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How Folate Works

What Is Folate?

If you never knew why your mom told you to eat your vegetables, you're about to find out. Among the many vitamins and nutrients found in vegetables is folate, which is vital for growth. Sometimes known as folic acid, this vitamin helps your body build new cells. This process takes place every day, so don't ever pass on the salad.

The discovery of folate was closely tied to the discovery of vitamin B12. These two vitamins work together in several important biological reactions. A deficiency of either vitamin results in a condition known as megaloblastic, or macrocytic (large-cell), anemia.

In 1930, researcher Lucy Wills and her colleagues reported that yeast contained a substance that could cure macrocytic anemia in pregnant women. But it wasn't until the early 1940s that folate was finally isolated and identified.

Folate functions as a coenzyme during many reactions in the body. It has an important role in making new cells, because it helps form the genetic material DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). DNA carries and RNA transmits the genetic information that acts as the blueprint for cell production.

Green leafy vegetable are rich in folate.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Green leafy vegetable are rich in folate.

We especially need folate when new cells are manufactured. This function of folate helps to explain why the vitamin is necessary for normal growth and development, and why anemia occurs when there's not enough.

The body makes large numbers of red blood cells each day to replace those that get destroyed. DNA is essential for this process; therefore, folate is as well. Because of its role in growth and development, the vitamin is especially important for pregnant women.

Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and asparagus, are rich in folate (its name comes from the word foliage). With vegetables, you must take care not to overcook or use much water, as the folate can be lost. Seeds, liver, and dried peas and beans are other good sources.

Orange juice contains less, but is a good source because it contains a readily absorbed form of the vitamin. It also contains vitamin C, which helps preserve folate. Also, with orange juice, you avoid the problem of destroying folate by cooking it.

Here is a chart that shows you many other good sources of folate:

Food  Quantity
Folate (mcg)
Product 19 cereal  1 cup
Brewer's yeast  1 tablespoon  280
Asparagus  1 cup
Brussels sprouts  1 cup  156.9
Cocoa Krispies cereal  1 cup  133.1
Instant breakfast drink  1 envelope    99.9
Avocados  1/2 medium
Crispix cereal  3/4 cup    75
Beets  1/2 cup    68
Orange juice, unsweetened  1/2 cup    54.5
Wheat germ  2 tablespoons    45.4
Romaine lettuce, chopped  1 cup    40.7
Oranges  1 medium
Cantaloupe, diced  1 cup    39.2
Cabbage, cooked  1/2 cup    30

Intake of folate is particularly important for pregnant women. The next page details the health risks that folate helps reduce.

Folate is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Vitamin B12, which helps folate make cells, works differently than any other vitamin. Learn the details at How Vitamin B12 Works.
  • Vitamin B1, or thiamin, is one of the essentil vitamins added back to "enriched" foods. Learn about it at How Vitamin B1 Works.
  • Found mostly in protein, vitamin B3 keeps us strong. How Vitamin B3 Works explains what happens if you don't get enough of it.
  • Biotin aids in metabolism, turning food into energy. Learn more at How Biotin Works.
  • Your body can make its own Vitamin D if you get enough sunshine. Learn the details at How Vitamin D Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.