Advice on folate for women

Information from National Food Agency, Sweden

Anyone who plans to get pregnant is recommended to take folic acid supplements.

3 min read

Advice on folate for women
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Many people do not get sufficient folate through their food intake. Taking folic acid supplements well before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. This sentence is a bit weird. I would say: Even though not all pregnancies are planned, it is a must for women to take folic acid supplements when they are considering to get pregnant.

If you eat folate-rich foods, you may already get enough folate through your diet, meaning there is no need for additional folic acid supplements.

What is folate and folic acid?

Folate and folic acid are different forms of the same vitamin B. Folate is found naturally in food. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, used in enrichment and as a dietary supplement. Folic acid is absorbed by the body more easily than folate.

Folate, or folic acid, is vital for metabolism and for the development of red blood cells. Folate deficiency can cause anaemia, i.e. deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin.

Folate or folic acid is important for normal development of the embryo during pregnancy. If you have low levels of folate in your blood during pregnancy you run an elevated risk of your baby being born with spina bifida.

Where is folate found naturally?

Examples of foods containing high levels of folate are:

  • legumes such as beans, chickpeas, green peas, sugar peas, lentils
  • leafy greens such as spinach, rocket salad, frisée lettuce, mâche salad
  • vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • wholemeal products such as bread, brown rice, wholegrains
  • liver paté and liver (pregnant women should avoid liver but liver paté is fine)

Do you get enough folate by eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables?

If you eat folate-rich foods, e.g. if you are a vegetarian or vegan and eat large amounts of legumes, you may well get enough folates through your food intake, meaning there is no need for additional folic acid supplements.

When should one take folic acid?

Pregnant women are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily until the twelfth week of pregnancy, which will reduce the risk of spina bifida in the embryo. Folic acid has no effect on possible spina bifida after the twelfth week. It is important, however, to continue to eat foods rich in folate or folic acid throughout the pregnancy. It’s critical for the development of the embryo and the formation of blood cells in the mother.

Swedish Food Agency

Reviewed by Swedish Food Agency