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folicaWe all know the common New Year’s resolutions this time of year: losing weight, getting more organized and catching up on sleep are at the top of many people’s lists!  But chances are, many women, in particular, are overlooking an important addition to their list: getting enough folic acid in their diet.  Since January 8th-14th is National Folic Acid Awareness Week—and the entire month is National Birth Defects Prevention Month—it’s time to take a closer look at 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 folic acid 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 daily.

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.  It can be difficult to remember to take multivitamins daily, so here are some tips: try taking it at the same time every day, like before you brush your teeth, with breakfast, or during an evening snack.  Setting an alarm on your cell phone 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 dropped by 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)
Baked beans
Chickpeas
Liver
Spinach
Asparagus
Okra
Collard and turnip greens
Lima beans
Beets
Broccoli
Mango
Sunflower seeds
Romaine lettuce
Orange juice
Green peas
Tomato juice
Avocado
Peanuts
Strawberries
Oranges

So, here’s to keeping our New Year’s resolutions, and to get the folate we need, this month and every month!

*Foods are listed in approximate descending order; foods richest in folate are at the top.

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