You’re probably thinking, seriously? There’s a Folic Acid Awareness Week? Yes, yes there is – January 8-14, the first full week of January, marks Folic Acid Awareness Week. Although January is Birth Defects Awareness Month, folic acid is especially important, as it can prevent up to 70% of neural tube defects (NTDs), according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. Neural tube defects are defects of the brain and spine, like spina bifida and anencephaly. Although most women take a prenatal vitamin once they find out they’re pregnant, neural tube defects generally occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. This is why women of childbearing age (15-45) should make sure they take a daily vitamin that has folic acid, even if they don’t plan on becoming pregnant. The recommended daily dose for women of this age range is 400 mcg.
Folic acid versus Folate
While it’s important to take a multivitamin that contains folic acid, it’s equally important to eat foods rich in folate. We can’t store folate in the body since it’s water soluble, so we need to make sure that we ingest a consistent amount of the vitamin to keep our levels up. What’s the difference between folate and folic acid? Folate is vitamin B9, and folic acid is the synthetic version of folate. Fortified foods (like cereals and soy milk) contain folic acid, whereas foods like spinach naturally contain folate.
Lots of foods contain folate, so it’s easy to make sure you get some at every meal. Here are some suggestions to boost your folate intake.
For breakfast, smear some avocado on a piece of fortified whole wheat toast. Not only does the avocado have folate, but the “good fats” in avocados can help lower cholesterol. A glass of fortified orange juice is also a great way to sneak in some folic acid.
Why not have a salad at lunchtime, with beets, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and chickpeas? All of these are packed with folate. If you’re not a salad eater, a baked potato with the skin on is a good source of the B-vitamin. Pair that with a bowl of folate-containing lentils and that’s a healthy, filling meal.
At dinner, a side of asparagus or fortified egg noodles adds some needed folate to your meal. Later on, if you’re craving a small snack, soy nuts and sunflower seeds are a good choice.
What are some of your favorite ways to get folate into your diet?