The benefits of folic acid before pregnancy

Folate is essential for human cells because of its ability to synthesise and repair DNA. It also a contributory factor in many biological reactions, such as red blood cell formation.
Folate can be found in foods like eggs, sunflower seeds and yeast.
Folate can be found in foods like eggs, sunflower seeds and yeast.

Folic acid, folate, B9 or folacin: these are all terms for one vitamin. So what is folate and what do we need to know about it?

Folate is a type of B vitamin, which is water soluble and essential for our bodies. Folate is the term for the naturally occurring vitamin, while folic acid is the manufactured variation and commonly comes in supplement form, or added to foods.

Folate is essential for human cells because of its ability to synthesise and repair DNA. It also a contributory factor in many biological reactions, such as red blood cell formation.

For this reason, folic acid is essential in having a healthy pregnancy and baby, and should be taken for at least three months before conception. Studies show that birth defects affect about one in every 100 babies worldwide. Having the recommended amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy can prevent this. During pregnancy, as the production of red blood cells increases and foetal tissues grow, there is an increased need for folic acid.

It is recommended that women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day and consume foods that naturally contain folate or are fortified with folic acid.

Folate can be found in foods such as whole-wheat products and potatoes. Meats and beans, liver, eggs, dried beans, sunflower seeds, yeast and legumes are also considered good sources of folic acid. Fruit and vegetable sources include oranges, strawberries, cantaloupes and other melons, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens and other green leafy vegetables. Another great source of folic acid is fortified grain products, like flour, rice, pasta, bread, and cereals.

Folate is a sensitive vitamin and can easily be destroyed by light, heat, cooking, acidity with pH below 4 and being stored at room temperature for prolonged periods. However, there are ways to protect folate – for example, by eating fresh fruits and vegetables without cooking and minimising the amount of water when boiling or steaming vegetables.

Mashael Al Ameri is an Emirati nutritionist.

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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