Growing a child puts a lot of demand on the body. Proper nutrition around this time is absolutely vital for the health of mums and babies. One of the most important nutrients during this time is folate. Folate is a B-vitamin needed by the body for DNA and red blood cell synthesis, detoxification and metabolism processes.
Why is folate so important for pregnancy?
In the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy, the foetus’ neural tube is formed, which is the precursor to the brain and spinal cord. This process requires folate, and without enough, can prevent proper formation of the neural tube which leads to a number of neural tube defects like spina bifida. It is also important during lactation to provide enough folate for mum and baby. Outside of pregnancy, folate is essential for everyone and deficiencies can lead to anaemia, causing fatigue, irritability and pale skin.
How much folate?
Folate intake needs to be increased to 600ug (micrograms) per day at least 1 month prior to conception until birth, then lowered to 500ug per day during lactation. Getting more folate is not harmful (unless a B12 deficiency is present) and may offer even more protection from neural tube defects. As a safety net, some sources recommend that all women of child-bearing age aim for 600ug daily should they fall pregnant unexpectedly (unplanned pregnancies are thought to account for half of all pregnancies) as the neural tube is formed before most women know they’re pregnant.
For adult women not planning to become pregnant, the recommended intake is 400ug daily, and for men 300ug. Studies show that most Australians do not meet these recommended intakes. Since 2009, bread makers have been adding folic acid to bread products (since it’s one of the most popular food products in our country), which has improved Australians’ folate intake and significantly reduced the number of birth defects in Australia.
Where can I get folate?
Because most Australians don’t appear to be getting enough folate in their diets, the safest form of folate before and during pregnancy is a folic acid supplement, because it gives reassurance that our folate intake is adequate. However, without a supplement it is important to ensure we get enough folate from food. Foods richest in folate are green vegetables, and legumes. I’ve listed below the top 12 sources of folate per serving:
Edamame (young soy beans) (cooked from frozen) 1/2 cup = 200ug
Lentils (cooked) 1/2 cup = 180ug
Pinto beans (cooked) 1/2 cup = 150ug
Chickpeas (cooked) 1/2 cup = 140ug
Spinach (cooked) 1/2 cup = 131ug
Chinese cabbage (raw, shredded) 1 cup = 119ug
Asparagus (cooked) 4 spears = 111ug
Artichokes (cooked) 1/2 cup = 100ug
Broccoli (cooked) 1/2 cup = 84ug
Sunflower seeds (raw) 1/4 cup = 80ug
Avocado (raw) 1/2 = 80ug
Beetroot (cooked) 1/2 cup = 75ug
Like most nutrients, our bodies can have difficulty absorbing and utilising them to full effect. Folate is more easily absorbed from food when it’s in smaller pieces, and the smaller, the better. Maximise folate absorption from food by adding folate-rich foods into a smoothie (pack your blender with spinach, beetroot and sunflower seeds!) or blending chickpeas into a hummus dip.
If you would like more information on improving your folate intake or on any other aspect of your diet then come and see me at the clinic.