Folate Deficiency: What It Is And How To Increase Your Folate Intake
If you’ve ever dealt with long-term fatigue, you know how frustrating it can be to feel really tired pretty much all the time. While you’d love to catch up with friends or to stick with your regular workouts, all you want to do is sleep. Most of us have probably been there and it can be discouraging when you’re trying to focus on being healthy.
The role that a healthy diet plays in providing your body with energy is enormous. Unfortunately, for so many of us, understanding where aspects of our diet may be letting us down can also feel like an enormous hurdle. At Sweat, we really want to make it easier to understand how something as simple as getting enough folate can make your health and fitness journey a bit easier.
This blog can help you to understand how folate intake can impact your energy levels, as well as explaining what a folate deficiency is. As you develop a greater understanding of where key vitamins can be found and how they can help support your fitness journey, meal planning can be a bit easier!
What is folate?
Also known as vitamin B9, folate is one of the essential B-group vitamins that your body needs to grow and develop. When available to your body, folate assists with the production of red blood cells, supports nerve function and your immune system, as well as helping to make and repair your DNA.
Like many vitamins, folate is found naturally in many foods, particularly vegetables, fruit and legumes. Some foods that are naturally higher in folate are dark, leafy greens (such as spinach), whole grains, beans, nuts, oranges and orange juice.
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body isn’t able to store it. Your body needs a regular supply of folate in the food you eat to be able to put it to use repairing cells, producing red blood cells and supporting your nervous system.
Is there a difference between folate and folic acid?
Yes! Even though these terms are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences in folate vs folic acid. As touched on above, folate is found naturally in foods. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of folate that is usually found in folate-enriched foods or in supplements. Folic acid is often added to foods like bread, pasta, flour and breakfast cereals (some contain as much as 100% of the daily recommendation of folate).
While folic acid is added to some foods during processing, it definitely doesn’t fall into the same category as artificial flavours and other additives that are found in highly processed foods. For many people, food enriched with folic acid can be beneficial — particularly for women planning to start a family.
What is folate deficiency?
As you may have guessed, a folate deficiency occurs when your body is not getting sufficient folate from your diet. Folate deficiencies are quite common, although folate is relatively easy to obtain. The recommended amount of folate per day for adults is at least 400mcg — with the recommendation for pregnant women at least 600mcg.
Everyone needs folate. The amount of folate you need will depend on your age, as well as whether you are currently pregnant (or trying to fall pregnant), or if you are breastfeeding. A well-balanced diet that includes lots of vegetables and whole grains can help you to obtain the folate you need. For anyone planning on starting a family, a folic acid supplement is generally recommended by your healthcare professional.
What causes folate deficiency?
As explained above, your body doesn’t store folate. A folate deficiency can occur if you are not eating enough folate foods on a regular basis. If your diet is low in fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, seeds and whole grains, look to add more of these foods to your meals.
Health conditions that affect nutrient absorption can also contribute to a folate deficiency, people with Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease are particularly at risk. Some medications can also affect nutrient absorption so check with your healthcare professional if you are concerned.
There are some common signs of folate deficiency to look out for, which include:
- Fatigue and low energy for long periods of time
- Poor digestion
- Poor immune function
- Mood changes
- Swelling of the tongue.
A folate deficiency can also contribute to a condition called anaemia, where there aren’t enough red blood cells and the tissues and organs of your body may not be getting enough oxygen. That can lead to symptoms such as:
- Pale skin
- Breathlessness, even after a small amount of exercise
- Heart palpitations
- Mood or emotional changes.
Anaemia can often be treated through diet or folic acid supplementation, however, severe cases of anaemia can contribute to other health problems. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor.
Folate deficiencies can occur in a relatively short period of time, so it is important to have regular health checks to ensure your vitamin intake is sufficient.
To ensure you are getting enough folate, try incorporating a range of whole foods into your diet. Folate is predominantly found in plant foods, although as mentioned, you can also get folic acid from fortified foods. Something to keep in mind is that folate can be damaged by heat, so eating folate-rich fruit and vegetables raw or lightly cooked is the best way to retain the vitamins you need.
Some high folate foods include:
- Green vegetables, including leafy greens such as spinach, kale and lettuce or other greens such as broccoli, asparagus, peas and brussels sprouts
- Legumes and beans, such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits, including citrus fruits, berries
- Soy-based foods, edamame and some meat alternatives.
Including more foods from this list into your diet can help you to meet the recommended daily intake. The meal plans in the Sweat app have been created to assist you in gaining sufficient nutrients from your food each day, so the app is a great place to start if you want some extra support while trying to reach these intake goals.
A bonus is a number of foods that contain folate also provide your body with fibre — which can help to keep your digestive system in order.
Increase your folate intake with a well-balanced diet!
After reading this blog, hopefully, you have a better understanding of why your body needs folate and what you can do to ensure you are getting enough of this vitamin.
For most people, getting adequate folate can be achieved by eating a well-balanced diet that contains lots of folate foods. During pregnancy or in some additional cases, supplementing with folic acid may also be necessary for reaching your recommended intake. Just remember to chat with your doctor before increasing your intake with supplements.
There are lots of good reasons to eat your greens, whether you add more simple kale recipes to your repertoire or choose to make green smoothies. Feeling more energised, having a clearer mind and a stronger immune system are just some of the benefits of getting enough vitamins and minerals.
A diet that is high in folate foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains and oranges sounds pretty good to us!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.