Folate, also known as vitamin B9, helps the body make healthy new cells, convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy, and it is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as infancy, pregnancy, and adolescence.
The most common signs of deficiency include the loss of appetite, weight loss, irritability, heart palpitations, physical weakness, sore tongue, headaches, and diarrhea.
All the B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that the body does not store them and we need to consume it daily to ensure that we have enough in our system.
Folate vs Folic Acid – what’s the difference?
Folate refers to the various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally found in food (mostly plants), whereas folic acid refers to the oxidized synthetic compound used in food fortification and dietary supplements.
In the United States, since 1998, folic acid has been added to cold cereals, pasta, flour, bread, bakery items, crackers, and cookies, as required by federal law.
Side Effects of Folic acid Supplementation
Unlike natural vitamin B9 (which is directly metabolized by the small intestine), the synthetic folic acid requires the help of dihydrofolate reductase, a specific enzyme which is relatively rare in the body.
Therefore, when people consume large amounts of folic acid through supplements and other fortified foods, the body cannot break it down and elevated levels of unmetabolized folic acid enter the bloodstream.
This situation can increase the risk of some cancers and it may not even be as effective in preventing birth defects.
According to a 2001 study at the Institute of Epileptology, Weston Education Centre, London, UK side effects of folic acid can include – epilepsy, changes in sex drive, trouble breathing, vitamin B12 deficiency, lack of focus, nausea, emotional downs and ups, and sleep pattern disorder.
Health Benefits Of Natural Vitamin B9
Pregnant women need more vitamin B9 to lower the risk of neural tube birth defects (also called NTDs), which are birth defects of the spine, brain, or spinal cord.
There is no cure for NTDs. The loss of function and nerve damage that are present at birth are frequently permanent.
Low blood levels of this vitamin are linked with an increased risk of breast, cervical, colon, brain, and lung cancer.
Some studies concluded that 15 to 38 percent of patients with depression have low blood levels of vitamin B9, and those individuals with very low levels tend to be the most depressed.
In addition, it is considered that vitamin B9 plays an important part in mood regulation.
Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention
Adequate amounts of vitamin B9 may help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells. Furthermore, the consumption of foods rich in vitamin B9 helps in preventing memory loss due to aging.
Prevents Folate Deficiency Anemia
Folate-deficiency anemia is the lack of folic acid in the blood. People who do not consume sufficient vitamin B9 can develop folic acid deficiency anemia.
Note – some babies are born unable to absorb folic acid. This condition can lead to megaloblastic anemia.
Without normal levels of vitamin B9, homocysteine (an amino acid that’s created in the body during metabolic processes) levels can cause blood to clot more easily than normal and cause heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
More importantly, an excess of homocysteine interferes with the production of the neurohormones dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which regulate sleep, mood, and appetite.
The recommended daily allowance of this vitamin throughout life is as follows:
- birth to 6 months: 65 micrograms/day;
- infants 7-12 months: 80 micrograms/day;
- children 1-3 years: 150 micrograms/day;
- children 4-8 years: 200 micrograms/day;
- children 9-13 years: 300 micrograms/day;
- adult women and men (above age 14): 400 micrograms/day;
- pregnant women: 600 micrograms/day;
- during lactation: 500 micrograms/day.
Generally speaking, it should be easy to prevent this deficiency by eating a well-balanced diet.
For example, 4 medium oranges, 100g corn, 100g chickpeas, 3 small bananas, 1 tbs of sunflower seeds, 100g tomatoes, 30g peanuts, and 100g broccoli have a total of 600,4 micrograms of vitamin B9 and 1026 kcal (in general, pregnant women need between 2,200 calories and 2,900 kcal a day).
These are all common foods that can be found at any time during the year.
Top Plant-Based Foods High In Folate:
The amount of vitamin B9 is per 100 g of each particular food.
#1 Peanuts – 240 micrograms
#2 Black-eyed peas (cowpeas) – 235 micrograms
#3 Sunflower seeds – 219 micrograms
#4 Spinach – 194 micrograms
#5 Lentils – 186,7 micrograms
#6 Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) – 176,3 micrograms
#7 Romaine lettuce – 130 micrograms
#8 Kidney beans – 128,8 micrograms
#9 Arugula – 97 micrograms
#10 Avocado – 89 micrograms
#11Flax seeds – 87 micrograms
#12 Brussels sprouts – 61 micrograms
#13 Okra – 46 micrograms
#14 Asparagus – 45,5 micrograms
#15 Almonds – 44 micrograms
#16 Mangoes – 43 micrograms
#17 Papayas – 40 micrograms
#18 Corn – 36 micrograms
#19 Oranges – 29 micrograms
#20 Kiwi – 23,4 micrograms
#21 Cantaloupe – 21 micrograms
#22 Bananas – 20 micrograms
#23 Mushrooms, Portabello, grilled – 19 micrograms
#24 Tomatoes – 13 micrograms
#25 Grapefruits – 12,5 micrograms
Alcohol interferes with the absorption of vitamin B9, plus it increases the amount of this essential nutrient the kidney gets rid of.
Moreover, smoking and a high intake of coffee can lead to vitamin B9 deficiency.