplements you need, along with helping you make dietary changes as needed.

      If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to read my other post on folic acid, too. :-) If you need help finding a new doctor, you can search here for naturopathic doctors.

      I hope that helps! Blessings to you!

  • Guess you answered my question! I take New Chapter! Please come link this up too! Eco-Kids!! Hope to see you there!

  • [...] over at Creative Christian Mama to get the scoop on what folic acid is and how to get plenty of the natural sources of folate in your [...]

  • [...]  Justyn, from Creative Christian Mama, wrote a post about why folic acid may not be safe and how to add folate into your diet naturally. For me, I had a hard time keeping the right foods down early on in my pregnancy, so I took a food [...]

  • Carleen

    My daughter was told she has a rare blood clotting at the age of 16 and has to take folic acid all her life. Her body does not utilize what she eats.
    She will be high risk in her pregnancies for her and baby. Unfortunatly she does not like any of the foods you listed. She always craved frozen peas and rice when she was younger. She is now 18 and still loves frozen peas. I worry about her all the time as she will be out on her own and in college and I am the one that sees to it that she takes her pills. She has MTHFR. More info on this would be helpful.

    • You could ask her doctor about switching from folic acid to one of the natural folate supplements I listed. I honestly haven’t done enough research about MTHFR to know if that would be a good option for her. It may be an option for her, and her doctor could tell her how much to take.

      As far as diet, since she doesn’t absorb folate well due to her illness, just changing her diet wouldn’t be enough. However, there is so much more that she could be getting from food besides folate. At the age of 18, there isn’t much you can do except expose her to some delicious and healthy foods before she goes to college. Offer to pay for some fun gourmet cooking classes or have her help you create meal plans and cook the food. She is old enough that she will just have to decide on her own that she will choose to learn to enjoy foods that aren’t her “favorites” and give up unhealthy ones. It’s a matter of maturity that, sadly, many people never develop. I hope that she is one of the people who realizes that they are missing out on a whole world of flavor and health benefits and gets more adventurous. :-)

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