Are you trying to increase your intake of folate as naturally as you can? Folate is a B vitamin found in abundance in fruits, vegetables, beans, and meats. Folic acid is its synthetic form available in supplements and fortified food. So whether you’re low on folate and want to increase dietary intake or you just want to make sure you’re getting in enough, there’s plenty to choose from!
You are well-justified in making sure you have enough of this nutrient. Vitamin B9 or folate is vital for the healthy development of red blood cells in the body. Not having enough could cause you to develop a form of anemia known as folate deficiency anemia, leaving you exhausted, weak, pale, and with headaches.1 B9 is also vital for normal brain function, mental health, emotional well-being, and production of your genetic material. It is essential during periods of rapid tissue growth like adolescence, pregnancy, and infancy.2
Folic acid is the synthetic form of B vitamin that is available only in fortified foods and supplements. The natural source of folic acid is “folate,” which is found in plant and animal products.
For pregnant women, adequate folate intake can significantly cut the risk of the baby having neural tube defects like spina bifida.3 This is why women of childbearing age (15 to 45 years) should take about 400 mcg folate a day to prevent deficiency in case of an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy.4 Men are also recommended this level of intake due to the critical nature of folate functions in the body. Pregnant women should increase the intake to 600 mcg a day, and nursing mothers to 500 mcg daily.5 Since dietary intake of folate may not be enough, pregnant and nursing mothers are often asked to take folic acid supplements. Here’s a look at folate foods for pregnant women.
For the foods that follow, the daily value (DV) or daily target intake of folate is at 400 mcg, the recommended level for adults. The % DV explains how much of your daily value you will meet from the indicated typical serving size or portion size of the food.6
1. Beans And Peas
- ½ cup of boiled mung or adzuki beans: 156 mcg of folate (39% DV)
- ½ cup of boiled black-eyed peas or cowpeas: 105 mcg of folate (26% DV)7
If you’re vegetarian, this will come as good news to you. Beans and peas are among the best possible sources of folate available to anyone. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, picking chickpeas or soybeans for your daily diet is a good idea when you want to tank up on folate.
Just ½ cup of boiled pinto/navy/black/kidney/white beans contains 105–145 mcg folate (26%–36% DV), while ½ cup of boiled green peas contains 47 mcg of folate (12% DV).
Just add the beans to a meat stew or casserole or toss together a hearty salad with a salsa and beans. You can also make an Italian style bean soup, a chilli with beans, or an Indian bean or peas curry. They’ll make a great addition to your menu for the week and even work well in one-pot meals.
2. Beef Liver
3 ounces beef liver, braised: 215 mcg of folate (54% DV)
Liver is a great source of a lot of nutrients and is good to have once in a while. You’ll love it braised or pan-fried with some onions and peppers or whizzed into homemade pate. There’s 172 mcg of folate in 1 slice (68 gm) of beef liver that’s been braised. That’s 43% DV.8 Have a standard 3-ounce serving to meet 54% DV of the nutrient.9
Just be sure not to have it too often though because of the high levels of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A in it. In excess, this can be toxic to the body and could be especially risky for pregnant women. Restrict your intake of liver or liver products to no more than once a week and you should be fine.10
Half cup of cooked lentils: 177 mcg of folate (44% DV)
Lentils are versatile, if sometimes overlooked, protein source that can really liven up your meals. A lentil soup is easy to make even for lentil novices. They also lend themselves well to salads and recipes from Africa and South Asia. Pair them with brown rice and you have a filling meal. Three-quarters of a cup of cooked lentils has 265 mcg of folate. A standard half-cup serving will get you 177 mcg or 44% DV of the vitamin.11
½ cup of boiled spinach: 131 mcg of folate (33% DV)
Like your greens? If that’s the case, you’re lucky because just half a cup of boiled spinach has an impressive 131 mcg or 33% DV of folate.12 So make a beeline for those greens and whizz up a green smoothie or a green juice. If you’re not especially fond of greens, you may prefer spinach in a stew or casserole or baked into a lasagna where it is less noticeable! Spinach also tastes delicious in soups, so give that a go.
