Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Importance of Folate

If you are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or know someone who is pregnant, you may have heard about adding folate/folic acid to your diet. Why is it so important? According to the U.S. Public Health Service, if all women of childbearing age consumed 400 micrograms of folic acid daily – before and during pregnancy – it could help up to 70 percent of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs), serious birth defects of the brain and spine such as spina bifida and anencephaly. For more information, please visit the March of Dimes

So what does it take to get 400 micrograms of folate/folic acid? Today most whole grains that you buy in the store are fortified with folic acid. In addition, many fruits and vegetables are a good source of folate. So basically, it's really not hard to get plenty by diet, as long as someone likes grains and fruits/vegetables.

Excellent sources of folate:

  • Greens such as romaine, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens
  • Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and beets

Very good sources of folate:

  • Dried beans like lentils, pintos, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans
  • Brussel sprouts, green beans, summer squash, cabbage, fennel, bell peppers, green peas
  • Papaya

Good sources of folate:

  • Cucumbers, leeks, winter squash, eggplant, onion, corn, avocado, and carrots
  • Tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe and grapefruit

If you aren’t sure how much to eat in order to get the right amount of folate, check out this sample menu below. The menu was prepared by a registered dietician.

Breakfast: 2 slices of toast with peanut butter, 1/2 grapefruit, milk
Lunch: spinach salad with garbanzo beans, chopped egg, tomato, pea pods, cheese if desired, plus 2 slices of bread and milk;
Snack: graham crackers and cheese and a banana;
Dinner: chicken, rice, asparagus and milk;
Snack: orange

If a pregnant woman were to eat the above foods, she could get over 600 mcg of folate, and still have a lot more calories left over to indulge in other foods. Basically, eating 2-4 fruits a day (1 piece or 1/2 cup), 3-5 veggies (1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw), and at least 6 grains (1 slice or just one half cup) would give someone a good bit of folate each day. Adding cooked dried beans each week really helps too.

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