Folate is a B vitamin (vitamin B9, to be exact). The water-soluble nutrient is necessary for creating new healthy cells, and as you probably know, this is what pregnancy is all about. Folate (or its synthetic form, folic acid) is vital for a developing baby, as it helps the neural tube close properly in the first trimester and prevents certain birth defects.
Why is folate important?
While the effectiveness of many pregnancy supplements is up for debate, the research is clear on folate. Taking folic acid, especially during the first trimester, can reduce the risk of spina bifida, anencephaly, neural tube defects, and other birth defects.
Beyond the first trimester, the nutrient continues to be vital for cell division and DNA replication. In other words, it supports the building blocks of your developing baby.
Getting your daily dose
The general recommended daily dose before and during pregnancy is at least 400 micrograms (mcg). Just about every prenatal vitamin on the market contains at least this amount of folic acid. However, you can also get it from a variety of foods, whether fortified or in the natural form.
To get the earth-sourced stuff, the best place to start is with dark leafy greens. We’re talking spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and kale. Citrus fruits, avocados, squash, nuts, and some types of seeds are also high in folate. As for fortified foods, you can find lots of breads, cereals, and pastas with folic acid.
Folate for breakfast
The first meal of the day is a great opportunity to work in some folate. If a glass of orange juice or half a grapefruit isn’t already a part of your morning routine, you might consider introducing some folate-rich citrus.
As we mentioned, many cereals are fortified with folic acid. That said, whole grain options tend to have naturally higher folate contents than their processed counterparts. If you’re more of a toast person, go whole grain and opt for a folate-rich spread like peanut butter or avocado.
Folate for lunch and snacks
Since folate is water-soluble, a lot of the nutrient can be cooked out of vegetables before it reaches your plate. You might try a spinach or kale salad for lunch to get as much folate as possible. If you like raw broccoli, have some dipped in hummus for a snack. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds contain folate, and they’re great for snacks and salad toppings.
Folate for dinner
There are many ways to work folate into your dinner routine. Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
- Black beans and lentils are packed with folate, and they make excellent sides.
- Consider replacing the lettuce in your salad with spinach.
- Lightly steam or roast asparagus, broccoli, and other green veggies to get the most folate.
- Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets also contain folate. Try roasting them to preserve the nutrient.
As you can see, it’s not hard to work folate into your daily meals if you know where to find it. That said, taking a prenatal vitamin is still the best way to ensure you’re getting your daily dose.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Folic Acid in Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association. April 27, 2019. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/folic-acid-995/.
- McNulty, H. et al. “Effect of continued folic acid supplementation beyond the first trimester of pregnancy on cognitive performance in the child: a follow-up study from a randomized controlled trial.” BMC Medicine. October 31, 2019. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-019-1432-4.
- “Current Folic Acid Research.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC. April 11, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/research.html.
- ”Good Health Before Pregnancy: Prepregnancy Care”. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG. June 2020. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/good-health-before-pregnancy-prepregnancy-care.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. Dec. 19, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082.