Folate: Is it important for you?
Indian cooking practices such as heating for prolonged periods in open vessels result in loss of food folates. Here’s how you can add this essential vitamin to your diet
Folate is also known as vitamin B9 and is a water-soluble vitamin. It can be obtained from animal and plant sources and must be taken daily as it is not produced in the body. A synthetic form of folate is known as folic acid, which can be derived from supplements or fortified foods. Absorption of folic acid is better than folate.
Why is folate/folic acid important?
- Necessary for the production of DNA and RNA, RBCs and WBCs
- For the proper growth and development of the fetus as it helps in the prevention of neural tube defects in the fetus
- Decreases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- It helps to lower the level of homocysteine (homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced when proteins are broken down)
- Along with Vitamin C and Vitamin B12, folic acid helps in the digestion of protein and improves the absorption of iron. (e.g.- spinach, fortified cereal, broccoli, citrus fruits, egg)
- The deficiency of folic acid can lead to megaloblastic anaemia – unusually large size, structure and immature red blood cells (RBCs)
- Neural tube defects in babies
- Level of homocysteine increases (increased level of homocysteine can damage the lining of arteries and result in blood clots which further leads to heart diseases)
- Impaired cell division (cell divides improperly which can further lead to cancer)
Signs and Symptoms of B9 deficiency
- Mouth sores
- Headache and dizziness
- Pale skin
- Muscle weakness
According to RDA 2020, ICMR, the daily requirement of B9 for men/women and physiological condition is as follows:
Men (19-39y) – 300 mcg
In men, folic acid can help in the prevention of heart disease and enhance fertility.
Women (19-39y) – 220 mcg
In women, folic acid helps make healthy red blood cells and prevents anaemia.
Pregnant Women – 570 mcg
In pregnant women, it helps in preventing birth defects like neural tube defects in a baby.
Lactating Women – 330 mcg
In lactating women, through breast milk, the folic acid is passed down in the child and helps in its development.
But a person should take the required amount of folate only. Taking a large amount of folate can increase the risk of colorectal cancer (colon and rectum are affected), mask vitamin B12 deficiency and if this continues for a long period of time, it may lead to brain and nervous system damage.
What we should do
- Organ meats such as liver and egg yolk are fairly good sources of folate in the Indian context
- The major sources are legumes (soybean, kidney beans, chickpea)
- Lentils (split Bengal gram, cowpeas, mung bean, pigeon pea)
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce, amaranth leaves),
- Vegetables (okra, tomatoes, French beans)
- Citrus fruit (orange, lemon, grapefruit)
- Avocado, papaya, banana
- Nuts (peanut, walnut)
- Fortification of food with folic acid (fortified grains like cereals, bread and pasta)
What we should not do
- Loss of food folate: Indian cooking practices such as heating for prolonged periods in open vessels destroy and reduce food folates considerably.
- Any food product containing folate should be kept away from UV light, heat and moisture.
(The writer is a student of M.Sc. Nutrition and Dietetics)