Folate (folic acid or vitamin B9)

Why do you need it?

Folate (or folic acid – the manmade form) helps your body make healthy red blood cells and DNA – your genetic material. It also reduces the risk of birth defects called neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in unborn babies. 

During pregnancy, the brain and spine begin as a flat layer of cells which rolls into a tube, called the neural tube. It closes during the fourth week of pregnancy, when many women will not even know they are pregnant. This is why the Ugandan Ministry of Health says it is especially crucial for all women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) to have an adequate intake of folic acid through food and/or supplementation.

Furthermore, anaemia in pregnancy is a serious public health problem affecting around 40 per cent of pregnant women according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The 2000 to 2001 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey found that 30 per cent of women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years old) were anaemic so the Ministry of Health issued the 2002 Uganda National Anaemia Policy recommending that all pregnant women are given iron and folic acid supplementation to prevent anaemia. Find out more here.


Symptoms of deficiency include poor growth, loss of appetite, tongue and gum inflammation, problems with memory, learning or judgment, tiredness, blood disorders and digestive disorders. A lack of folate may lead to folate deficiency anaemia.

How much do you need?

WHO recommends 400 micrograms (μg) of folate a day for adults aged 19 and over. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended nutrient intakes for folate. Click to read more…
Age groupRecommended nutrient intake
μg DFEs/day
Infants and children
0-6 months80
7-12 months80
1-3 years150
4-6 years200
7-9 years300
Females, 19+400
Males, 19+400
Pregnant women600
Lactating women500
Source: WHO, FAO. 2004. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. 2nd ed. Geneva: WHO.

Dietary folate equivalents (DFE) were developed to reflect how synthetic folic acid is more easily absorbed (85 per cent) compared to folate in food (50 per cent). The quantity of DFE occurring naturally in food equals the micrograms of folate as reported, and the DFE provided by fortified foods equal the micrograms of food folate plus 1.7 times the micrograms of added folic acid.

Where to find folate

While diets containing three or more servings of green leafy vegetables a day will provide plenty of folate, staples, such as white rice are low in folate. The best plant-based sources include green leafy vegetables, pulses, avocados, peanuts, okra, some fruit and wholegrains.

  • Green leafy vegetables: Spinach, kale and amaranth leaves, for example, are rich sources of folate. Commonly consumed in Uganda, they are used in various dishes. One cup (180 grams) of boiled spinach contains 263 micrograms of folate, more than half of your daily folate needs.
  • Pulses: Peas, beans and lentils are a good source of folate. Popular varieties include yellow, green and split peas, red kidney beans, black beans, mung beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas) and red ‘masoor’ lentils. They are frequently used in traditional Ugandan dishes such as curries, soups, stews, salads or simply boiled and served as a side dish. One cup (165 grams) of cooked cowpeas (black-eyed peas) contains 210 micrograms of folate, over half of your daily needs. 
  • Avocados: Popular in Uganda, one avocado (201 grams) can provide 163 micrograms of folate. 
  • Peanuts (groundnuts): Widely available in Uganda, peanuts can be roasted and eaten as a snack or ground into peanut butter and added to stews. They are a reasonable source of folate and a small handful (28 grams) supplies around 27 micrograms of folate. 
  • Okra: Commonly used in Ugandan cuisine, particularly in soups and stews, a 100-gram serving of okra provides 60 micrograms of folate.
  • Fruit: Bananas are widely grown and available in Uganda and one (126 gram) banana contains a small amount (25 micrograms) of folate. Citrus fruits like oranges are not widely available but also contain a small amount – one (140 gram) orange, for example, may provide 35 micrograms.
  • Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, millet and maize are staple foods in Uganda and contain some folate. While not as rich in folate as vegetables and pulses, they can contribute to your overall folate intake if eaten regularly.