1 raw beet: 89 mcg of folate (22% DV)
Earthy, deep pink beetroots are a fabulous way to add some color to your plate and bring in more folate as well. You can roast them off in the oven or lightly steam and add to tzatziki, hummus, or a salad. They also hold their own in standalone recipes like beetroot tartare, beet soup, or even in sandwiches with goat’s cheese and eggplant. If you just have one raw beet (about 82 gm) you’ll consume 89 mcg of folate, which is 22% DV of the nutrient.13
6. Sunflower Seeds
¼ cup of sunflower seeds: 77–81 mcg of folate (19–20% DV)
Scatter these yummy seeds over your yogurt, granola, or muesli to amp up the nuttiness and folic acid content. Seeds also taste great in salads and add some textural crunch. If you have a sweet tooth, make some homemade brittle with candied nuts and sunflower seeds and some quick caramel. You could also add a handful of them to your choice of smoothie for a power-packed breakfast or post-workout recovery drink. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds has anywhere from 77 to 81 mcg of folate, that’s 19 to 20% DV of folic acid, so it is certainly worth a try!14
½ cup of raw avocado: 59 mcg of folate (15% DV)
Like a good avocado on toast? Can’t get enough of guacamole? Dig in! Avocados are a rich source of folate, with half a cup packing in 59 mcg or 15% DV of folate.15 The best part is they don’t take much prep or cooking. Simply scoop out the creamy innards and add them to salads. Spread it on toast with a sprinkling of some sesame seeds and nuts or make a fresh dip to go with your crudites. Add just some avocado to a healthy shake or smoothie and you’ll have something that feels indulgent too!
4 boiled asparagus spears: 89 mcg of folate (22% DV)
Asparagus is a delicious vegetable that makes a wonderful side to any meal. With the right care, it can even become the main attraction. Grill some spears with olive oil and a little salt and pepper or saute with garlic and finish with a twist of lime. You could also boil them and dunk in a soft boiled egg as a healthier alternative to toast soldiers. Just 4 boiled spears have 89 mcg of folate, so that’s 22% DV easily done.16
½ cup boiled okra: 92 mcg of folate (23% DV)
Okra isn’t to everyone’s palate, but if you cook it right, it can be positively addictive. Crumb fry and add to a mixed pepper and tomato salad for some crunch. You could also whip up some southern style tomato and okra stew or gumbo. Just half a cup of okra has 92 mcg of folate, that’s nearly 23% DV. 17
10. Brussels Sprouts
½ cup boiled brussels sprouts: 78 mcg of folate (20% DV)
Brussels sprouts can be more than a last-minute add-on at meals or a boring vegetable no one wants to eat. Chargrill them with some butter or roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper until golden brown and crispy and you’ll look at them in a new light! Just half a cup of them has 78 mcg or 20% DV of folate.18 They are also delicious in a creamy cheesy garlicky sauce with some crispy bacon added on for good measure. Are you starting to see the possibilities?
11. Romaine Lettuce
1 cup of shredded romaine lettuce: 64 mcg of folate (16% DV)
If you’re confused about what kind of lettuce works best to increase folic acid intake, stick with romaine. A cup of the lettuce has 64 mcg or 16% DV of folate.19 You can even saute or grill the leaves for a delicious alternative to regular wilted greens or mashed potatoes. Braise some and top crostini with them or fill them up with some minced meat and thai herbs and spices for a delicious treat for the senses.
12. Oranges And Orange Juice
- ¾ cup orange juice: 35 mcg of folate (9% DV)
- 1 cup orange fruit segments: 54 mcg of folate ( 14% DV)
The bright citrus fruit can ramp up your dietary intake of folate – and it is easily available as juice or fruit. Drink up a ¾ cup serving of orange juice and you will have consumed 35 mcg of folate (9%DV).20 A cup of oranges eaten plain has 54 mcg of folate (nearly 14%DV).21
If you want to add it to your cooking, how about an orange vinaigrette instead of lemon as your new favorite salad dressing? The roasted fruit also works a treat with roast chicken and the juice as a glaze for pork chops. Not to mention how wonderful cakes can be with an infusion of the juice or fruit!
Fortified Foods Have Folic Acid
If you need that extra push with your folate intake, there is also the option of fortified foods. Foods like breakfast cereals, pasta, and even rice can be enriched with folic acid. Half a cup of cooked enriched spaghetti, for instance, has 83 mcg or 21% DV of folic acid, half a cup of medium grain cooked rice has around 90 mcg or 23% DV, and breakfast cereals may be fortified to provide as much as 100 mcg or 25% DV.22 Just be careful you don’t overdo your intake with these foods when there is a rich variety of natural foods you can choose from because folic acid seems to have some health risks that natural folate does not have.
|↑1||Folate-deficiency anemia. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2, ↑5||Folic acid. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑3||B vitamins and folic acid. National Health Service.|
|↑4||Recommendations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑6, ↑9, ↑12, ↑15||Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑7||Food sources of Folate. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑8||Beef, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑10||Foods to avoid in pregnancy. National Health Service.|
|↑11||Food Sources of Folate. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑13||Beets, raw, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑14||Food Sources of Folate. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑16, ↑18, ↑19, ↑20||Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑17||Okra, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑21||Oranges, raw, all commercial varieties. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Folate.Office of Dietary Supplements.|