By Dr Anita Star
Folate is essential to a healthy pregnancy, as it is used in the formation of the brain and nervous system early in pregnancy. Lack of folate has been associated with spina bifida and neural tube defects.
Folate is found naturally in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, bok choy, choy sum, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale and asparagus. In is also present in lentils and legumes, some fruits like oranges and strawberries, as well as nuts and yeast spreads such as vegemite. In Australia and New Zealand, bread wheat flour (with the exception of organic bread) has now also been fortified with folate, 100g of bread or roughly 3 slices of bread will contain 135 micrograms of folic acid. We recommend including food sources of folate in your diet every day. You should be aware that cooking does destroy some of the folate present in foods, therefore it can be quite hard to meet your folate requirements for pregnancy in the diet alone. As only wheat flour is fortified many gluten free breads or breads from other cereal flours are not fortified.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend most women have 0.4 milligrams of supplemented folate or folic acid. It is best to take this for three months before pregnancy and for at least the first 3 months of pregnancy. Please note the recommended dietary intake (RDI) advised by the New Zealand Ministry of Health and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council during pregnancy is 0.6 mg per day, therefore it is important to have both supplemented and food sources of folate.
Those women who are at high risk of having a child with neural tube defects should have 5 milligrams. This includes women taking anti-convulsant medications due to epilepsy, women with diabetes, women have a BMI > 30, women who have had a previous child or family member with neural tube defects, or women who are at risk of poor food absorption such as those with coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease. Supplementing with folate is known to reduce the number of births of babies with spina bifida.
So in short eat plenty of folate foods, don’t forget your pregnancy multivitamin and talk to your doctor if you think you maybe at high risk and needed a higher dose supplement.