Pregnant? Here’s Your Guide to Understanding Folate

Pregnant? Here’s Your Guide to Understanding Folate

Our expert: Tara DelloIacono Thies

Tara DelloIacono Thies, LUNA and Clif Bar & Company’s in-house registered dietitian and nutrition tipster, has always found nutrition fascinating and chose to make a career of it. She’s the nutritional and product ingredient whiz who helps LUNA make the best choices about what we put into our bars. She can translate the most complex scientific nutrition concepts into language that everyone can grasp and benefit from.

This article is part of a sponsored series in partnership with LUNA Bar. It was originally published on the LUNA website.

Folate is the “star” of the B vitamins!


Any vitamin carrying claims such as, “helps to reduce the risk of birth defects” and “may help prevent heart disease” is a star in my book.

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that wears many hats in the role of good health. It is important in the synthesis of DNA, our unique genetic map. Folate also works with vitamin B12, developing red blood cells to carry oxygen through the blood.

Women in their reproductive years should take in 400mcg of folic acid daily.

Folate vs. Folic Acid

Folate is the general term referring to the form found in non-fortified foods and serves as the category term for all forms of the vitamin, including folic acid and folacin. Folic acid is the term used when a food is fortified with the vitamin.

Folate and Mothers

Folate plays an important role for women—it’s important in the healthy growth and development of the fetus. A deficiency in folate can lead to neural tube defects of the brain and spinal cord of the fetus.

In about the first three to four weeks of pregnancy, the tube that will encase the brain and spinal cord of the fetus closes. A neural tube defect occurs when the tube fails to close properly. Most women don’t even know they are pregnant when this development takes place. This is why it is so important that all women in their reproductive years take in 400 micrograms of folic acid in the form of a supplement or in fortified foods.

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration recognized the large number of neural tube defects and mandated that all enriched grains be fortified with folate. Many educational campaigns were implemented by Registered Dietitians and organizations such as the March of Dimes to educate women on the importance of folate. Recent surveys are telling us that the work has paid off and more women are getting the folate they need; however, more education is still needed especially in lower income households.

Folate and Your Heart

New research is also suggesting that folic acid may also play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. However, at this time, the American Heart Association does not consider this an independent factor for heart disease. The National Academy of Science finds the evidence to be inconclusive and is recommending larger controlled studies to determine whether folic acid supplements will help decrease the risk of heart disease. The evidence suggesting that folic acid can reduce the risk of heart disease is important enough to support more research.

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How Much Do You Need?

Of course, making sure you are getting the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) every day is important.

  • For men: 400 micrograms (mcg)
  • For women: 400 (mcg)
  • For pregnant women: 600 (mcg)
  • For lactating women: 500 (mcg)

Where’s the Folate?

Some great food sources of folate (> 55 mcg/d) are mushrooms, green vegetables, legumes, organ meats, meat, poultry, beans, citrus fruits, brewers yeast and bananas.

Some foods are fortified with folic acid, such as enriched grain products, like cereals and whole grain products.

The Public Health Service recommends that all women capable of becoming pregnant take in 400 g of folic acid from a supplement, fortified foods, or a combination of the two, in addition to foods that naturally contain folate. The synthetic form (folic acid) is better absorbed than the natural form (folate) found in non-fortified foods.

So take a look at your food labels and see where you may be getting folate from in your diet. It may be in your cereal and foods you already eat. Just so you know, LUNA contains 100% of the recommended daily intake of folic acid.


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Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.