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By Camille Finn

twitter_folic-acidHappy New Year! What are your plans for 2018? You may want to add getting enough folic acid to your list. Everyone needs folic acid to make healthy new cells, but it’s especially important for pregnant women. Adequate folic acid during pregnancy has been shown to prevent neural tube defects, birth defects which affect the baby’s brain and spine. Neural tube defects can occur very early in pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant. Since close to half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that ALL women of childbearing age get enough folic acid daily. January 7-13 is Folic Acid Awareness Week! Here’s a quick guide to this important vitamin:

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a B vitamin that your body needs for proper cell growth. Folic acid is used to prevent certain types of anemia, and may be helpful in treating depression and reducing the risk of heart disease

How much folic acid do I need?

The recommended amount of folic acid is 400 micrograms (mcgs) daily. Getting enough folic acid daily can decrease your baby’s chances of having a neural tube defect by up to 70 percent!

What can I do to meet the folic acid recommendations?

Taking a daily multivitamin that contains 400 mcgs of folic acid is the easiest way to make sure you are getting the folic acid you need. You can also eat fortified foods like breads and breakfast cereals. Even tortillas are now fortified with folic acid. You can also get the natural form of folic acid–folate–from certain foods.

Which foods are high in folate?

Foods high in folate include lentils and beans; dark, green leafy vegetables (like spinach and collard greens); other vegetables such as broccoli and asparagus; and some fruits, like mangos, cantaloupe and strawberries.

For more answers to your folic acid questions, check out the National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s website:

Camille Finn is a dietetic intern at Tufts University.

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