What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins (vitamin B9) and along with Vitamin B12 is essential for the formation of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow. It is also required to make new cells in the body.

Folic acid is also known as folate when it occurs naturally in foods.

Folic acid is water-soluble, which means it cannot be stored in the body for very long and needs to be included in daily dietary intake.

How much folic acid do we need?

Research shows that folic acid can greatly reduce the chance of a baby being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida, by helping to make sure that the spine develops properly. Medical studies have shown that women who increase their intake of folic acid in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy reduce the risk of having a baby with these conditions. So it is important for every woman who might be thinking of having a baby to make sure she is getting enough folic acid.

Where can I find folic acid?

Major dietary sources of folate/folic acid include green leafy vegetables (e.g. sprouts, spinach, green beans, peas, broccoli and lettuce), brown rice, potatoes, fruit (such as oranges and bananas), whole grain breads and fortified breakfast cereals.

Bread is a source of folate. Wholemeal bread has 40 micrograms per 100g and white bread 25 micrograms per 100g. (McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods 6th Summary Edition (2002)

Some foods are fortified with folic acid. These may display a folic acid symbol on pack, either based on the previous Health Education Authority Folic Acid Flash Scheme or a simple capital F in a circle. Any fortified food will also highlight the level present in the nutrition table.

For further information please download our Factsheet No. 11 – Folic Acid.