Are You Pregnant? Learn How Adding Folate Rich Foods In Your Diet Can Prevent Anemia

Are You Pregnant? Learn How Adding Folate Rich Foods In Your Diet Can Prevent Anemia

Do you know about 16 percent women in India don’t get proper pregnancy care? This includes monitoring signs of complications, diagnosis of gestational diabetes, diet during pregnancy and also providing iron and folic acid tablets and post-natal care.

What is more shocking is that only 30 percent pregnant woman in India takes iron and folic acid tablets for a recommended course of at least 100 days. Folic acid is extremely crucial for the proper development of the baby during the phase.

What is folate and why do we need it?

Our association with folic acid starts right from the beginning of our life in our mother’s womb. Folic acid or folate is extremely necessary for not only proper fetal development but it also prevents cognitive decline and dementia in elders. It is a water-soluble vitamin B9 that plays multiple roles in our body.

There is also difference between folate and folic acid although they are used interchangeably. Folate occurs naturally in foods while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate used in enriched/fortified foods and supplements.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of folate:

  1. It aids in the separation of cells and create new cells by copying and producing the DNA.
  2. Several emerging studies have shown that folate may help prevent certain cancers including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer as well lowers the risks of colorectal and esophageal cancer.
  3. As per some studies, folic acid has been associated with reduced risk of heart diseases. Taking adequate amount of folate lowers the level of homocysteine, a type of amino acid that could facilitate blood clots and narrow arteries.
  4. The same homocysteine may also impact bone health. According to some studies, taking folic acid promotes better bone health.
  5. Proper folate intake reduces the symptoms of restless leg syndrome, a condition characterized by urge to move legs.
  6. Low levels of vitamins are linked to decreased cognitive functioning. Folate with other B vitamins improves cognitive function and cut the risk of dementia.

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How much folate is necessary for good health?

The amount of folate requirement depends on the age. The recommended dietary intake of folate includes what you get from the food and supplements. Folate intake is calculated in micrograms (mcg).

Infants

  • 0-6 months – 65 mcg mcg/day
  • 7-12 months – 80 mcg mcg/day

Toddlers and children

  • 1-3 years - 150 mcg/day
  • 4-8 years - 200 mcg/day
  • 9-13 years – 300 mcg/day
  • 14 year and above – 400 mcg/day

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

  • Pregnant women – 600 mcg/day
  • Breastfeeding women – 500 mcg/day

Pregnancy and folate intake - Why folate is crucial for the developing baby?

In pregnant women, taking folic acid cut the chances of birth defects by upto 70 percent. These include brain and spine defects known as spina bifida and anencephaly. So women should start taking folic acid supplements before planning to become pregnant.

Folic acid supplements may also reduce the risk of preeclampsia and preterm labor. This vitamin B9 is also beneficial for women as it helps form healthy red blood cells. Failing to take adequate folic acid can cause certain types of anemia.

Are there any risks of folate overdose or deficiency?

Folate which is naturally present in the food we eat is not harmful, even if we overdo it. However, taking folic acid supplements and fortified foods which goes above the tolerable level can be harmful. Unless it is recommended by the doctor, supplements should not be taken. The upper bearable limit of folate in children lies between 300-600 mcg, while in teens and adults, the limit is 800-1000 mcg.

Folate overdose can cause a range of symptoms such as diarrhea, skin reactions, cramps and other possible side effects including mood changes, difficulty sleeping, and change in sex drive.

Folate deficiency known as megaloblastic anemia is the classic sign of lack of folate in the body. Deficiency may also reduce the number of white blood cells and platelets and contributes to serious birth defects. Other symptoms include pale skin, headaches, premature graying of hair, weight loss, canker sores, difficulty concentrating, nausea, shortness of breath and growth problems.

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Don’t want to take supplements? These foods are enough to address folate deficiency

Lack of healthy balanced diet is the reason behind folate deficiency. Deficiency can also occur due to certain conditions, genetics, alcohol excess and medication side effects. But these are rare and majority of folate is derived from combination of various foods.

