Folate

Last updated 15 December 2016 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014

Folate is a B vitamin (also called folic acid) needed for healthy growing, in particular for the nervous system. Folate helps:

  • form red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body
  • cell growth in the body
  • DNA synthesis (using existing DNA as a template to make new DNA)
  • in the development of the nervous system of babies both in the womb and while being breast fed
  • to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies

Folate is found in

  • green leafy vegetables (raw vegetables contain more folate)
  • legumes such as baked beans, chickpeas, soy beans, split peas and lentils
  • citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit
  • seeds such as sunflower seeds
  • nuts such as peanuts
  • eggs
  • cereals fortified with folate
  • bread made with fortified wheat flour (now mandatory in Australia)

Folate & pregnancy

Adequate intake of folate during pregnancy and breastfeeding is crucial, and requires a high quality diet. However, large surveys show women who are pregnant and breastfeeding often have a poor intake of folate through their diet.

Because folate is so important to developing babies, in September 2009 the Australian Government made it mandatory for all wheat bread (other than organic), to be fortified with folic acid, including breads unpackaged or without labels. This action is designed to help protect pregnant women from having babies with neural tube defects. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid and other foods such as fruit juice may also have folic acid added. All are required to state the fortification on labels or to have that information available in the case of an unlabeled product. Mandatory folic acid fortification has been used safely in the United States and Canada for over 10 years.  

Folate supplements are another way of obtaining folate.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.

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