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Folic Acid:The vitamin that helps prevent birth defects


Folic Acid is An Important Vitamin

Folic acid is a vitamin found in many foods. It's especially important for women who could become pregnant because folic acid can help prevent birth defects.

Begin Each Day with Folic Acid

A large glass of orange juice. A bowl of fortified cereal. This is an easy breakfast to fix. It's also a healthy way to start your day. That's because this breakfast will give you half the recommended daily amount of folic acid. It's easy to be sure that your diet contains folic acid. You'll be surprised at how many foods and juices contain folic acid --- green, leafy vegetables, like spinach and broccoli; citrus fruits and juices; enriched breads, cereals and grains; and beans.

Folic Acid is Good for All Ages

No matter what your age, foods rich in folic acid are good for you.

Even young girls should try to include foods with folic acid in their snacks and meals. Start eating them now. That way, when you're older and planning to become a mother, folic acid will already be a part of your diet.

Folic Acid Can Help Prevent Birth Defects

All women need folic acid because it works best for you and your baby early in the first month of pregnancy, a time when you may not even know you're pregnant. Continued use of folic acid after the first month of pregnancy, and throughout your life, ensures the future good health of you and your family.

Folic acid can reduce certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord by more than 50 percent. These birth defects are called neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs happen when the spinal cord fails to close properly.

The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida. This occurs when part of the baby's spinal cord remains outside the body. The baby may have paralyzed legs and, later, may develop bladder and bowel control problems. The most serious neural tube defect is anencephaly. The baby is born without part of its skull and brain, and eventually dies.

Folic Acid Is In Vitamin Pills, Too

Taking a multivitamin that has 0.4 mg of folic acid is another way of getting the recommended amount.

Most multivitamins contain the recommended amount of folic acid. However, avoid taking more than one multivitamin per day. Too much of the other vitamins, especially vitamin A, could cause serious health problems.

Don't be Confused by Labels

Read food and vitamin labels carefully to be sure you're getting enough folic acid. On the labels, folic acid is also called "folate". The amount of folic acid or folate in a vitamin or food may be given as either 400 micrograms or 0.4 mg. They are the same amounts.

Who Needs Extra Folic Acid?

Some women need more folic acid, especially women who have had babies with NTDs and want to become pregnant again. If you have had a baby with an NTD, speak with your doctor before planning your next pregnancy. He or she may prescribe a vitamin that contains a higher dose (4 mg) of folic acid.

Other women who may need more folic acid include frequent dieters, drug or alcohol users, smokers, women on "the pill", and women who consistently don't eat well-balanced meals. These women should pay close attention to their diets if they are considering becoming pregnant bri, andng their concerns to their health care providers.


Foods on the following lists range from the highest in folic acid (top) to those not as high in folic acid (bottom).

Protein Foods

The following are good to excellent sources of folic acid. Whole eggs (cooked), one egg Beans and Peas

These are very good to excellent sources of folic acid. They may be purchased dry, frozen or canned. Serving size is 1/2 cup unless otherwise noted. Cranberry beans Lentils Pink beans Adzuki beans Black beans Chickpeas (garbanzos) Pigeon peas Great Northern beans Black-eyed peas or cowpeasNavy beans/white beans Pinto beans Split peas Kidney beans Soybeans Lima beans Tofu, firm Peanuts, dry or oil roasted (1 ounce) Peanut butter (2 tablespoons)

Fruits and Vegetables

Many vegetables and some fruits are good to very good sources of folic acid. The following are the best. Serving size is 1/2 cup unless otherwise noted. Spinach, cooked Asparagus Turnip greens, cooked Artichoke (1) Collard greens, cooked Orange juice Mustard greens Broccoli Corn, fresh, frozen or canned Orange (1) Green peas, fresh, frozen or canned Beets Brussel sprouts Parsnips Okra, sliced

