You might have heard of folic acid before or seen it on a nutrition label for certain foods. It’s made from folate, which occurs naturally in some foods and is a form of a B-vitamin. But did you know how important folic acid is for your nutrition, especially if you’re a woman? It’s even required by Federal law that folic acid be added to foods like cereal, flour, bread, pasta, cookies, and crackers. So, what’s the big deal?
Folic acid and folate helps the body make new red blood cells. These are important because they carry oxygen throughout your body. Without enough red blood cells, anemia can develop, and this can make you tired or weak, and you’ll also look pale. It can also be used to help prevent colon cancer and cervical cancer, as well as reducing risk for heart attack and stroke. Beyond this, it’s also used to help with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and a number of other age-related conditions. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
Well, folic acid is even more important for women, especially for pregnant women. During pregnancy, folic acid protects unborn children from a number of birth defects, and also helps reduce risk of miscarriage. Women of child-bearing age are more likely to develop anemia, so taking folic acid is an important part of staying healthy, even if you don’t plan on becoming pregnant.
It’s recommended that women get between 400-800 micrograms of folic acid daily, leaning toward the higher end if you’re pregnant or could become pregnant. There are other amounts you may need to take, if any of the following apply: had a baby with a birth defect and want to get pregnant again; have a family member with spina bifida and want to get pregnant; have spina bifida and want to get pregnant; are taking medication for epilepsy, type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus; are on dialysis for kidney disease; or have a health condition like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, that affects how the body absorbs folic acid. Talk to your doctor to find out if you might need more folic acid in your diet, and how much you need.
So, what are some good ways to get folic acid? Many foods contain folate or folic acid. It occurs naturally in spinach, nuts, oranges, poultry, whole grains, and beans. Some other foods will say “enriched” on the ingredients list, meaning they contain folic acid. These include pasta, bread, cornmeal, white rice, and cereals. Otherwise, there are a number of vitamins and multivitamins that contain folic acid.
Everyone should have a regular intake of folic acid, since we all need healthy red blood cells. Women are more likely to need increased amounts of folic acid, especially if pregnant. Take a look at your diet, and see if you are getting enough folic acid. If not, consider adding one of the foods mentioned here, and don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about it for more information!