Ah, folic acid. I’m sure you’ve seen it mentioned on your cereal or pasta boxes, bread, and other grains, but do you really know what it is?
Last week was National Folic Acid Awareness Week and I meant to post this blog then, but, as I’m sure you all know the feeling, sometimes the hustle and bustle of life makes you forget to do some important stuff… But I’m posting it now because it’s always important to talk about folic acid!
What is Folic Acid?
Folic Acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is a B-vitamin that plays an integral role in proper cell growth. Folic acid is what is added to food and supplements, and folate occurs naturally in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and collard. Folic acid and folate are used interchangeably as they have the same functions in your body!
Folic acid has been shown to play a role in many processes within the body, and is of particular importance for women who are considering becoming pregnant. It is recommended that you consume at least 400 micrograms each day to help support the following body functions:
- Red blood cell production: Folate plays an integral role in the formation of genetic material that helps reproduce new red blood cells. A deficiency of folate can slow the production of new blood cells within the bone marrow, potentially leading to a type of anemia not related to iron.
- Amino acid metabolism: Folate is vital in your body’s conversion of homocysteine to methionine, which is an important amino acid. (Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.) When folate levels are low within the body, homocysteine levels can rise, which has been shown to be associated with an increased risk in developing cardiovascular disease.
- Prevention of neural tube defects: Folate is necessary for the production of new cells within the nervous system. This is of special importance for women who are pregnant, or who are planning on becoming pregnant. It has been shown that folate is vital during the first few weeks of pregnancy when the brain and spinal cord are forming. If folate is not present in the proper amount, the spinal cord may not develop properly, leading to Spina Bifida. Unfortunately, this may occur before you even know you are pregnant, which is why its important to ensure you are consuming adequate folate at least one month before a pregnancy. This can help lower the chances of neural tube defects by up to 70%.
Increase Your Folic Acid Intake
Consuming more folic acid doesn’t have to be difficult! Here are 3 ways you can increase your intake:
- Take your vitamins: Although this isn’t always necessary, if you are pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, taking a vitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid is a quick and easy way to ensure that you are meeting the minimum requirement for this vital nutrient. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimens!
- Check your grains: Due to the importance of folic acid in the diet, many grains are fortified with this amazing nutrient. Check your breakfast cereals and grains (like pastas and breads) to see if they are fortified with folic acid. Aim to choose cereals that contain 100% of your daily value!
- Eat your greens: Eating your vegetables is always a great idea for your health, and that idea still holds true for folic acid! Dark leafy greens like spinach can contain up to 250mcg per cup. Folic acid is also high in vegetables like kale, asparagus and broccoli. Try throwing some kale or spinach in your morning smoothie, and steaming some broccoli for a delicious side to your dinner. This is not only tasty but can help ensure you are consuming enough folic acid each and every day!
Folic acid is an important nutrient to have in your diet and if you work on increasing your intake of dark leafy greens and choose whole grains fortified with folic acid, you’ll meet your needs in no time!
Your turn to take action: What will you do to increase your folic acid intake? Let me know in the comments below!