Eating well and taking folic acid is important mom-to-be advice. Folic acid is important for a woman's wellness at any stage of life, but a woman of child-bearing age should know it plays a vital role in preventing neural tube defects in the fetus when taken prior to conception and during pregnancy.
By incorporating folic acid into your diet, your body can produce and maintain new cells. But what is folic acid? And how can you work it into your diet?
Let's dive deeper into the world of this important nutrient by answering some of the most common questions about folic acid.
Folic Acid Versus Folate: What's the Difference?
Folic acid and folate are both forms of vitamin B9; however, one is man-made and the other occurs naturally in the foods we eat:
- Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and is converted in the body to an active, usable form. Folic acid is used in supplements and to fortify foods, such as rice, pasta, bread and cereal.
- Folate is naturally present in whole foods, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits and beans.
How Can This Vitamin Benefit All Women?
Even if you're not planning to become pregnant, getting adequate folate in your diet is still important.
Folate plays a pivotal role in tissue growth and cell function, and it works with vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and vitamin C to break down and create new proteins. Cellular regeneration is an ongoing process in the body; our skin layers, nails and hair grow daily, which requires protein and DNA production.
A healthy diet includes foods rich in folate such as asparagus, leafy greens, avocado, fortified pasta or cereal, and eggs. It is essential for rapidly growing cells. Therefore, folate plays an important role in gut health, immunity, and to prevent some forms of anemia. Our general health depends upon it.
Research also suggests that folate may play a role in reducing the side effects of menopause. In one U.S. study in the Journal of Caring Sciences, menopausal women who supplemented 1 milligram of folic acid daily saw decreases in the severity, duration and frequency of their hot flashes.
How Much Folate Do Women Need?
The US Recommended Dietary Allowance of folic acid for adult women is 400 micrograms (mcg) daily. That recommendation climbs to 600 mcg during a pregnancy and 500 during the lactation period. And because 22% of American women between the ages of 12 and 49 don't have enough folate in their bodies to prevent neural tube defects, getting this amount is crucial.
Women who have a history of neural tube defects should consume even more folic acid, though. The National Institutes of Health recommend these women consume between 4,000 and 5,000 mcg of a folate supplement each day, at least one month before becoming pregnant. This should continue through the first three months of pregnancy to help ensure the best chance of keeping birth defects at bay.
Adding Folate to Your Diet
The best way to get the recommended amount of this nutrient is through a balanced diet, but many women opt for supplements to ensure adequacy. Before taking any supplements, though, be sure to talk to your healthcare professional to determine what is right for your specific needs.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tasty sources of folate in easily accessible foods, including many fruits and vegetables.
Folate is important for all women, but if you're pregnant or planning to conceive, talk to your doctor to make sure you're getting all the nutrition you need.