Comparing Folate vs. Folic Acid

Folate and folic acid are both forms of vitamin B9, an essential vitamin that our bodies need to create new proteins and cells. While their names are often used interchangeably, folate and folic acid differ.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 and can be found in certain foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form created in a lab for supplements and to fortify foods like cereal.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between folate and folic acid and gives tips on choosing the right supplement.

A pregnant woman taking medication

Revolu7ion93 / Getty Images

Folate vs. Folic Acid: Both Are Forms of Vitamin B9 (Sort Of)

Folate and folic acid are both forms of vitamin B9 but are different substances. They differ in how they are created, how the body absorbs them, and how you can get them in your diet. 

Natural vs. Synthetic 

Folate is the naturally occurring vitamin B9 in certain foods like leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and whole grains.

Folic acid is a synthetic (human-made) form of vitamin B9. It can be found in supplements and processed foods like flour and cereals.


Our bodies absorb folic acid and folate differently. Folic acid is absorbed more efficiently than folate. Our bodies can absorb 50% of the folate in our diets and 85% of the folic acid.

The amount of folate in foods is measured in micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs). To consume 400 mcg of DFE, you could eat 400 mcg of folate from foods like spinach or beans or 240 mcg of folic acid from a supplement. 


Folate and folic acid are available in different types of food. Folate occurs naturally in some foods. Folic acid is added to certain foods. 

Foods rich in folate include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruits
  • Orange juice
  • Beans 

Folic acid can be found in supplements and multivitamins. Foods with folic acid often have the words “fortified” or “enriched” on them. Foods with folic acid include:

  • Rice 
  • Pasta
  • Breakfast cereal 
  • Bread 
  • Flour 
  • Tortillas  

Importance of Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble vitamin (able to be dissolved in water) that is essential for our bodies. We use vitamin B9 to help produce the genetic material DNA and RNA in our bodies. This vitamin is also needed to create proteins in the cells. 

Vitamin B9 also produces new red blood cells. This is especially important during rapid growth in the body, for example, during pregnancy. Vitamin B9 is also needed to break down homocysteine, an amino acid that can be harmful at high levels. 

Signs of Deficiency

A folate deficiency is rare because folic acid is commonly added to many foods. A low amount of folate in your body can lead to megaloblastic anemia, which causes the body to very large yet underdeveloped red blood cells. 

Possible signs of a folate deficiency include:

Signs of Too Much Vitamin B9 

While rare, it is possible to consume too much folic acid. This does not occur with folate because it’s hard to eat enough folate-rich foods to reach toxicity. Folate is also not as readily absorbed as folic acid. 

Limit intake to 1,000 mcg daily to avoid taking too much folic acid. Consuming more than that can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, a serious condition that can lead to irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system. 

Limiting a folic acid supplement to 400 mcg is best because you will likely consume more folic acid from your diet.

While folate deficiency is rare, certain groups are at higher risk. You may require extra supplementation with folate or folic acid if you are part of any of the following groups:

  • Pregnant people: The need for folate goes up during pregnancy.
  • People with alcohol use disorder: Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate.
  • People with malabsorption conditions: Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and surgeries on digestive organs can interfere with folate absorption.
  • People with specific gene mutations: A variant of the gene MTHFR cannot convert folate to its active form in the body.

Is Folate Better Than Folic Acid?

Both folate and folic acid provide your body with the essential vitamin B9. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, it is usually better to get them naturally, from the food you eat. However, eating enough folate through natural foods alone can be difficult.

If you are at an increased risk of a folate deficiency, especially if you are pregnant, talk with your healthcare provider about taking a folic acid supplement and eating more fortified foods. 

Tips for Choosing a Folate vs. Folic Acid Supplement 

For many people, it is possible to get enough vitamin B9 through their diet with both folate-rich and folic acid–enriched foods. Many breakfast cereals provide 100% of the recommended daily value of folic acid. 

Many people assigned female at birth could benefit from taking 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily. It is important to have sufficient levels of folic acid when you become pregnant; a low level before you know you are pregnant can lead to congenital disabilities. 

To choose the right folic acid supplement, consider the following tips:

  • Look for seals of approval from third-party testing agencies like USP, NSF, and ConsumerLab. This ensures that the supplement has been produced safely and contains the correct amount of the substance stated on the bottle. 
  • Avoid purchasing the supplement if you do not see an expiration date on the bottle. 
  • Inquire with your insurance company about folic acid supplement coverage. Insurance marketplace plans should cover it for any person who could become pregnant. 

Talk with a healthcare provider or pharmacist before choosing a folic acid supplement.

Folic acid is vital for a healthy pregnancy and baby, so it's included in most prenatal supplements. People low in folic acid in early pregnancy are at an increased risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, serious conditions affecting the brain, spine, and spinal cord. A low level of folic acid during pregnancy can cause the following conditions:

  • Spina bifida: When the baby's spinal column does not fully close during development
  • Anencephaly: A fatal condition when some or most of the brain does not develop


Folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9, an essential water-soluble vitamin our bodies use to create new proteins and cells. Folate occurs naturally in certain foods like green leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits. Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, found in supplements and enriched foods, including breakfast cereals and flour.

It is uncommon to experience folate or folic acid deficiency because folic acid has been added to many foods. Some groups, especially pregnant people, are at an increased risk of a deficiency. Talk with a healthcare provider before choosing a folic acid supplement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a dose of folate the same as a dose of folic acid?

    A folate and folic acid dose does not provide the same amount of vitamin B9. This is because the body absorbs folic acid more easily than folate. 

  • What folate form is best?

    Both folate and folic acid provide your body with a needed vitamin. Talk with a healthcare provider about choosing the best folic acid supplement.

  • Do folate supplements help with fertility?

    Taking a folic acid supplement may improve your fertility. People who took folic acid supplements along with assisted reproductive technology (ART) were more likely to become pregnant and give birth than those who didn't take it.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Folate and folic acid.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Folate - Health professional fact sheet.

  3. MedlinePlus. Folic acid.

  4. Harvard School of Public Health. Folate (folic acid) – Vitamin B9.

  5. March of Dimes. Folic acid.

  6. Office on Women’s Health. Folic acid.

  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Folate and folic acid on the nutrition and supplement facts labels.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General information about NTDs, folic acid, and folate.

  9. Gaskins AJ, Afeiche MC, Wright DL, et al. Dietary folate and reproductive success among women undergoing assisted reproduction. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(4):801-809. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000000477

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.