The Basics: Overview
All women who are able to get pregnant or planning to get pregnant need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is found in some vitamins and foods like breakfast cereal or bread that have folic acid added.
Why is folic acid important?
Everyone needs folic acid, but it’s especially important if you are pregnant or may become pregnant. Folic acid is a vitamin that can prevent birth defects.
Getting enough folic acid is important even when you aren’t planning to get pregnant. It’s needed during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
Talk with your doctor about folic acid.
The Basics: Foods and Vitamins
How can I get enough folic acid?
Getting enough folic acid every day is easy. You can eat foods like breakfast cereal or bread that have folic acid added. Or you can take a vitamin with folic acid.
Look for breakfast cereal with folic acid.
Check the Nutrition Facts label on the side of the box to see how much folic acid the cereal has. Choose cereal that has 100% DV (Daily Value) of folic acid.
Take a vitamin with folic acid.
You can take a multivitamin or a pill that has only folic acid. Vitamins and folic acid pills can be found at most pharmacies and grocery stores. Get tips for choosing a vitamin with folic acid.
Take Action: Check Labels
It’s easy to get the folic acid you need. Just eat a bowl of cereal with 100% DV of folic acid – or take a vitamin with 100% DV of folic acid – every day.
Check the label.
When you are at the grocery store, look for foods with folic acid in them. Choose cereal that has 100% DV of folic acid.
Folic acid is also in foods like enriched breads, pastas, and other foods made with grains. Check the Nutrition Facts label.
If you buy vitamins, be sure to check the label for folic acid. This label shows a vitamin with 100% DV of folic acid.
Take Action: Vitamin Tips
If you take a vitamin, make it easy to remember.
- Take it at the same time every day. For example, take it when you brush your teeth in the morning or when you eat breakfast.
- Leave the vitamin bottle somewhere you will notice it every day, like on the kitchen counter.
What about cost?
The Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, requires most health plans to cover folic acid supplements (pills). Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get folic acid supplements at no cost to you.
Talk to your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Take Action: Eat Healthy
Eating healthy means following a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of nutritious foods and drinks. It also means getting the number of calories that’s right for you (not eating too much or too little).
Use your calories to eat a variety of foods. To eat healthy, be sure to choose:
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- A variety of foods with protein, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products
Eat foods with folate, too.
Many healthy foods also have folate (a type of folic acid that is found naturally in some foods).
In addition to eating cereal with 100% DV of folic acid or taking a vitamin with 100% DV of folic acid, it’s important for women to eat foods with folate, such as:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Oranges and orange juice
- Beans and peas
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on folic acid was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Dietary Supplements, and the Office on Women’s Health.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidance Review Committee