Folic acid, also called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) which is extremely important for pregnant women‘s health and most importantly, for their baby’s normal and natural development. Consequently, any mother-to-be should make sure she consumes folic acid rich foods for a healthy pregnancy diet.
Food and folic acid, what you need to know
Folic acid is naturally found in green leafy vegetables but also in natural orange juice or germinated wheat. Some of the commercial foods are artificially enriched with folic acid. In other words, certain foods, like lentils, dried beans and peas, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, stevia or salad and citrus fruit and fruit juice, are a natural source of folate.
Other foods, like pasta, rice and cereals, may be commercially fortified with folic acid and you should carefully read the labels in order to find out how much folate they contain. However, these foods are not a substitute for folic acid supplements that every pregnant woman should take (about 0.6 to 0.8 milligrams per day). They are just an addition to these supplements.
Why is it important to take folic acid during pregnancy?
Ensuring an appropriate folic acid intake during pregnancy and preconception period is extremely important for the health of the mother and her baby as well. Specialized studies have shown that women who get enough folic acid before the moment of conception and during early pregnancy present a risk decrease of up to 70% of having a child with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord). Consequently, you should make sure your daily intake of folic acid is sufficient, especially before conception and during early pregnancy, this way you can prevent congenital defects of the fetus.
If, in addition to folic acid supplements, you want to keep a diet rich in foods containing vitamin B6, remember that while your body absorbs all the folic acid supplements, it will only absorb a small quantity of folate content in food. Moreover, folic acid can be lost by keeping foods too long or simply by cooking them. This is why, specialists recommend folate supplements intake.
Natural Folic Acid Rich Foods
Naturally containing folate foods are mostly vegetables and some fruits. Among these, the most important are peas, lentils, pods, broccoli, lettuce, beets, sunflower seeds, spinach, Brussels sprouts, corn, asparagus, baked potatoes, cabbage, peanuts, tomatoes and tomato juice, oranges and orange juice, strawberries and strawberry juice or bananas.
Spinach is the richest natural source of folic acid as it contains about 200 micrograms of folic acid per serving.
Cabbage is also folate rich and it can be consumed as salad.
Fresh beans, lentils, peas and green beans are also good sources of folic acid. They are tasty and easy to cook and there are plenty of varieties to choose from.
Asparagus is a type of grass, thus not all kinds of asparagus are comestible. “Asparagus officinalis” can be consumed by humans and it is rich in folic acid and delicious in soups.
Sunflower seeds are perfect as occasional snacks and a cup of seeds contains about 300 micrograms of folic acid.
Broccoli has many nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy, such as calcium and folic acid and it is rich in fiber and antioxidants that fight disease. Moreover, since broccoli contains large quantities of vitamin C, it helps your body absorb iron more easily when consumed with iron-rich foods such as bread and brown rice.
Folic Acid Fortified Foods
Besides the fruits and vegetables mentioned above, which are an excellent natural source of folate, there are commercially fortified foods with folic acid, foods like cereals, soya milk, egg noodles, bread, bagels and muffins or white rice.
Consequently, eating folate rich foods and ensuring the necessary folic acid supplements is highly important and useful not only during pregnancy but also in the preconception period, which is why women preparing to become pregnant should seriously take this issue into consideration.