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USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine



Fortify your folate levels before becoming pregnant spinach

Wanna-be moms would be wise to indulge in a folate-rich diet. Folate is found in orange juice,dried beans and green leafy vegetables, as well as grain-based foods fortified with folic acid, the man-made form.

Early in pregnancy, folate plays an important role in fetal growth and development. This essential nutrient has been shown to reduce the risk of spina bifida and other defects of the neural tube, the structure that becomes the spinal column. Spina bifida is a condition in which part of one of more vertebras fail to develop, leaving a portion of the spinal cord exposed. The defect can result in physical and mental disabilities. This type of defect affects nearly 4,000 pregnancies each year. But, diets rich in folate or folic acid could cut that number by 50 to 70 percent.

The critical period for spinal development is the first few weeks following conception, a time most women don't even know they are pregnant. That's why physicians advise women who are capable of conceiving to keep their folate levels up at all times.

Although women can get enough of this vitamin through natural sources, most only consume about 230 micrograms each day. This is well below the recommended 400 micrograms. To help consumers meet their folate needs, the government has now added folic acid to the list of vitamins used to fortify rice-, corn- and wheat-foods. 

Some fortified ready-to-eat cereals can provide a woman's daily requirement in a single serving. 

To be nutrient savvy, look for folate on the Nutrition Facts of packaging. While flour, breads, pastas, and ready-to-eat cereals that are produced in the U.S. are required to be fortified, imported foods are not.

As a bonus, folic acid fortification might do more than safeguard developing infants. It might also help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Folate in Foods


Ready-to-eat cereal, 1 ounce


Lentils, boiled, 1 cup


Black beans, cooked, 1 cup


Asparagus, 6 spears


Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup


Orange juice, 1 cup


Broccoli, cooked


Pasta, cooked, 1/2 cup


Strawberries, 1 cup


White bread, per slice


*indicates fortified food

Also see:
Folate/Folic Acid
Pregnancy and Nutrition

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