Folate, or vitamin B9, is an important nutrient that’s vital for your baby’s development and your health – especially in early pregnancy. Which is why your doctor will bring this up as soon as you’re planning a baby. While available as folic acid (its synthetic form) in supplements and in multivitamins and fortified foods, folate can be had through an exciting variety of fresh, wholesome, and delicious foods.
As folate deficiency can cause birth defects, and as many as 50% pregnancies in the USA are unplanned, in 1998, the FDA made adding folic acid to food grains and grain products mandatory.1
Your body requires 400 mcg folate every day for the formation of healthy red blood cells, synthesis of genetic material, and other functions. In pregnant and breastfeeding women, this amount rises to 600 mcg and 500 mcg daily, respectively. Folate is doubly important for a pregnant woman because it can help significantly lower the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects that include conditions like spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele.2 Because these defects often manifest in early pregnancy before you even find out you are pregnant, it is important to get adequate folate even before you actually conceive. This can help lower the risk of miscarriage or early pregnancy loss due to these defects. In fact women are advised to take 400 mcg folate every day from the day they stopped using contraception to when they are 12 weeks pregnant.3 4 Learn more about its role in pregnancy here.
Here’s a look at some of the foods richest in folate that you can add to your diet, taking the required daily intake at 600 mcg.
1. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables
Time again to pay special attention to that childhood maxim about “eating your greens.” A lesson you might well pass on to your little one a couple of years down the line! For now, though, enjoy an abundance of dark green leafy vegetables to get in the folate they contain.5 Choose from spinach, romaine lettuce, collard, or turnip greens or keep things current with some kale.
Just half a cup of boiled spinach can meet 21% of your daily requirement.
If you enjoy your greens, experiment with them in casseroles, pastas, or stir-frys. You could also try them in salads or whip up a green smoothie with other fruits and vegetables. If you’re a bit fussy about what you eat, crisp up some kale by baking it in the oven on low and you’ll become a believer! You could also “hide” your greens in robust meaty stews.
2. Oranges And Other Citrus Fruits
Arguably one of the easiest ways to get in your folate – and delicious too! Simply munch on some segments of orange or drink a glass of juice from citrus fruits that contain this vitamin.6 You will get around 5% of your daily target of folate with a small orange or a three-quarter cup of orange juice.7 Though the amount of folate in oranges and other citrus fruits may not be very high, you would also get a whole lot of vitamin C, which also helps you absorb more iron.
3. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, And Brussels Sprouts
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts may not top everyone’s list of favorite vegetables, but they’re well worth a try for the folic acid content. For instance, just half a cup of boiled Brussels sprouts can give you to 13% of your daily recommended intake – with 78 mcg per serving. A half cup of broccoli has about 52 mcg in it, which is about 8% of the intake you must aim for.8
The good thing about these vegetables is how diverse they are – you can whip up a quick soup or stir fry. Or steam some up and munch on them like crudites with a delicious yogurt dip or some hummus. You could also make a delicious puree or cauliflower rice to go with your main meal.
Asparagus is an elegant and delicious vegetable that you can cook up in a flash. Just drizzle some olive oil and crack some fresh salt and pepper on them before roasting or grilling them. Add them to soups or steam them and dress with some lemon or apple cider vinegar salad dressing. You could even dunk them in soft boiled eggs at breakfast as a fun alternative to toast soldiers! Having just 4 boiled spears of asparagus with 89 mcg can take care of about 15% percent of your daily values.9
5. Beans, Legumes, Peas, Lentils
For a vegetarian alternative to animal proteins, open your kitchen up to the variety of legumes, peas, and beans available. They pack a folate-rich punch! Mature lentil seeds that have been boiled have about 179 mcg of folate in a half cup, getting you to nearly 29% of the daily levels you need. A similar serving of garbanzo beans or chickpeas contains 141 mcg of the nutrient, while lima beans have about 78 mcg in that serving size.10 Make soups, stews, casseroles, salads, and dips using the versatile ingredients.
