Terri Mendoza, MS, RD, LDN, Department of Public Health.
Terri is a Nutrition Education Specialist with DPH.
Are you looking for a new New Year’s resolution that’s easy, painless and will help protect you AND your growing family? Well, look no more! Since January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month—and January 8th-14th is National Folic Acid Awareness Week—resolve to make sure you are getting enough of this important vitamin.
Everyone can benefit from folic acid – it can reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, prevent certain types of anemia, and even protect against depression. But it’s during pregnancy that this vitamin is particularly important, since it’s been shown to prevent neural tube defects, birth defects which affect the baby’s brain and spine.
Pregnant women and women planning on becoming pregnant are advised to take folic acid to make sure they get the vitamins and minerals needed for a growing baby. But over half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and neural tube defects and spina bifida occur very early in pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that ALL women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms (mcgs) of folic acid each day.
The easiest way to make sure you’re getting all the folic acid you need is to take a multivitamin containing 100% of the recommended amount (400 mcgs) every day. Most vitamins have the folic acid you need, but it’s always a good idea to check the label. You could also take a folic acid supplement containing 400 mcgs, which can be found anywhere vitamins are sold. As we all know, it can be difficult to remember to take multivitamins daily. Try taking it at the same time every day, such as before brushing your teeth, with breakfast, or during an evening snack. Setting an alarm on your cell phone or watch can also be a good reminder.
To get the recommended amount of folic acid every day, you could also eat one serving of whole grain cereal which has been fortified with 100% of the recommended amount of the vitamin. Interestingly, since cereals began to be fortified with folic acid in the 1990’s, the prevalence rate of spina bifida, one of the most common neural tube defects in the United States, has declined 31%. Other foods, such as enriched wheat, flour, pasta, rice, whole grain breads, and wheat germ, are also good sources, since they, too, have folic acid added to them during processing.
You can also choose foods that are high in folate – the term for folic acid that is found naturally in foods. Enjoy these healthy and delicious choices that are good sources of folate as well as many other nutrients*:
Lentils and beans (including black-eyed peas, pinto beans, black beans,
navy beans, kidney beans, and white beans)
Collard and turnip greens
So, start 2012 on the right foot, and be sure to get the folate you need, this month and every month!
*Foods are listed in approximate descending order; foods richest in folate are at the top.