Folate vs. Folic Acid for Pregnancy: What’s the Difference?

Good nutrition is essential for everyone, but it is particularly important for pregnant women. This is because the baby in development needs all the nutrients its body requires to grow. One question you may have is that of folate vs. folic acid; what’s the difference, how does vitamin B9 relate, and which one is good for pregnancy?

Bringing a healthy baby into the world takes a lot more than ensuring the environment is nurturing and safe; a mother or mother-to-be must ensure that they get sufficient vitamins and nutrients before conception and through the pregnancy period.

Importance of Vitamin B9 For Pregnancy

One of the most important vitamins that pregnant mothers must ensure they get enough of is vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 is a naturally occurring nutrient that serves many functions in the human body. A growing fetus must get enough of this nutrient as it plays a critical role in promoting cell regeneration, the formation of DNA, and the growth of the body.

Vitamin B9 is mainly found as folate and in folic acid supplements. While it is mainly taken as a supplement, it can also be added to processed food for easier ingestion. If a pregnant mother does not take naturally occurring vitamin B9, she may need a specialized diet to fortify her diet with this nutrient. Note that it is mandatory in many countries worldwide, particularly the United States and Canada, that a pregnant woman’s diet contains vitamin B9.

The only choice a mother has is how to take vitamin B9. When it comes to folate vs. folic acid, they both contain different forms of vitamin B9. While the two are distinctly different, there is a common misconception that they are the same or that the two names are often used interchangeably.

This article dives deeper into explaining what folate vs. folic acid are and how they differ to help you choose a better method to get vitamin B9 during pregnancy.

What is Folate?

You have probably heard of the term folate in reference to nutrition found in a wide range of foods such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, and legumes. Folate is a name for the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, derived from the Latin word for leaf, ‘folium.’

An arrangement of foods high in folate including pasta, broccoli, eggs, avocado, and a bottle of supplements

Vitamin B9 is a naturally occurring nutrient that serves many functions in the human body.

The term folate today refers to the group of compounds that have similar nutritional benefits as leafy foods. The nutrient is converted into a biologically active form of vitamin B9 known as 5- methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF before being absorbed into the bloodstream.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid, is a synthetic form of vitamin B9. It is often used in health supplements or added to such foods as breakfast cereals, flour, and other foods during processing.

Unlike the naturally occurring folate, folic acid ingested into the body is not wholly converted into the active form of 5-MTHF in the digestive system. Instead, it has to be first converted into other tissues by the liver before it is converted to 5-MTHF.

Major Difference Between Folate vs. Folic Acid

As you can see, the body takes much longer to convert folic acid into usable forms of vitamin B9 after it is ingested into the body. Consequently, the process of ingestion can be slow and inefficient. For some people, it may take an entire day to convert a small dose of folic acid into 5-MTHF.

A small dose of folic acid, typically between 200 mcg and 400 mcg, may not be fully metabolized in the body until the next dose is taken. This can be a serious problem for a pregnant woman, especially when you have to take other fortified foods along with or before taking the folic acid supplements.

The risk factor with folic acid is that the undigested supplements may remain in the pregnant mother’s bloodstream for longer than they should. This is a serious case of concern because when the levels of unmetabolized folic acid are too high, it could lead to other severe health complications.

Which is the Healthiest Source of Vitamin B9?

We have already established that a growing fetus needs sufficient vitamin B9 to grow. However, the source of the vitamins and the process of ingestion also matters a lot. It is always recommended that you get all the essential nutrients a pregnant mother needs from whole foods. Vitamin B9 occurs naturally in high-folate foods, including leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce, avocados, and asparagus.

However, the vitamins you get from whole foods may not be enough. In such a case, supplements are an easy solution to ensure that you have enough vitamin B9 to grow your baby. Failing to take in enough amounts of folate during pregnancy increases the risks of neural tube irregularities such as anencephaly and spina bifida conditions.

While folic acid is the most commonly available supplemental vitamin B9, it is not necessarily the best. As more people become aware of its risks and downsides, other supplements that contain 5-MTHF have become popular alternatives. For instance, you can buy levomefolate magnesium and levomefolate calcium online, and they both are better alternatives to folic acid.

When to Choose Folate vs. Folic Acid

Many people naturally meet the folate requirements of their bodies through healthy eating. A varied diet with green vegetables and fruits is almost always enough to supply all the vitamin B9 the body needs. However, during pregnancy, the body’s need for this essential nutrient rises sharply.

On top of the reasons to go for folate vs. folic acid supplements is the benefits each has on the body. Dietary folate found in whole foods or supplements of vitamin B9 extracted from natural foods is more readily available to the body. Because it is absorbed fast, there is minimal chance of it building up in the bloodstream.

Synthetic folic acid found in processed foods and supplements poses potential risks of building up. Since the folic acid has to undergo two conversion processes before being used by the body, it can overwhelm the liver. You cannot afford to overwhelm your liver during pregnancy for this reason. Therefore, if you can, choose to get your vitamin B9 from natural whole foods or go for folate supplements.

Folic acid has no major known side effects. However, it is not uncommon for a person taking it to report stomach upsets and a build-up of folate in the liver. Taking too many folic acid supplements may lead to health problems since the vitamins are fat-soluble. Too much folic acid intake could lead to the body storing vitamins A and D in its fat reserves.

Final Thoughts on Folate vs. Folic Acid

If you are pregnant, balancing your diet and nutritional intake can be a very delicate science. You can choose to shoot in the dark by taking everything you believe your body needs, or you can be smarter and get the right amounts of nutrients concocted specially for your body in your situation.

Today, personalized supplement ingredients are just a few clicks away. Rather than gamble with folic acid supplements, you can easily order high-quality folate ingredients mixed specially for you. Binto Ingredients have perfected the art of extracting naturally occurring elements and nutrients from around the world to create the perfect supplements for you.

Are you picky about what goes into your body and would like the ideal folate supplements to nurture and grow your pregnancy? Contact Binto today to find out how they can help you stay healthy, and your baby develop naturally.

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