Folate vs. Folic Acid – What you need to know about the difference!
Updated: Jul 19
“When should I start taking folic acid? How much folic acid should I take? Are all folic acid supplements the same?”
Hands down, the most frequently asked question I get as an ottawa doula and prenatal nutritionist, concerns folic acid. While it has now become mainstream for doctors to recommend a folic acid supplement to anyone thinking about becoming pregnant, or for those who have become pregnant but are not yet supplementing, there remains a lot of confusion about the best form of folic acid to take.
In the early 1990s, doctors started to recommend folic acid regularly to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects and reduce the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and congenital heart disease, all of which are linked to low levels of folic acid. Unfortunately, the form that most doctors recommend, which is also the form most used in doctor recommended prenatal vitamins, is the inactive form. The problem with widespread recommendation of the inactive form of folic acid is that 40-50 % of people have a genetic variation called MTHFR that reduces the ability to absorb folic acid in this form.
The solution? To recommend supplementation with the active form of folic acid, called 5-MTHF or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate! Fortunately, many high-quality professional brand supplements are available which contain the active and absorbable form of folic acid called 5-MTHF. What is unfortunate is that many doctors and mainstream health care providers are STILL recommending brands that contain the synthetic inactive form.
I know what you are thinking. Why don’t all supplement companies opt for the more absorbable form? The answer … It is cheaper!! When it comes to supplements you really do get what you pay for. Therefore, it is very important to consult a health care provider when deciding which prenatal supplements to take. As an Ottawa Prenatal Nutritionist, who also provides virtual prenatal nutrition services, I take great pleasure in guiding my clients to use only the highest quality and purest supplements!
How much methylated folic acid should we consume in a day?
The Canadian Recommended daily allowance for a woman who isn’t pregnant is 400 mcg daily while the RDI for pregnant women is 600 mcg daily. Most professional supplement companies include the upper limit of 1000 mcg (or 1 mg) daily.
When should someone planning a pregnancy begin taking methylated folic acid?
Ideally, most health care providers recommend supplementing with folic acid at least 3 months before conceiving. However, it doesn’t hurt to switch your regular multivitamin to a prenatal formula the moment you even start thinking about conceiving! This way you will know that your body is ready for it when it happens!
What are the best food sources for dietary folate?
While I recommend my prenatal nutrition clients supplement with a high-quality prenatal vitamin that includes the methylated and highly absorbable form of folic acid, it is equally important to load up on food sources of folate when trying to conceive and during pregnancy.
Excellent sources of dietary folate include:
o Legumes – specifically lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans
o Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds
o Dark leafy greens – spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, arugula
o Other veggies – asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, seaweeds, artichokes, and avocados
Interested in a one-week folate rich meal plan and accompanying recipe book that is suitable for both pre-conception and during pregnancy? I’ve got you covered! Please click on the document at the bottom of this page to download your copy!
*Please remember to check with your primary health care provider before beginning any new diet or supplements during the preconception, prenatal or postnatal period.
This post was written by Ottawa Doula, and Ottawa Prenatal Nutritionist, Julia Davie. Her approach to birth work is heart centered, holistic and inclusive. She is honored to support families in Ottawa, Gatineau, and the surrounding areas.