Folate: The vital vitamin
Folate ( Folacin or folic acid) is a very important vitamin. Low levels are now being associated with a wide range of health problems such as heart disease, bowel cancer, Neutral Tube Defects and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A deficiency results in poor growth, megaloblastic anaemia and other blood disorders. A deficiency can be in combination with B12 or iron and should not be treated without checking other nutrient levels.
The availability of folate depends on the acidity, fibre and the amount of carbohydrate in the food. Folate is water soluble and easily lost in discarded cooking water. Folate is sensitive (destroyed by ) to heat, air and to alkaline conditions. Fruit and vegetable sources of folate are easily destroyed by prolonged storage and cooking.
The Recommended Dietary Intakes (R.D.I.) for folate
Shown in micrograms (µg)
|Children 12 - 18 yrs||200|
|Children 8 - 11 yrs||150|
|Children 1 - 7 yrs||100|
|Infants 7 - 12 months||75|
|Infants up to 6 months||50|
Although the recommended intakes are adequate, they are possibly not optimum levels to achieve and maintain maximum health.
Deficiency of folate can occur :
* from a poorly balanced diet
* with increased requirement eg; pregnancy or elderly.
* through illness or medical condition where the absorption of nutrients from the bowel are affected such as in bowel resection, Coeliac or Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
* through consuming some medications eg methotrexate.
Optimum levels of folate can help prevent:
* Neural tube defects eg spina bifida. The recommended dose is a 500ug supplement of folate a day, three months before pregnancy and three months into pregnancy as well as a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.
* High plasma homocysteine levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Folate, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 are all involved with homocysteine metabolism.
* DNA damage which can lead to the development of cancer.
* Polyps classified as adenomas which are precursors to cancer of the bowel.
Increase consumption of folate from fresh food
Proper transport and cold storage of fresh fruit and vegetables will help maintain folate levels in the food. This is particularly important in Perth hot summers.
* Choose a fruit and vegetable or grocery store with good turn over where fresh produce is assured.
* Put fruit and vegetables into a cooler to transport them home.
* Refrigerate and use as soon as possible. Don't leave fruit and vegetables sitting in a hot car or on the kitchen counter.
* Grow dark green vegetables such as silverbeet, spinach, broccoli in the garden. You can take vegetables straight from the garden to the table to ensure high levels of folate.
Increase consumption through fresh and cooked food
* Add beans and lentils to soups and casseroles since the cooking water is not lost.
* Use fresh raw dark green vegetables regularly- Spinach and cos lettuce in salad are excellent sources. Use raw broccoli in avocado dip.
* Steam or microwave vegetables to minimise loss in cooking water.
* Add any cooking water to gravy, sauces, soups, casseroles and mashed potatoes.
An adequate intake of folate can be achieved from a well balanced diet. Bran, cereals and cereal fortified with folate, wholegrain bread, dark green vegetables, beans and lentils, egg yolk, are good sources of folate. Liver, pate and lambs fry are excellent sources but must be avoided in pregnancy because of their high vitamin A level.
Folate supplements are generally not required unless you are pregnant or have a medical condition that affects absorption. Your Doctor will advise you if you need a supplement. Folate is available in your local pharmacy or supermarkets.