Folic Acid Awareness Week

Foods rich in Folic Acid

The Importance of Folic Acid

Folic Acid Awareness Week, designated Sept. 11 – 17, celebrates the successes of folic acid supplementation and fortification in preventing serious birth defects of the spine and brain. These birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly, are types of neural tube defects (NTDs) that develop very early in pregnancy, oftentimes before most women even know they’re pregnant.

Folic acid is a B-vitamin necessary for proper cell growth. If taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent up to 70% of these serious birth defects. About 3,000 pregnancies are affected by a defect of the spine (spina bifida) or brain (anencephaly) every year in the U.S. Data from state programs indicate about 7 to 8 babies are born with an NTD for every 10,000 live births.

Your Capital Women’s Care team of women’s health professionals shares vital facts about the importance of folic acid and provides you with valuable tips on how to get your recommended daily requirement through supplement and diet to reduce risk of NTDs in your baby.

What Is Folic Acid?

Folate (vitamin B-9) is important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth and function. Folate is also important for the synthesis and repair of DNA and other genetic material, and it’s necessary for cells to divide properly. Folate is crucial during early pregnancy (at 3 to 4 weeks) to reduce risk of birth defects affecting the brain and spine.

The synthetic form of folate is folic acid. It's in an essential component of prenatal vitamins and is found in many fortified foods like cereals and pastas.

A diet that lacks foods rich in folate or folic acid can lead to a folate deficiency. Folate deficiency can also occur in people with certain health conditions, like celiac disease or irritable bowel disease (IBD), that prevent the small intestine from absorbing nutrients from foods (malabsorption syndromes.)

Folic Acid Requirements

In 1991, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Vitamin Study determined women with a prior pregnancy diagnosed with an NTD could greatly reduce their risk during a future pregnancy by taking a daily dose of folic acid before becoming pregnant and during early pregnancy.

The success of this landmark study led to the following folic acid recommendations:

  • All women need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. The March of Dimes recommends taking a vitamin supplement with folic acid every day, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant. Even if you have an MTHFR variant, you can process all types of folates, including folic acid. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers the latest information on folic acid and MTHFR variants.

  • The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) recommends that women who are or might become pregnant take 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily to reduce NTD risks. It’s important to take folic acid prior to becoming pregnant, as NTDs form very early, oftentimes before a woman knows she’s expecting a baby.

  • When planning to become pregnant, women who have already had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect should consult their Capital Women’s Care practitioner. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends these women consume 4,000 mcg of folic acid each day 1 month before becoming pregnant and through the first 3 months of pregnancy. It’s important to note that 95% of women with NTD-affected pregnancies have no personal or family history of NTDs.

  • Additionally, the Office on Women’s Health recommends women who breastfeed take 500 mcg daily.

It’s difficult to get 400 mcg of folate through diet alone. You can get 400 mcg of folic acid each day by taking a vitamin with folic acid in it, eating fortified foods, or a combination of the two, in addition to consuming a balanced diet rich in natural food folate.

Foods with Folic Acid or Folate

Many foods that include wheat flour are fortified with folic acid in the U.S., including pastas and cereals; however, other common staple foods like corn masa flour, aren’t often fortified. This is one reason why Latinas are more likely to have babies born having NTDs.

Folic acid is better suited for food fortification because many fortified products are cooked. Fortified foods, which are labeled as “enriched,” include:

  • pastas
  • flour
  • cornmeal
  • cereals
  • white rice
  • and breads.

Folate is also found naturally in several foods. However, it’s important to note natural food folate breaks down due to heat and light exposure, which may reduce its potency.

Foods that are great sources of natural folate include:

  • beans
  • peas
  • lentils
  • asparagus
  • eggs
  • dark leafy greens
  • beets
  • citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes)
  • 100% orange juice
  • brussels sprouts
  • broccoli
  • nuts and seeds
  • beef liver
  • wheat germ
  • papaya
  • bananas
  • avocado
  • strawberries
  • melons
  • and fortified grains.

Tips to Reduce NTD Risks in Your Baby

You can greatly reduce your baby’s risk of NTDs by doing the following:

  • Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day.
  • Talk with your Capital Women’s Care practitioner about instituting a preconception health plan at least 3 months prior to trying to conceive.
  • Eat a bowl of cereal that has 100% of the Daily Value (DV) of folic acid each day.
  • Enjoy healthy nutritious foods featuring natural folate.
  • Take a folic acid supplement each day.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team of seasoned health professionals, specialists, nurses and support staff is here to answer your questions and concerns regarding folic acid and any women’s health issue. Our priority is offering you and your family comprehensive health care, treatments and services, so you have the best opportunity to enjoy a quality long life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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