8 foods that boost folate include:
1. Spinach and kale
2. Brussel sprouts and asparagus
3. Broccoli and cauliflower
4. Chickpeas and kidney beans
5. Oranges and orange juice
6. Fortified breakfast cereals
7. Breads, rice and pastas
8. Folic acid supplements
When it comes to our knowledge of vitamins, most of us know to dose up on vitamin C when we are sick, and to go outside in the sunshine to get enough vitamin D.
There are 13 vitamins that are extremely important to keep our body healthy. Folate is a B vitamin, which is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells. Folate deficiency can cause a type of anaemia called ‘macrocytic’ anaemia, leading to tiredness, headaches, weight loss and lack of appetite.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin, that is manually added to foods and dietary supplements. Folic acid is very important in the development of an unborn child. It can help prevent major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine that are associated with deficiency.
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves in water. This means you need to make sure you are getting enough folate, as your body has no way to store it, so leftover amounts leave the body through urine.
1. Spinach and kale
Two foods with the highest content of folate are spinach and kale. Including both of these foods in your diet is a great way of making sure your getting enough dietary folate. If you have ever tried to cook spinach, you will notice it shrinks to a fraction of its original size. Adding half a bag of spinach to any dish when cooking, is an easy way to ensure your getting your essential B vitamin into your daily diet. For those who aren’t keen on vegetables, adding kale to a smoothie with sweeter fruits like raspberries and blueberries, is a great way to ensure your getting folate into your diet, without having to sacrifice your tastebuds.
2. Brussel sprouts and asparagus
Both brussel sprouts and asparagus are very high in folate, so including these as a side at dinner time will really help in boosting your folate consumption. As folate is water soluble, it is lost from vegetables during cooking. To reduce this from happening, avoid boiling vegetables where possible. Try steaming, or even microwaving your vegetables, in order to keep the vitamin content intact. For flavour, be inventive. Roasted or sauteed vegetables using herbs and spices, make for a flavourful and healthy side dish, packed with your essential vitamins.
Broccoli and cauliflower
Broccoli and cauliflower are both high in natural folate. They make for a great side dish at any meal time. They are also a great meal filler. Adding chopped up stalks of these vegetables to a curry or stew, will ensure your getting a daily dose of folate, while bulking up your dinner. The more vegetables in any dish, the better. They keep you fuller for longer, they are high in fibre, and low in calories, so friendly on the waistline. Remember, vegetables don’t have to be boring. With the recent increase of people opting for a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, there is now an endless supply of delicious recipes incorporating vegetables into your diet. There’s something out there for everyone, so don't be afraid to be adventurous in the kitchen.
Chickpeas and kidney beans
One of the most versatile foods, chickpeas are high in folate so are a great addition to any plate. Chickpeas are high in protein, so are a good substitute to use on your meatless mondays! A chickpea curry, is a cheap and easy way to get folate into your diet. Chickpeas are also a tasty addition to any salad, boosting your lunch time folate intake.
Kidney beans are another great source of dietary folate, and a tasty addition at any meal time. A diet complete with all your essential vitamins, doesn’t need to be expensive. With supermarket brands selling canned chickpeas and kidney beans for less than $1, the addition of pulses to a meal are a cost effective way in increasing your folate intake.
It is common knowledge that oranges are full of vitamin C, which is important in keeping our immune system strong. A less well known fact is that oranges are also a great source of dietary folate. This gives you another reason to make sure that an orange is included as one of your 5 a day. Have it as a mid healthy morning snack, include it as part of a fruit salad, throw one into a smoothie in a smoothie, or drink a glass of natural orange juice with your breakfast.
Breads, pasta and rice
In 1988, the US Food and Drug Administration required that folic acid be added to enriched grain products such as bread, pasta, rice and cereal. These foods are known as ‘fortified’.
The folate found in fortified foods is known as folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin, which is more readily absorbed by our bodies. Women need extra folic acid in early pregnancy, as it is an essential nutrient required for the growth and development of the unborn babies nervous system. Ensuring that you have an appropriate portion size of one of these enriched foods at every meal time, will help in maintaining adequate folate levels.
7. Fortified breakfast cereals
Fortified breakfast cereals are a cheap and easy way to make sure you're getting enough folic acid in the diet. Learn to read food labels and portion recommendations. Many fortified breakfast cereals can contain a large percentage of the recommended daily amount of folic acid you should be consuming a day.
Some fortified cereals can contain 100% of the recommended daily amount, if the correct portion is consumed
8. Folic acid supplement
As mentioned, folic acid deficiency can cause irreversible neural tube defects in an unborn baby. Although a diet rich in folate is healthy and highly recommended, a folic acid containing supplement is strongly encouraged to reduce the risk of birth defects.It is impossible for women to get enough folate for what she needs in early pregnancy, from eating a healthy balanced diet alone. That is why a folic acid supplement of 400mcg daily is strongly recommended. Up to 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. If you are a sexually active woman who could become pregnant, whether you’re planning a pregnancy or not, you need to take a folic acid supplement daily to protect the healthy development of your baby’s brain and spine.
In sum: Everybody needs to make sure they are getting enough folate in their diet. It plays an essential role in numerous bodily functions. In women where there is a chance of becoming pregnant, a folic acid supplement is needed in conjunction with a diet rich in folate sources, to prevent neural tube defects in an unborn child.
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Written by Niamh Brosnan, RD. BSC | Edited by Hannah Kingston