If you have a penchant for the unusual, you’ll love this one. Whether you toss a handful of okra into some hearty southern fare like gumbo or try an interesting Indian-style sauteed version, okra can help you bump up your folate intake. Just 100 gm of boiled cooked okra has around 46 mcg of folate.11
7. Nuts And Seeds
Add some crunch to your diet or snacks with a sprinkling of seeds and nuts that are rich in folate. Half a cup of sunflower seeds or a cup of peanuts is among the best sources of folate, delivering between 100 and 400 mcg of the nutrient.12 Which means just an ounce of dry roasted peanuts with 41 mcg has about 7% of your daily value of folate. Consumed easily just like that!13 A cup of almonds or cashews has anywhere from 50 to 100 mcg.14
Beets are a popular detox and cleansing vegetable. But they are also delicious roasted up or steamed and added to meals all year round. If you’re expecting, you might enjoy the earthy sweetness of beets also for their folate content. One cup of the deep pink vegetable and you’ll have had 148 mcg or 24% of your daily recommended levels of folate.15
The humble squash has more to it than meets the eye. Easily cooked up into mashes or stews and soups, you can choose from winter or summer squashes – both have plenty of folate per serving. While the winter squash pips the summer version to the post with 41 mcg per cup, the summer squash also has about 33 mcg.16 17
10. Whole Grains
Eating whole grain is good at the best of times. When you are pregnant, the added fiber in whole grains can help with pregnancy-related constipation and digestive trouble as well. Plus, when it comes to folate content, whole grains aren’t too shabby!18 Just 2 tablespoons of wheat germ contain 40 mcg of folate, getting you to 6% of your daily target intake.19 You can also get your folic acid via fortified whole-grain breads and pastas or breakfast cereals.
Fortified Foods Will Boost Folic Acid Intake
Breads, white rice, cereals, cornmeal, pasta, and flours are all available in the market in fortified variants. Check the packaging to be sure of how much folic acid each serving contains and take care to stick to the right portion sizes to avoid having more than you intended. Some breakfast cereals even deliver a 100% of your daily recommended levels of folic acid in each serving.20 However, as you will see in the next section, fortified foods may not be the most ideal way to get your folic acid through diet.
Avoid Liver And Limit Fortified Foods When Pregnant
While folate-rich foods make a smart choice for most women who are trying to conceive or are of childbearing age, here are some that you are better off avoiding once you are actually pregnant.
- Liver: Liver is very rich in folate but is a no-no for pregnant women.21 The problem with liver isn’t in the folate it contains but the vitamin A content. Excess amounts of vitamin A have the potential to harm your unborn child. So steer clear of liver in your meals, including in the form of liver pates, liver sausage, and exotic foods like haggis from Scotland.22
- Fortified processed foods: Fortified cereals and white rice and pasta may contain other ingredients you are trying to avoid like added sugars or salt or preservatives. They may also be overly refined. Pregnancy is a good time to switch to whole foods instead, simply because they are healthier.23 Another pain point while having such fortified breads, cereals, and grains is that you could easily end up exceeding the recommended intake without even realizing it. While this is not a risk you face with natural foods, be extremely wary of excess folic acid consumption via fortified foods as well as supplements during pregnancy.
Some Folic Acid Supplementation Is Vital For A Healthy Pregnancy
Do remember that while folate-rich foods are natural and wholesome ways of getting the vitamin, they can’t completely take the place of a supplement during pregnancy. As health experts like the National Health Service point out, it may be almost impossible to get the required amount of folate from food sources alone during this time. This is because folate is a water-soluble vitamin and some amount may be lost during cooking the food. Some amount of supplementation is needed.24
If you have a history of neural tube defects in the family or have type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus and are on medication for these conditions, you may need higher amounts of folate.25
|↑1||Folate: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||B vitamins and folic acid.
|↑3, ↑24||B vitamins and folic acid. National Health Service.|
|↑4||Folic acid. Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑6, ↑18||Folic Acid. The British Dietetic Association.|
|↑8, ↑9, ↑13, ↑19||Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑11||Okra, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑12||Vitamin B / Folic Acid.
|↑14||Vitamin B / Folic Acid. Central District Health Department.|
|↑15||Beets, raw, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑16||Squash summer, all varieties, raw, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
|↑17||Squash winter, cooked, baked without salt, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑20, ↑25||Folic Acid. Office On Women’s Health.|
|↑21||B vitamins and folic acid. National Health Service.|
|↑22||Foods to avoid in pregnancy. National Health Service.|
|↑23||7 Steps To Eating Pure While Pregnant. Healthy Child Healthy World.|