Folic Acid, Folate or Methylfolate? What Does My Kid Really Need?
Let me guess, you thought choosing a children's vitamin would be so easy, right?
But here you are, completely lost in the kid's vitamin aisle, helplessly fumbling through bottle after bottle, trying to figure out the difference between folic acid, folate, and … methylfolate?
A toddler screams from the next aisle over. A baby bottle crashes to the ground. The room gets dark. The store walls start to cave in. Which vitamin supplement do you choose? What does your kid really need? Can't you just run away?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. Even medical professionals, nutrition experts, and other health practitioners frequently mix up the three up, simply because the terms are often used interchangeably. Some would even argue that folate and folic acid are essentially the same nutrients. Folic acid is often considered to be a supplemental form of folate, but there is an important distinction between these two different compounds.
However, the answer to this question is easier than you think! I did some research and chatted with Dr. Toni Egolum MD, pediatrician at Gallatin Children’s Clinic PC in Nashville, TN.
To put it simply, the difference between folate and folic acid is:
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in foods - such as lemons, spinach and liver.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of B9 - most commonly found in store-bought supplements and fortified foods. And that’s basically it.
And what about methlyfolate?
Methylated folic acid, or methylfolate, is the methylated form of synthetic folic acid and is recommended for individuals with the MTHFR gene mutation.
The active form of folate in the body is L-methylfolate, also known as levomefolic acid.
The conversion of these folates to L-methylfolate is crucial because L-methylfolate can cross the blood-brain barrier, while the other forms of folate cannot.
So what should you look for when it comes to your child’s nutrition?
Many parents supplement with folate, especially during those picky eater years. If you do, avoid products that say “folic acid” on the label. Make sure that you check the label on your child’s multivitamin, because most multis contain folic acid and not folate. Fortunately, Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi isn’t like most multis ;-)
You should also continue increasing the amount of folate-rich foods in your kid’s daily diet. Some excellent sources of dietary folate include veggies such as spinach, broccoli, beets, romaine lettuce, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, collard greens,, cauliflower, and lentils. And if your child’s diet allows, the best meat sources of folate are calf’s liver and chicken liver.
Toni O. Egolum, MD is a practicing Pediatrician in Nashville, TN. Dr. Egolum graduated from Howard University College of Medicine in 2010 and has been in practice for 8 years. She currently practices at Vanderbilt University Dept of Psychiatry and is affiliated with Sumner Regional Medical Center.
Powers, Hillary; Folic Acid Under Scrutiny: British Journal of Nutrition (2017), 98, 665–666 q The Author 2017
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