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What Women Need to Know About Folate
Provided by the American Dietetic Association: Your Link to Nutrition & Health

It's a simple solution to a problem that can cause a great deal of heartache. It's a B-vitamin called Folate. However, most women don't know what it is or where to find it.

The heartache--nearly 2,500 newborns in the United States are born each year with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It's crucial for women to know that by consuming adequate daily amounts of folate or folic acid, through a varied diet, fortified foods and supplements, these birth defects can be prevented.

How much folate is enough?

In addition to eating folate-rich food from a varied diet, The National Academy of Sciences recommends that all women capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid from fortified foods and/or supplements. But the average intake of folate by American women is still barely half that amount.

Once you know you're pregnant, the folate requirement for pregnancy increases to 600 micrograms per day and during breast-feeding, 500 micrograms is advised. It's important to get at least 400 micrograms from fortified foods or supplements and the remaining 200 micrograms can come from foods with naturally occurring folate. Most prenatal vitamins meet the requirements for folic acid, but you'll also need to include more folate from your food choices.

Where is folate found?

Folate occurs naturally in leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, orange juice, nuts and seeds. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is used in vitamin supplements. And, since January 1998, enriched grain products sold in the United States, such as cereals and pasta, have been fortified with folic acid. The only foods that contain folate in the form of folic acid are fortified grain products.

Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on foods to find out how much folate (or folic acid) is in a fortified product. The percent Daily Value tells you how a serving of the food contributes to your daily needs.

What about health claims?

Health claims are one of several ways food labels can gain the attention of health-conscious consumers. However, look for claims authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. These claims are backed by sufficient scientific agreement among qualified experts. Health claims show a relationship between a nutrient or other substances in a food and a disease or health-related condition, such as spina bifida. Health claims are allowed in food labeling among other various types of claims.

Good Sources of Folate

Food Folate (micrograms)

Spinach (1/2 cup cooked) 130
Broccoli (1/2 cup cooked) 39
Peas (1 cup cooked) 101
Lentils (1 cup cooked) 358
Pasta (1 cup cooked) 100-120
Cold cereal (1 ounce) 100-400
Oatmeal, instant (1/2 cup) 80
Orange juice (1 cup frozen concentrate) 109
Strawberries (1 cup raw and sliced) 26

Bottom line

Folate isn't the only important nutrient for pregnancy, but research shows it can improve the health of babies. Many pregnancies are unplanned which makes it very important for women to consume enough folate before conception.

Start now and make sure you get enough folate by eating a variety of foods and use the pyramid as a guide. If you're not getting enough through food, you may want to use a supplement. Contact a registered dietitian or your physician for more information.

Information provided from: The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide and Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby.


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