January 7th-13th 2018 is World Folic Acid Awareness Week.
Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. If taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70% of serious birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects. These birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, therefore it is important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and to continue getting enough folic acid throughout pregnancy.
Women require folic acid even if they are not planning to become pregnant, as many pregnancies are often unplanned.
Folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods including dark leafy greens including spinach, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, turnip greens, okra, brussels sprouts and asparagus, lentils, beans, peas, nuts and avocado. As folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin (dissolves easily in water), it is lost from vegetables during cooking, this can be reduced by avoiding over-cooking and steaming or lightly frying.
The NHS and The British Dietetic Association (BDA) recommendations for folate (folic acid) intake (μg = micrograms) are as follows:
- Adults and children over 11 years: require 200μg (diet/supplement)
- Any woman considering pregnancy: 200μg plus a supplement containing 400μg
- Pregnant women: 300μg plus a 400μg supplement throughout pregnancy
- Lactating women: 260μg (diet/supplement)
Taking a multivitamin with folic acid every day is the easiest way that women can get the recommended amount of 400 mcg.