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Foods High in Folic Acid

Katlyn Joy |21, March 2013


If you are of childbearing years, whether you are trying to conceive or not, you need to be thinking about folic acid. Why? Because half of all pregnancies are unplanned and most neural tube defects occur in the first 28 days of pregnancies, before most women even are aware of the pregnancy.

Folic acid is also known as folate and is a key ingredient in the production of red blood cells. Folic acid, a B vitamin, aids in the development of the neural tube into the brain and spinal cord. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health recommends all women of childbearing age take between 400 and 800 mcg. of folic acid a day, whether they intend to get pregnant or not.

A deficiency in folic acid can contribute to birth defects of the neural tube such as spina bifida, a condition where the spinal cord does not fuse properly during development. This can lead to severe physical handicaps and possible surgeries.

Another neural tube defect results in anencephaly, or severe underdevelopment of the brain. Babies with this condition usually die soon after birth.

Lack of folic acid can also lead to cleft lip and palate, miscarriage, low birth weight babies, preterm labor, slow growth of the fetus, and may contribute to the mother having pre-eclampsia. Folic acid may help us from developing cancers, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

How to Get Folic Acid

While there a number of foods high in folic acid, experts believe obtaining enough of the vitamin from food intake alone won't be sufficient. Instead you must bolster your healthy diet with supplements. Those who need to take a supplement include those planning to get pregnant, ideally beginning supplementation a full month before trying to conceive. If you are already pregnant you should make sure your prenatal vitamin contains at least the 400-800 mcg. recommended amount. Breastfeeding moms also need to continue taking supplements. If you have a medical history of spina bifida or someone in your family does, you need to talk to your doctor about whether you may need additional amounts of the nutrient. This also includes giving birth previously to a child with a neural tube defect. If you previously had a baby with spina bifida or a related condition, , taking folic acid can reduce your risk of having another baby with a neural tube defect by up to 70 percent.

Sources of Folic Acid

Besides supplements, eating a healthy diet will help you grow a healthy baby and prevent possible complications. Here is a list of foods high in folic acid:

Green Leafy Vegetables are one prime source of folic acid. In fact the word folic is derived from the same root as foliage. Good sources include romaine lettuce, turnip greens, asparagus, spinach, dried or fresh beans, and peas.

Folic acid can be found in animal products such as liver and liver products, bakers yeast and whole eggs. Other food sources include

  • wheat germ,
  • brussel sprouts,
  • sunflower seeds,
  • strawberries,
  • raspberries,
  • papayas,
  • beets,
  • broccoli,
  • grapefruit,
  • banana,
  • cantaloupe,
  • honeydews,
  • orange juice,
  • tomato juice or vegetable juice,
  • canned pineapple juice,
  • peanuts,
  • corn
  • and avocados.

Foods fortified with folic acid include flours, pastas, cereals and breads. Generally breakfast cereals are fortified with at least one quarter of the recommended amount of folic acid and may contain up to 100 percent of the RDA of the nutrient.

Can You Overdose on Folic Acid?

You really shouldn't worry about getting too much folic acid especially during your childbearing years and particularly when from food products alone. However, taking more than 1,000 mcg a day is not recommended unless directed by a doctor to do so for a certain condition. Too much folic acid may hide another issue; vitamin B12 deficiency. But this vitamin deficiency is rare except with strict vegetarians and people over 50 years of age.

According to the Department of Health and Human Service, most women of childbearing age do not get enough folic acid from foods alone, even if they eat fortified foods everyday so keep taking those prenatal vitamins.

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