NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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What is Folic Acid

What is Folic Acid?


                Folic acid is a B-vitamin that everyone needs to stay in good health. Folic acid helps build DNA and your body uses it for cell growth and reproduction.   If taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70% of some serious birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects.
                The Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to prevent two types of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. Since these birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, it is important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and to continue getting enough folic acid during early pregnancy.  Women need folic acid even if they are not planning to become pregnant since almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. 

                In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started fortifying cereal grain products with folic acid in order to reduce the risk for neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are serious birth defects of the brain and spine. While this was a great step to prevent birth defects, it is often not enough to protect all pregnancies.

                Folic acid is water soluble, so it passes through your body very quickly. Taking folic acid every day ensures that you always have it in your system when your body needs it.

                Women who could possibly become pregnant can consume 400 mcg of folic acid every day by:

  • Taking a daily multi-vitamin containing folic acid, and
  • Eating fortified foods like grains, pastas, or breakfast cereals.

                Although all enriched cereals and grain products in the U.S. are fortified with the B vitamin folic acid, only one-third of U.S. women of childbearing age get the recommended amount from their diet.    The following foods are known to be rich in folic acid: asparagus, baker's yeast, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, egg yolk, kidney, lentils, lettuce, many fruits, especially papaya and kiwi, milk, oranges, parsnips, peas, spinach and sunflower seeds.

                To find out if a multivitamin has folic acid in it, check the label (also called supplement facts). You usually can find it on the back of the bottle. Look for the word “folate” on the label to see how much folic acid you’re getting. The label tells you this information:

  • Serving size. This tells you how much of the product is in one serving. One multivitamin usually is one serving. 
  • Servings per container. This tells you how many servings are in a multivitamin bottle. For example, if two pills is one serving and the bottle has 30 multivitamins in it, that’s 15 servings. 
  • Nutrients, like vitamin D, folate and calcium, in each serving
  • Daily value (also called DV) of one serving. DV is the amount of a nutrient in a serving. For example, if the DV of folic acid in a multivitamin is 50 percent, that multivitamin gives you 50 percent (half) of the folic acid you need each day.


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