Can a diet high in folate (folic acid) promote weight loss?

folic acid & weight loss

Certainly, we need adequate amounts of folate to lose weight. But, we can get the recommended daily intake of 400 mcg from food. Actually, we don’t need folic acid supplements. On the contrary, extreme doses of folic acid may lead to weight gain!

What’s the difference between folate and folic acid?

Folate and folic acid are different forms of vitamin B9. Folate is naturally present in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form found in dietary supplements and fortified foods.

Folic acid is about 70% more bioavailable than folate. Thus, we need lower doses of vitamin B9 from supplements or fortified foods. Also, folic acid is very stable. It isn’t vulnerable to heat or light.

Health benefits of folate

Folate (or folic acid) is involved in protein and lipid metabolism, cell division, and in the synthesis of many hormones, such as serotonin.

It may prevent the development of certain types of cancer, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke! Mainly, due to its effect in homocysteine metabolism.

Additionally, folate is important for good mood and good cognitive function.

But, folic acid supplementation has gained reputation due to its huge importance in reducing the risk of neural tube defects and other birth defects in early pregnancy.

Obesity affects serum folate concentrations

Moreover, according to many studies, overweight and obese people tend to have lower serum folate levels. In fact, low folate intake has been linked to excess body weight, higher Body Mass Index (BMI), and waist circumference.[1]

Overweight people probably need higher amounts of folate. They don’t absorb it as effectively. Additionally, obese people probably follow a diet poor in vegetables, fruits and legumes, which are great dietary sources of folate.[2]

On the other hand, when we lose weight, the serum folate concentrations increase. Especially, if a person loses significant amount of weight and eat many foods rich in folate.[3]

In fact, serum folate levels seem to be a reliable predictor of weight loss. Researchers use this value to predict the success of diets for losing weight. Even for predicting the success of medical treatments, such as bariatric surgery, for cases of severe obesity. A rise of 1 ng/ml in serum folate increases the chance of successful weight loss by 28%.[4]

Losing weight may increase homocysteine levels

Above all, people who lose significant amounts of weight should increase their folate intake because folate plays a key role in the metabolism of homocysteine. Actually, plasma homocysteine levels may increase during weight loss. Even among healthy people.[5]

High levels of homocysteine are harmful. High amounts of this amino acid can damage the lining of the arteries and make the blood clot more easily. Above all, high levels of homocysteine seem to increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. According to studies, taking folic acid supplements or increasing folate intake through food could decrease the risk of stroke by 73%.[6,7,8]

Folate, along with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, helps the body use the homocysteine and decrease its levels.

So, it’s important to consume a great variety of foods high in folate while following a hypocaloric diet for weight loss, in order, to prevent increased homocysteine levels.

After all, the richest foods in folate are dark leafy vegetables, beans, spices, and herbs. These foods promote weight loss and protect our health as well. They’re low in calories, control appetite, and above all, they’re packted with health-promoting phytochemicals!

Does folic acid promote weight loss?

Folate is important for the maintenance of a healthy weight because it plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA, RNA and metabolism of amino acids.

Moreover, folate might decrease oxidative stress, inflammation, and prevent high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.[9]

Increased levels of glucose have been linked to a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease. Improved glycemic control makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight or lose body weight.

According to a study, folic acid supplementation could improve insulin resistance and glycemic control.[10]

What’s the recommended daily intake?

The recommended daily dose for folate is 400 mcg, both for women and men.

Kids need lower dosages. Only pregnant and lactating women need higher doses.

Do we need folic acid from supplements to lose weight?

Actually, most people in the United States get enough folate. Many foods, such as breakfast cereals and pasta, are fortified with folic acid. The fortification program increased mean folic acid intakes in the United States by about 190 mcg a day!

Furthermore, there are so many foods naturally rich in folate. For instance, peanuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, lentils, chickpeas, walnuts, peanut butter, avocado, broccoli, and whole wheat bread are particularly high in folate.

Hence, following a well-balanced diet high in folate is easy. Moreover, these foods promote weight loss. They control appetite and provide crucial vitamins and minerals for increased metabolism, which burns fat.

Moreover, obese people should follow a diet high in folate, as they need higher folate doses.

High intake of folic acid from supplements may cause weight gain

On the other hand, high doses of folic acid could lead to weight gain. Possible adverse effects of high dosages may be disturbances to energy and lipid metabolism.

Therefore, you should be very careful before taking folic acid supplements. Most people get more than enough folic acid from fortified foods and foods naturally high in folate.

The main sources of folic acid in the standard American diet are fortified breakfast cereals, bread, and pasta.

Certainly, you shouldn’t exceed the upper safe dosage for folic acid, without consulting your physician. There are people who take even 10 times more folic acid than the recommended daily intake![11]

In this case, excess folic acid isn’t metabolized, causing weight gain, due to fat accumulation, inflammation, and glucose intolerance. Especially, if combined with high fat diets.

So, if you follow a diet containing foods naturally high in folate, you probably get enough folate. You don’t need folic acid supplements to lose weight faster.

You better cut down calories. Especially, calories from fats. 1 gram of fat has 9 calories! On the contrary, 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate has only 4 calories. Caloric deficit is key for weight loss.