Even just six years ago, when I first got pregnant, folic acid was all the rage; proper nutrients, a healthy diet, and, of course, folic acid. There were always the no-no’s as well… No fish, no deli meat, no soft cheeses, no coffee. So much has changed in the last five years and it is important to keep updated and informed on every detail. What is proper nutrition in pregnancy? How do you prepare your body to carry and form life? What has changed since I was pregnant?
Folic Acid: This is one of the hottest topics around when it comes to pregnancy. What is folic acid, anyway? Folic acid is a manmade form of folate. It is interesting to me that the manmade form of folate has been publicized more widely than the natural form. It used to be thought by many that folic acid was absorbed by the body much better than folate. It’s just as interesting to me that the synthetic Pitocin (man-made form of oxytocin) is more widely publicized than the body’s natural labor inducer. That’s a whole different story, though. Folic acid does not metabolize in the body the same as folate; because it is synthetic, folic acid is not normally found in foods or in the human body at all. As synthetic, not natural, it really doesn’t cross the placenta like we want it to or like natural folate does. It doesn’t have the benefits that folate does on our bodies and our babies.
Folate: The Latin word for folate is ‘folium’ which means leaf… Dietary folate is a natural occurring essential nutrient found in sources such as dark leafy greens, egg yolks, liver, and citrus. Not all of these are necessarily appetizing to everyone, but could be if you hide them in a pot pie, or in a stir fry? Anyway, the importance of folate (Vitamin B9) is required by the body for DNA synthesis, amino acid creation, and metabolizing or breaking down vitamins. Without folate, our bodies can’t metabolize enough iron, and can’t produce the proper DNA for a healthy fetus. Abnormalities can occur if the fetus doesn’t get enough folate during essential development stages. That is why folate is so important to consume before pregnancy begins as well as during.
However you choose to consume folate before, during, and after pregnancy, you must make sure to check your supplements. Do you trust them completely? Instead of folic acid on the bottle it must read folate. There is a lot of confusion between the two, even with professionals. Folate and folic acid do not have the same effects on your health.
“To assure that women have adequate folate stores during pregnancy, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) have recommended that 600 µg of folate be taken daily by pregnant women, and that this supplementation be continued throughout pregnancy and reduced to 500 µg during lactation,” (Greenberg, Bell, Yu. 2011).
The suggested amount of folate that a woman consumes before conception and during pregnancy is 600ug and 500ug during breastfeeding. This is according to the US National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Medicine. Why can’t you get all of your folate from natural food sources, you may ask? The National Institute of Health recommends that women wanting to become pregnant should take in 400 mcg per day extra folate on top of a healthy folate filled diet. The supplement aspect is important, even if you think you are consuming all of the leafy greens and legumes as you can.
For natural Dietary Guidelines for Americans check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “My Plate” and always check with your physician before changing your diet or supplements significantly during pregnancy.
James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Yong Guan, Yan-hong Yu. Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Summer; 4(2): 52–59.