Serving size is one cup unless otherwise noted: Spinach, raw Iceberg lettuce (1/4 head) Romaine lettuce Raspberries, frozen Turnip greens, raw Celery Pineapple juice, canned Swiss chard, cooked Sauerkraut Cauliflower Papaya Bean sprouts Green pepperBlackberries Tomato juice Cantaloupe, casaba or honeydew melon Winter squash, including acorn, Hubbard, butternut; baked Green or wax beans Italian green beans Plantains Strawberries Cabbage, raw

Breads and Grains

These provide small but significant amounts of folic acid per serving. Enriched breads, rolls, muffins, any kind: one slice/piece (includes tortillas, bagels, nan, pizza crust, waffles, pancakes) Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons bulgur, barley, millet, rice, pasta products, noodles


Excellent sources.

Read the nutrition label on the cereal box to learn how much folic acid is provided. Many cereals, both hot and cold, generally provide 25% of the daily recommended amount of folic acid, but some cereals contain 100%. Be careful, though, not to consume more than the daily recommended amount, especially if you are taking a multivitamin with folic acid and eating 100% fortified cereals and/other high folic acid foods. The following cereals provide 100% of the daily recommended amount: Total Total Corn Flakes Total Raisin Bran Product 19

Convenience Foods

The following are good to very good sources of folic acid: Instant Breakfast (powdered mix added to milk) Bean with bacon soup (canned) Chili with beans (canned) Refried beans, canned or homemade Pork and beans or baked beans (canned) Spaghetti sauce (jar or canned) Lentil soup (homemade or canned) Black bean soup (canned) Bean burrito Frozen waffle (Nutri Grain or Eggo)

Fast Foods

The following are good sources of folic acid. They are cited only as examples. Other fast foods restaurants may also serve foods that are good sources of folic acid.

Arby's Roast beef sandwich Club sandwich Ham and cheese sandwich

McDonald's Egg McMuffin Sausage and egg biscuit Apple bran muffin Side Salad McLean Deluxe

Taco Bell Soft taco Taco Bell Grande Bean burrito Tostada Pinto's and cheese Taco saladDouble Beef BurritoSupreme

Wendy's Chili (small) Single hamburger Taco Salad 'n Chips.

Menu Suggestions

Both menus contain 100% of the daily recommended amount of folic acid and provide adequate amounts of other nutrients important for women's health, including iron and calcium.

Sample One

Breakfast 1 cup pineapple juice 1 cup skim milk 1 cup fortified ready-to-eat cereal 1 slice whole wheat toast with 1 teaspoon butter or margarine and jam

Lunch 1 cup skim milkRoast beef sandwich on whole wheat bread with tomato 1 cup tossed salad made with Romaine lettuce, with dressing 1 orange

Dinner 1 cup skim milk Spaghetti with 1/2 cup sauce and meatballs 1 cup Italian green beans Bread sticks

Snack Blackberry Cobbler

Sample Two

This menu provides the recommended amount of folic acid for those who are lactose-intolerant.

Breakfast Frozen Eggo waffles (2) with syrup 1 cup calcium fortified orange juice

Lunch 1/2 cup lactose-reduced skim milk 1 cup chili with beans topped with one oz. grated, reduced-fat cheddar cheese Sweet green and red pepper slices Cornbread with butter or margarine

Dinner 1 cup lactose-reduced skim milk 3 oz. marinated broiled chicken 1 ear corn on the cob with butter or margarine 1 cup steamed cauliflower and broccoli Dinner roll with butter or margarine Snack 1 cup pineapple/orange juice

Snack Oatmeal cookies, 2 small

Reprinted with permission from the New York State Department of Health Website

Related Articles

Can You Take Too Much Folic Acid?

Foods High in Folic Acid

Vitamin D Deficiency During Pregnancy Linked with Toddler Cavities

Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy Linked to Low Birth Weight

Are Your Prenatal Vitamins Making You Sick?


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