13 Mar Folic acid: top 20 foods to eat during pregnancy
Folic acid – it’s essential before and during pregnancy. So why do only 1 in 3 women take a folic-acid supplement when trying for a baby? Even after getting pregnant, that figure only rises to 62 per cent – in the UK at least. Here’s why you need folic acid before and after conception, followed by our shortlist of the top 20 folic-acid foods you should be eating.
First, the facts. Folic acid is a B vitamin. Pick up a multivitamin box (e.g. Pregnacare) and note the ingredients: B vitamins rule supreme. Folic acid, working in partnership with vitamin B12, helps genes develop and cells grow. And when you’re pregnant, your body has millions more of them to think about.
Your baby’s brain and spinal cord need special attention in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Extra folic acid reduces the chance of neural-tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly (a fatal brain disorder). New research also shows that taking folic acid before conception reduces the chance of low birth weight.
1 in 1,000 pregnant women has a baby with neural-tube problems. But take extra folic acid (400 micrograms per day) and you’ll reduce that risk by 70 per cent. Many women start folic acid once they know they’re pregnant. Too late. You should have started three months earlier. The problem is, nobody knows when they’re going to fall pregnant. This means you should start folic acid before trying to conceive. Some doctors even say you should take folic acid throughout pregnancy and into breastfeeding.
There’s a lot to be said for eating natural foods rich in folate. Don’t ditch the daily folic-acid supplement. But a balanced diet with additional natural folate will do no harm. So here’s our list of the top 20 folic-acid foods to eat during pregnancy:
1. Fortified breakfast cereals – like Cornflakes. Read the box to check.
2. Orange juice – though limit your daily intake as it has a high glycemic load. Dilute with water and try other citrus fruits.
3. Fresh peas – classic, cheap and versatile.
4. Potatoes – but remember that white carbohydrates can max out blood-sugar levels.
5. Spinach – and don’t worry about the vitamin-A content because it’s the good sort. Dark leafy greens have lots of folate.
6. Broccoli – try steaming it to keep the nutrients in.
7. Bananas – but watch that sugar content. Half a banana is best.
8. Peanuts – and yes, they are safe to eat in moderation during pregnancy.
9. Baked beans – perfect with wholegrain toast and a hot cup of tea.
10. Wheatgerm – buy the powder and sprinkle on your morning cereal.
11. Kiwi fruit – best in fruit salads or with ice cream.
12. Kale – not everyone’s favourite but the king of veg. Try this recipe by Valentine Warner.
13. Brussels sprouts – now available all year round, not just at Christmas.
14. Marmite – the cult yeast-extract spread has quite a lot of folic acid in it.
15. Pork and poultry – occasional cooked meat is great for pregnant women.
16. Black-eyed beans – cheap canned ones are fine. Perfect in salads or with omelettes. Also try other pulses like lentils and kidney beans.
17. Tofu – soy-based foods are a great source of folic acid.
18. Avocados – a superfood beyond compare.
19. Asparagus – classy, seasonal and containing copious amounts of folic acid.
20. Okra – no longer an Indian-restaurant delicacy, okra has gone mainstream.
So that’s our guide to the top 20 foods rich in folic acid. Whether you’re trying to get pregnant naturally or having IVF treatment, a daily folic-acid supplement and a top-up of any of these delicious foods is a good idea. Just remember to eat them as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.