Folate, the natural form of folic acid, is a B-vitamin found in many foods, including leafy gree vegetables, beans, and asparagus. Folic acid, the synthetic form of the vitamin, is added to fortified foods (such as cereals) and is also found in supplements. Both play a key role in healthy cell growth and may improve cardiovascular health by teaming with vitamins B6 and B12to lower homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood. An excess of homocysteine is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke.
“Meeting your folate requirements by increasing your intake of delicious, folate-rich foods will help moderate homocysteine levels, which may reduce your risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Arthur Agatston, preventive cardiologist and author of the South Beach Diet®. “Eating the South Beach Diet® way and getting regular exercise are also important when it comes to lowering your risk of heart disease,” he explains.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for folate is 400 micrograms for all adults. Women of childbearing age need to be particularly vigilant about meeting this requirement. Upon the recommendation of a physician, they may need higher doses, since folate can prevent up to 70 percent of neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida) and can also help prevent cleft lip and cleft palate.
Meeting your folate needs may have other benefits as well. Research suggests that folate may reduce the risk of colon, cervical, and breast cancers, and it might prove helpful for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, folate is abundant in many foods. In addition, in 1998, the FDA began requiring folic acid fortification of enriched breads, cereals, flours, pastas, rice, and other grain products to help ensure that people meet their requirement of this nutrient.