Did you know that folic acid is an essential nutrient for taking before and during pregnancy?
Folic acid or vitamin B9 is probably the most well know vitamin for mums-to-be and essential during early development of your baby by reducing neural tube defects (spina bifida) and contributes to healthy brain development in babies.
How much folic acid do I need?
Governmental bodies advise taking supplements containing 400 micrograms daily of folic acid for at least one month before and up to three months after conceiving. Some women may require higher doses of folic acid and should consult with a GP to get a recommended amount. If the pregnancy is unplanned, it is advisable to start taking folic acid as soon as you find out about the pregnancy.
How can I get folic acid from food?
Folate is naturally found in certain foods including fruits, vegetables, and nuts, whereas folic acid is found in food supplements and fortified foods such as cereals. They play an important role in helping the body make healthy new red blood cells.
Foods containing folate
- Cooked dried beans
- Leafy green vegetables
- Fortified cereals
- Turnip greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Citrus fruit and juice
- Organ meats (liver and kidney)
However, it’s very difficult to work out whether you are getting enough folate from food alone as concentration levels vary so a supplement is a good option.
What’s the difference between folic acid and folate?
The term “folate” can refer to several forms of folate that have slightly different chemical structures but share the same parent structure.
In foods, folate occurs mainly as 2 different forms of tetrahydrofolate and is around 50% bioavailable.
The term “folic acid” refers to a stable form of folate that occurs in fortified foods and food supplements and absorption is about 85-100%. Once absorbed folic acid is easily converted to tetrahydrofolate (THF) in the body.
What happens if I don’t have enough during pregnancy?
If you have insufficient levels of folate or folic acid during pregnancy, then deficiency can occur and this can lead to birth complications.
As well as a higher risk of your baby developing neural tube defects, pre-term birth delivery can occur prior to 37 weeks of gestation.
For the mother of the baby, folate or folic acid deficiency can lead to anaemia and neurological concerns.
Smoking, drinking alcohol and taking oral contraceptives are also associated with low folate status. So it’s best to make lifestyle changes to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
What should I look for in a supplement?
Many women experience positive benefits from receiving additional folic acid during and prior to pregnancy. Folic acid can be found in prenatal multivitamins. Choose high quality supplements which contain 100% active ingredients – no binders or fillers – and the required, therapeutic and safe level of all the essential nutrients during pregnancy.
Author: Aimee Benbow, BSc (Hons), MSc, ANutr. is Director of Nutrition at ethical vitamin company Viridian Nutrition. Working in the food and supplements industry for over 11 years, she has supported people’s health through product development, advice and education.
This article is for information purposes and does not refer to any individual products. The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.