Most of us can get enough folate from following Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. However, if you are a woman of childbearing age, between 14-50 years old and could become pregnant you also need a folic acid vitamin supplement.
During the first four weeks of pregnancy when most women do not even realize they are pregnant, folic acid is needed for the proper development of the baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord. Serious birth defects called neural tube defects are less likely to happen when women take 0.4 milligrams of folic acid daily. Talk to your doctor about choosing the best supplement.
What is the difference between folate and folic acid?
Folate and folic acid are different terms for the same B vitamin. Folic acid is the form found in vitamin supplements while folate is the form found in food.
Why do I need folate?
To help prevent anemia. Without enough folate to make healthy red blood cells you may feel weak or tired and find it hard to concentrate.
For a healthy heart. Folate keeps both the blood vessels and heart healthy.
To reduce the risks of some birth defects. When women of child-bearing age take folic acid before and during pregnancy, the risks of birth defects are reduced.
How can I get enough folate?
To get enough folate, follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. In addition, women 14-50 years old also need to take a folic acid supplement of 0.4 milligrams a day
What foods are good sources of folate?
Folate is found in a variety of healthy foods. Try:
Cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils
Spinach, asparagus, romaine lettuce, beets, broccoli, corn, peas, tomato juice, vegetable juice, Brussels sprouts, bok choy
Orange juice, canned pineapple juice, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapefruit juice, banana, raspberries, grapefruit, strawberries
Enriched grain products like pasta, cereals, bread; whole grain breads and cereals
Peanut butter, sunflower seeds
Questions and answers about folate and pregnancy
1. Why should I take folic acid if I am not planning a pregnancy?
Many pregnancies are not planned. Neural tube defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy before most women even know they are pregnant. That is why it is recommended that all women of childbearing age (14-50 years old) that could become pregnant take a folic acid supplement each a day.
2. Can I get enough folate from food?
Most Canadian women do not get enough folate from food. That is why it is recommended they take a folic acid vitamin supplement. Keep in mind, supplements cannot replace a healthy diet, so do your best to follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide for your good health and the health of the baby too.
3. I am planning a pregnancy. Should I start taking folic acid now?
If you are planning a pregnancy and have not been taking folic acid, start now and wait for at least three months before trying to get pregnant.
4. How much folic acid do I need when I am pregnant?
Generally, for the entire pregnancy, women need 0.6 milligrams (mg) of folic acid a day. Some women may need more depending on their risk factors for neural tube defects. Discuss this with your doctor. Be sure not to take more than 1 milligram each day unless advised by your doctor.
Find out more:
A Healthy Pregnancy is in Your Hands, by the Public Health Agency of Canada
Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects, by the Public Health Agency of Canada
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide Health Canada
Last Update – March 5, 2018