Whether you’re planning a baby or are newly pregnant, you’ve probably been told that getting enough folate in your diet is especially important. But what exactly is folate, and why do you need it?
Vitamin (vitamin B9) that is important to the development of your unborn baby. The synthetic version used in dietary supplements is known as folic acid. Getting enough of this vitamin has been proven to help prevent neural tube defects, like spina bifida, which can result in a range of disabilities. Each year in Australia, approximately one in every 500 babies is born with a neural tube defect.
Ideally, your folate consumption should be increased for a month before you become pregnant and during at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because the most important time to have optimal folate levels is very early on, often before the pregnancy is confirmed, it’s important that all women maintain adequate folate levels during their child-bearing years.
This recommendation rises to 600 mcg per day just before and during pregnancy. To make sure you’re getting enough, you should take a folic acid supplement of 0.5 mg per day, either on its own or as part of a prenatal multivitamin. In instances where there’s an increased risk of neural tube defects, your doctor may put you on a much higher dose.
Even if you’re taking a folic acid supplement, it’s also important to eat natural sources of folate, which are more readily absorbed and used by your body. You’ll find folate in a wide range of foods including dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, beans, corn, carrots, peas, avocado, eggs, citrus fruits, strawberries and pineapple. Folic acid is also added to the flour used to make most bread products in Australia. Other foods may also contain added folic acid, such as fruit juices and breakfast cereals. Check the list of ingredients to find out if an item contains folic acid.
Folate doesn’t just help with the healthy development of babies; it’s also beneficial for adults. Did you know it helps to create red blood cells, support the nervous system, and make DNA? A lack of folate may produce similar symptoms to an iron deficiency, leaving you tired, irritable or depressed. So, to ensure that both you and your baby are healthy, make sure to include enough folate in your diet each day.