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Folic acid is also called folate. It is one of the B vitamins. Nutrition experts are just starting to learn more about how folic acid helps the body. It is needed to prevent a shortage of red blood cells (a type of anemia). Recently, experts have found that folic acid can also prevent some birth defects.
Adults should have 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid each day. Women may need more if they are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding. Talk with your health care provider to find the right amount of folic acid for you.
Taking folic acid both before and during pregnancy is important. This can prevent birth defects of the spine and brain (neural tube defects). A supplement may also be helpful if you drink alcohol often. You may want to use a folic acid supplement if any of the following is true for you:
I am a woman of childbearing age.
I am planning to get pregnant.
I rarely eat green leafy vegetables, dried beans, or lentils.
I rarely eat cereal and whole grains (wheat germ, brown rice, whole-wheat bread).
I often have more than one drink of alcohol a day.
Here are some tips to help you get the most from a folic acid supplement:
Read the label to be sure the product won't expire soon.
Choose a supplement that provides 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid.
Store the supplement in a cool, dry place, away from sun and heat.
Eat a healthy diet to get all the nutrients your body needs.
Folic acid is found mainly in plants. Some good sources include:
Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards, and romaine lettuce
Lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans such as pinto, kidney, and black beans
Asparagus, bok choy, broad-beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
Avocados, oranges, and orange juice
Wheat germ and whole-wheat products
Products fortified with folic acid, such as cereal, pasta, bread, and rice
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