What is the Difference Between Folate and Folic Acid?

Check the label of your prenatal vitamin and make sure it’s folate, not the synthetic form, folic acid

Folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) is vitamin B9, folic acid (pteroylmonoglutamic acid) is the synthetic form. 

Folic acid absorbs well into the blood stream but 40-60% of the population has a mutation in the MTHFR gene which means they are unable to use folic acid or are less efficient at converting it to the active form (1). Since the conversion is inefficient, folic acid can build up in the blood and cause health issues (2, 3).

But more importantly than that, if it’s not being converted it won’t help prevent neural tube defect.

Neural Tube Defect

Neural tube defects develop around 6-8 weeks gestation, a time when some women may not know they’re pregnant. For this reason, public health officials want all women of childbearing age to take a folate supplement or a prenatal vitamin that contains folate. 

While consistent supplementation would be nice, it’s not realistic to expect every woman to do that. If you are planning to become pregnant start taking a prenatal right away, ideally supplementation begins 3 months prior to conception. 

Dietary Sources and RDA

Pregnant women need at least 600 mcg of folate per day. Check your prenatal vitamin to make sure it contains folate and not folic acid. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting plenty of folate from foods.

Good sources of folate:

  • Liver
  • Avocado
  • Legumes
  • Leafy Greens
  • Beets
  • Nuts / Seeds
  • Eggs


  1. Multivitamin Supplementation During Pregnancy: Emphasis on Folic Acid and l-Methylfolate
  2. Folic acid for the prevention of colorectal adenomas: a randomized clinical trial
  3. Cancer incidence and mortality after treatment with folic acid and vitamin B12