When it comes to food, it’s important to know exactly what you’re eating, and what you should be eating. What nutrients are you missing? What vitamins and minerals can be added naturally through food, and what supplementation should you consider?

To help with that journey of improving your health, we’re taking a look at various food terms and finding out what they mean, one-by-one. In this installment of Simple Food Terms Explained, we’re taking a look at a common, though somewhat lesser known food term: folic acid.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid, or folate, is one of the B vitamins that our bodies need for healthy cell development, healthy blood cells, and protection against certain diseases and illnesses, like spina bifida and cancer. Folate is also mandatory for creation of RNA, DNA, and enables your body to metabolize amino acids.

Folic acid is also important for other things, such as fertility, warding off strokes, reducing age-related macular degeneration, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

What Does Folic Acid Do?

Folic acid helps your body produce and maintain new cells. It also helps your body properly absorb vital minerals like iron.

Folic acid is also used to help treat some types of anemia that are caused by folic acid and iron deficiencies and is often part of prenatal vitamin treatments for pregnant women to help prevent these issues, as well as help with healthy fetal development.

How Much Folic Acid Should You Get Daily?

The recommended adult daily intake for folic acid is 400 micrograms of folic acid. It may be consumed naturally through food or received through a pill or injection, as prescribed by a doctor.

What Foods Does Folic Acid Naturally Occur In?

Folic acid naturally occurs in these foods:

  • Liver
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach and other dark leafy greens
  • Dried beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Rice
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Oranges
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Beets
  • Whole wheat
  • Broccoli

For many, getting enough of these foods may be difficult so you may wish to consider adding in a folic acid supplement. They can be found at online retail sites, in some drug stores in the vitamins and supplements section, and in health food stores.

Cautions with Folic Acid and Other Supplements

Before beginning any new supplement, you should speak with both your doctor and your pharmacist to make sure you won’t have adverse reactions. Some people may also be allergic to folic acid.

If you notice any of the following symptoms after you begin taking folic acid, be sure to receive medical attention immediately.

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Bitter/unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Feeling excited or irritable out of character

These are not specifically known side effects of folic acid but may occur because of the change in your diet, or if you have an allergy. These symptoms may also reveal other health issues that have been unknown before now.