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Health Before

Pregnancy

Last Reviewed September 2014

Physical Preparation

Folic Acid FAQ

Key Info

  • All women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin/mineral supplement containing at least 0.4 mg (400mcg) of folic acid every day
  • Folic acid is needed for the healthy development of a baby's spine, brain and skull
  • Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs)
  • Fruits and vegetables are among the best sources of folic acid

What is folic acid?
What are neural tube defects(NTDs)?
Who should take folic acid?
Which foods contain folic acid?
Will the foods I eat provide all the folic acid I need?
Can I take too much folic acid?

What is folic acid?

Folic acid, also known asfolateorfolacin, is a B vitamin. (Folic acid is the synthetic pill form; folate is the natural form found in food.)

Folic acid is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s spine, brain and skull during the first four weeks of pregnancy.

Studies show that folic acid can reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) by more than 70 percent if taken before pregnancy.

What are neural tube defects?

Neural tube defects — such as spina bifida — are birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord of a developing baby. NTDs can cause serious disability, paralysis or even death.

NTDs can happen in the first four weeks after conception, usually before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

Who should take folic acid?

All women who could become pregnant should eat a healthy, folate-rich diet and take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement containing a minimum 0.4 mg (400mcg) of folic acid.

If you’re taking a prenatal supplement, you’re already getting all the folic acid you need. You don’t need an additional multi-vitamin/mineral supplement unless your doctor has recommended it for medical reasons. Talk to your doctor to be sure.

Which foods contain folate?

While many foods contain some folate, fruits and vegetables are among the best sources .

Canada’s Food Guide recommends 7-8 servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
Eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. By following Canada’s Food Guide you’ll automatically increase your folic acid intake.

Try these tasty folate-rich dishes:

  • Spinach and orange salad
  • Lentil soup
  • Bean burritos
  • Chilli
  • Fruit salad
  • Poached egg Florentine
  • Thai noodle salad or stir fry

Eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. By following the Food Guide you’ll automatically increase your folic acid intake.

Overcooking, processing and preserving will destroy some of the folic acid in foods. Protect the folate in the fruits and vegetables you eat by:

  1. Storing food in tightly sealed containers
  2. Avoiding excessive peeling and cutting
  3. Cooking for short periods of time
  4. Using as little water as possible

On packaged foods, look for the termfolacinorfolateon nutrition food labels on Canadian food products, such as fortified cereals.

Will the foods I eat provide all the folic acid I need?
No. Even the best food choices will not provide all the folic acid you need.
Take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement containing at least 0.4 mg (400mcg) of folic acid every day.

Sources of Folic Acid

Food 1 Food Guide Serving Microgramsa of Folate
Lentils and romano beans 175 mL 265-270
Black beans 175 mL 190
Okra 125 mL 140
White beans 175 mL 125
Asparagus and spinach, cooked 125 mL 120
Salad greens, such as Romaine lettuce, mustard greens and endive 250 mL 80-110
Pinto beans, kidney beans and chickpeas 175 mL 70-100
Pasta made with enriched wheat flour 125 mL 90
Avocado ½ fruit 80
Sunflower seeds, shelled 60 mL 80
Bagel made with enriched wheat flour ½ bagel(45 g) 60-75
Brussels sprouts, beets and broccoli, cooked 125 mL 70
Bread made with enriched wheat flour or enriched corn meal 1 slice or ½ pita or ½ tortilla (35 g) 45-65
Spinach, raw 250 mL 60
Orange juice from concentrate 125 mL 60
Parsley 125 mL 50
Parsnips 125 mL 50
Peanuts, shelled 60 mL 45
Eggs 2 large 45
Corn 125 mL 40
Seaweed 125 mL 40
Orange 1 medium 40
Green peas 125 mL 40
Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries 125 mL 15-35
Enriched ready to eat cereal 30 g 10-35
Broccoli and cauliflower, raw 125 mL 30
Snow peas 125 mL 30
Pineapple juice 125 mL 30
Walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, shelled 60 mL 20-30
Baby carrots 125 mL 25
Kiwifruit 1 large 20
Clementine 1 fruit 20

*Since 1998, all white flour, enriched pasta and cornmeal products old in Canada re enriched.

Source: Canadian Nutrient File. Health Canada 2007b

Can I take too much folic acid?
Yes. Too much folic acid can hide vitamin B12 deficiency. It is recommended to take no more than 1mg per day, unless prescribed by your doctor for medical reasons. Also, make sure your folic acid supplements also contains vitamin B12.

If you’re at high risk of having a baby with an NTD (neural tube defects), you might need a higher daily dose of folic acid. Talk to your doctor to be sure.

For more information:

Region of Peel-Public Health   
(905) 799-7700
Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Caledon residents call free of charge at 905-584-2216


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Revised: Friday August 29 2014

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