One of the most strongly recommended supplements for women considering pregnancy, or newly pregnant, is folic acid (also known as folate and vitamin B9). Folic acid is an important B vitamin, known to help prevent neural tube defects (such as spina bifida). It is considered so important that the March of Dimes recommends all women of childbearing age take folic acid supplements whether they are planning to get pregnant or not (because babies resulting from unplanned pregnancies need folate too!).1 Women are encouraged to take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid. The Mayo Clinic website recommends 800 micrograms before pregnancy, and 1000 micrograms during pregnancy.2
But what if you have not been taking folic acid and find out that you are pregnant? What if, for some reason, you are not able to get that multivitamin with a folate supplement right away? What if multivitamins cause other health issues for you? If you are eating a varied and vegetable-based diet, as well as certain enriched foods, you may be getting all the folate you need. Although it is wise and medically recommended to take the supplement, many women worry unnecessarily about the health of their baby because they were late in beginning the supplement.
What are some food sources of folate? The foods richest in folic acid include:
select fortified breakfast cereals (400 micrograms/3/4 c.)
beef liver (180/3 oz)
black-eyed peas (105/1/2 c)
spinach (100/1/2 c)
asparagus (85/4 spears)3
Foods with smaller (but still significant) amounts of folate in them include: peanuts, oranges, broccoli, green peas, avocado, lettuce, wheat germ, tomato juice, cantaloupe, and banana, among others.4
If you are newly pregnant or planning to be pregnant, one way you can support your health and the health of your baby is to develop your diet with an eye towards including many of these folate-containing foods. If you already have a healthy, varied diet containing many of these foods, but had not been taking the supplement when you got pregnant, you likely have little reason to worry. Consult with your doctor on your first visit about whether you may have had a folate deficiency, remember that if you have been eating a diet rich in folate, you are unlikely to have had a severe enough deficiency to cause problems with your baby’s health.
A little thought put into your diet, combined with a daily multivitamin containing folate, will ensure that you get more than enough of this important nutrient.
1Take folic acid before you’re pregnant, staff, March of Dimes
2Pregnancy diet: Essential Nutrients, staff, Mayo Clinic
3Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate, staff, ODS/NIH
4Pregnancy diet: Essential Nutrients, staff, Mayo Clinic