Folic Acid Rich Foods for a Healthier Pregnancy
But there are a few key nutrients that play such a vital role in the health of the pregnancy and your unborn baby, that they need some extra attention. Folic acid is one of them. So now is the time to start eating more of it.
I’m going to show you everything you need to know about this nutrient – what it is and what it does.
Below you will find a list of top foods high in folic acid. We will also talk about the necessary supplementation you’ll need (which may start sooner than you expected!)
What Is Folic Acid?
The simple answer: Folic acid is simply vitamin B9.
The more complicated answer: Folic acid is a form of folate, and which you end up taking can make all the difference.
Folic Acid vs. Folate: What’s The Difference
Oftentimes you will see or hear people talking about folic acid and folate interchangeably – in some ways that makes sense. They are both vitamin B9.
But there is one important difference.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It’s what you find in many vitamin supplements and fortified foods. To understand exactly what this means for your body and your baby, check out this 5 minute explanation:
Many people believe that folate is better for your health and the health of your baby. Luckily for you, this list of folic acid foods is made up of 100% folate.
Why Is Folic Acid/Folate Important For Fertility and Pregnancy?
No matter if you are pregnant or not, folic acid provides lots of health benefits:
- It wards off anemia
- It helps produce and repair DNA
- It improves cell growth
But why does everyone tell you that you need to up your folic acid/folate levels if you want to become pregnant?
Folic acid plays a huge role in preventing birth defects.
When a woman is low or deficient in folic acid, the chances of the baby having a neural tube defect goes up. This means there could be a problem with the spinal cord – like spina bifida.
This is the most common problem associated with a folic acid deficiency, but this nutrient can help prevent other defects like cleft lip and heart defects.
And for the mom, some studies show folic acid can decrease your chances of the dangerous preeclampsia.
So, as you can see, getting plenty of this vitamin is mandatory. Let’s see how you can eat plenty of it.
Top Folic Acid Foods
Now we get to our list of top dietary sources of folic acid.
Remember these foods are technically high in folate because they are all naturally sourced from plants. But they will provide all the benefits you hear about when it comes to needing folic acid for your pregnancy.
First up we have your leafy greens. These should really come as no surprise. Dark leafy greens are touted as the ultimate superfoods, and for good reason. They are packed with nearly all the essential nutrients your body needs.
Some of the top choices for folic acid in particular include:
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
Spinach is easy to incorporate into your diet more often. Anytime you have a stir-fry or veggie sauté, add some spinach in last minute to just wilt it. Toss some into your morning smoothie. Or make a small side salad with lunch.
If you’ve never made the southern classic collard greens, here’s a popular recipe on Allrecipes.
When we think of citrus fruits, we probably think of vitamin C – which is completely correct and important for a healthy pregnancy too. But citrus fruits are packed with many vitamins, including folic acid.
Here are some of the highest citrus fruits when it comes to folic acid:
Papaya is my favorite smoothie bowl ingredient. I put chunks of frozen papaya in with half a banana and some almond milk. Blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl and top with shaved coconut and granola.
And broiled grapefruit makes a great breakfast, snack, or dessert. Here’s a how-to video:
Next up we have beans! Not only are beans high in folic acid, but also they are also super high in protein and fiber. They are such a healthy source of protein, even meat-eaters should consider doing a bean-based vegetarian/vegan meal a couple times a week.
Here are some of the beans highest in folic acid:
- Pinto Beans
- Garbanzo Beans (AKA chickpeas)
- Black Beans
- Navy Beans
- Kidney Beans
An easy way to get in lots of beans is through a nice bean chili. Epicurious has a black bean chili recipe. And Kitchen Treaty has a slow cooker three-bean chili recipe that gives you a meat option if you’d prefer.
Making your own Mexican pinto bean side is easier than you may think. The Minimalist Baker has a one pot recipe!
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are filled with other important pregnancy nutrients like zinc and magnesium too.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
I like to top just about anything with these seeds. They taste great on everything from oatmeal to salads.
Flax seed crackers have become really popular at health food stores, but they can be extremely expensive. It’s actually pretty easy (and way cheaper) to make your own. Here’s how to do it:
Broccoli, Asparagus, and Brussels Sprouts
All three of these green vegetables are fabulous sources of folic acid – along with a long list of other essential nutrients. Here are my favorite ways to cook all of them
- Broccoli: Sautéing broccoli in a pain is actually a delicious and simple way to cook them. Add some oil just like normal, halfway through toss in some red pepper flakes and salt.
- Asparagus: Roasting! Roasting veggies is so simple, just chop, season and forget about it until your timer goes off. Break off the hard asparagus ends, sprinkle with salt and lemon pepper and roast at 350 until the tips start to brown and they reach your desired level of crispness.
- Brussels Sprouts: These little veggies pair so well with sweet flavors. I like to sauté the Brussels sprouts in a pan. Halfway through I like to add chopped apples and a drizzle of maple syrup. Keep cooking until the Brussels sprouts get some dark spots and the apples are cooked.
Avocado is really the king of the fruits. It has so much healthy fat, it is high in fiber, it has even more potassium than a banana does, and they are super high folic acid too. The options for including them into your day are endless:
- Breakfast: Start off your day with some avocado toast. Toast up multigrain or gluten-free bread. Mush up your avocado and put it on top. Optional toppings include sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and crush red pepper flakes.
- Lunch: Instead of only using mayonnaise to make a chicken salad, puree avocado for a healthier alternative
- Dinner: Sliced avocado is one of the easiest and most nutritious side dishes for a busy work night
- Dessert: Bet you didn’t realize avocado makes an incredible chocolate pudding. Here is a video showing you how to make it:
Fortified cereals may be a good option, but be careful.
Many breakfast cereals have been fortified with essential nutrients like iron, zinc, or folic acid. These can make easy ways to get more of the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.
But just because they have all these added vitamins and minerals does not necessarily mean they are good for you. Be an investigator and read the package:
- Look for low sugar options
- Check to see if there is any protein and fiber
- Make sure there aren’t lots of “fake” artificial ingredients
Taking a Folic Acid Supplement
While making sure your diet is filled to the brim with healthy nutrients like folic acid is essential while you are trying to get pregnant and while you are pregnant, sometimes it isn’t enough.
It is vital to take your prenatal daily. Most prenatal will have folic acid (or folate) included. If yours doesn’t, you should be taking it as an additional supplement.
The experts recommend that you should be taking somewhere between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid each day (don’t go over 1,000).
Why Every Single Woman Should Be Taking Folic Acid
I want you to realize something important about folic acid. Every woman of childbearing age should be getting it – not just those who are actively trying to have a baby or are pregnant.
The risk of real birth defects for your unborn child happens in the first 3 to 4 weeks of pregnancy. And here lies the problem:
Most women have no idea that they are pregnant at 3 to 4 weeks. And many pregnancies are completely unplanned.
This means unless a woman is already on her prenatal because she is trying to get pregnant, most women will miss the optimal time to be getting folic acid simply because they have no idea that they are pregnant.
That is why it is vital to be taking either a multivitamin or prenatal during your childbearing years – and why it is so important to eat a well-rounded diet that naturally keeps your folic acid (as well as other essential nutrients like iron) at the right levels.
Folic Acid and Your Pregnancy
By now you realize just how important this nutrient is to your health and the health of your unborn child. You should have absolutely no problem getting enough as long as you keep taking your prenatal/multivitamin and eat a healthy diet filled with our folate foods!
If you are concerned about your levels of folic acid, talk to your doctor so he or she could run some tests and provide any necessary recommendations.