It's Folic Acid Awareness Week -- do you know how much you need and how to get it? If you're trying to get pregnant, planning on being pregnant at some point, early on in your pregnancy, or know someone who fits these descriptions, keep reading.
Folic acid is the synthetic (artificial) form of vitamin B9, which is an essential nutrient we all need. Vitamin B9 plays an important role in cell growth and DNA formation, which is also why it's the nutrient responsible for preventing heart disease, stroke, birth defects, and cancer.
When vitamin B9 is found naturally in foods, it's called folate. Folate and folic acid (natural vs. artificial) are not metabolized the same way in your body -- naturally occurring folate is converted and used by the body more effectively. However, both folate and folic acid play important roles in preventing birth defects.
Not all birth defects can be prevented, but everyone can take steps to help prevent birth defects in their baby by ensuring they take in enough folic acid and/or folate on a daily basis.
When to Start Taking Folic Acid and Eat Folate-Rich Foods
The best time to start being intentional about taking either a folic acid supplement and/or eating folate-rich foods is before pregnancy (at least one month prior), during conception, and in early pregnancy. These times are most critical to ensure proper cell growth and DNA formation since most major birth defects occur 3-4 weeks after conception. If you're of childbearing age and could possibly become pregnant, it's not a bad idea to ensure you're getting enough folic acid and folate, since so many pregnancies are unplanned.
How to Get Enough Folic Acid and Folate
The recommended daily amount of both folic acid and folate intake is 400 micrograms (mcg). Many prenatal and multivitamins contain folic acid; check to see that the vitamin you're taking includes at least 400 mcg. You can also purchase a separate folic acid supplement to fulfill the required amount. Consult with your midwife or OB to find out if you need higher than recommended amounts of folic acid (as is the case if you've had a previous child with a birth defect).
Many foods in the United States and Canada are fortified with folic acid, so if you eat pre-packaged foods like cereal and pasta, you may already be consuming some folic acid in your everyday diet.
The most effective and healthiest way to take in folate is through food. Many foods naturally contain folate and offer the added bonus of providing a huge amount of additional vitamins and nutrients! The following is a list of folate-rich foods and amounts of folate in a typical serving, listed from highest amount per serving to lowest.
- Beans, peas, lentils - 1 cup cooked lentils = 358 mcg
- Beef liver - 3 oz = 212 mcg
- Beets - 1 cup = 148 mcg
- Asparagus - 1/2 cup = 134 mcg
- Avocado - 1/2 avocado = 82 mcg
- Wheat germ - 1 oz = 78.7 mcg
- Corn - 1 cup = 76 mcg
- Dark leafy greens - 1 cup raw spinach = 58.2 mcg
- Broccoli - 1 cup = 57 mcg
- Cauliflower - 1 cup = 55 mcg
- Citrus fruits - 1 orange = 55 mcg
- Papaya - 1 cup = 53 mcg
- Brussels sprouts - 1/2 cup = 47 mcg
- Okra - 1 cup = 37 mcg
- Celery - 1 cup = 36 mcg
- Squash - 1 cup = 36 mcg
- Seeds and nuts - 1 oz walnuts = 28 mcg
- Banana - 1 medium = 23.6 mcg
- Eggs - 1 large egg = 23.5 mcg
- Carrots - 1 cup = 23 mcg
With such a long list of foods that naturally contain folate, you can see how a daily diet full of fruits and vegetables can easily help you meet your goals of folic acid/folate intake, as well as provide several additional health benefits!
For more information about folic acid/folate and birth defects, learn more from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.
TagsBirth Defects Folic Acid Folate Folic Acid Awareness Week