Here we elaborate top veg and non-veg foods needed to curb folate deficiency:

Veg foods for folate deficiency

Spinach

Leafy green like spinach has incredible health benefits including high reserves of folate. Spinach is also filled with iron, calcium, vitamin and potassium, so there are multiple advantages of having this vegetable.

Dietary value – Just 1 cup of cooked spinach gives about 262 mcg of folate, 66 percent of the total daily dietary intake.

Broccoli

Apart from high amount folate, this cruciferous vegetable is one of the best foods that naturally detoxify our body from harmful elements.

Dietary value – 1 cup serving of broccoli can give 104 mcg of folate, about 26 percent of the daily requirement.

Kidney beans

Also known as rajma in India, kidney beans is a versatile food that contains plenty of folic acid inside. Cook kidney beans with spinach for a powerful folate combination.

Dietary value – 1 cup serving of cooked kidney beans gives 92 mcg of folate, 23 percent of daily need.

Oranges

If you are thinking that vitamin C is the only reason to have this citrus fruit, then you need to give a second thought. Oranges are high in folic acid content as well as filled with potassium and calcium.

Dietary value – 3 medium sized orange can provide 87 mcg of folate, about 22 percent of daily recommended intake.

Peanuts

Munching moongfali is a healthy way to get folate into your diet. Plus you are getting a lot of iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Dietary value – Half cup peanuts can give 88 mcg of folate, 22 percent of the daily dietary need.

Bananas

If you are pregnant, then eating fruits such as banana, which is high in folic acid, is completely safe. The best part is that we can enjoy banana anytime of the day whether in breakfast with oatmeal or as an evening snack.

Dietary value - 2 medium sized bananas offers about 48 mcg of folate, 12 percent of the daily recommended intake.

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Cauliflower

One of the best stores of vitamin C, cauliflower (foolgobhi) is a rich source of folic acid. This cruciferous vegetable can be mixed with any of the foods in the list for a healthy combination.

Dietary value – Have a cup of cooked cauliflower and you get 55 mcg of folic acid, about 14 percent of the daily dietary requirement.

Non-veg foods for folate deficiency

Beef liver

If you are including non-veg in your food, you are never in dearth of essential minerals. Beef (bade ka meat) liver is the best source to get folic acid and enough for majority of the daily need. Make gravy or use as a primary stuffing.

Dietary value – 100 grams of beef liver contains about 290 mcg of folate, about 72 percent of the total daily requirement.

Chicken liver

If you want maximum amount of folate in a least serving, there is no better food than chicken liver. It is also one of the top sources of vitamin A, needed for eye health.

Dietary value - Just grab 1 chicken liver and your 64 percent of the total daily requirement is over. It gives you 254 mcg of folate.

Eggs

There are numerous reasons for adding eggs to your daily diet and folate is one of them. Filled with protein and plethora of essential vitamins, there is no better way to start your day than having eggs.

Dietary value – 1 large egg gives 25 mcg of folate, over 6 percent of the daily dietary requirement.

If you are taking folate from whole food sources, it will not pose any risks. However, folic acid supplements can interact with several medications and worsen certain health conditions. So it is better to talk to a doctor or dietician for better guidance. If you are pregnant, you need to consult a gynecologist and follow the strict guidelines regarding diet.

 Sources

1. Kim YI(1999).Folate and cancer prevention: a new medical application of folate beyond hyperhomocysteinemia and neural tube defects read more
2. Moazzen S, et al.(2017). Folic acid intake and folate status and colorectal cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis read more
3. Tio M, et al.(2014, February). Folate intake and the risk of upper gastrointestinal cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis read more
4. Larsson SC, et al.(2004, March). Dietary folate intake and incidence of ovarian cancer: the Swedish Mammography Cohort read more
5. Graham IM and O'Callaghan P(2004, December). The role of folic acid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease 
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