If downing a prenatal vitamin is the extent of your daily folate fix, it’s time to rethink your eating habits. While a prenatal vitamin may technically provide enough folic acid for the healthy development of a baby, there’s a lot more nutrition in our foods than single nutrients, says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet. She stresses the importance of eating folate-containing foods, especially before pregnancy and during the first trimester to help prevent spine, brain and heart defects. Not that we’re knocking vitamins, but pill popping isn’t the only way to get your folate fill.
1. Kick off the day with folic acid
Cereal is a serious folic acid force to be reckoned with, supplying anywhere from 100 to 400 micrograms of the B vitamin in just one serving. To make sure you’re getting the max, look on the nutrition label for 100% under daily value. While you’re at it, check the sugar content. Even supposedly healthy cereals sneak in the sweet stuff, cramming as much as 16 grams (that’s 4 teaspoons!) in a bowl. Multi-Grain Cheerios, All-Bran, Special K and Kashi Heart to Heart are your best bets, boasting 100 percent of your daily folic acid requirement and 6 grams of sugar or less.
2. Go raw
Asparagus has a whopping 132 micrograms of folate per serving (33 percent of the RDA!), but how you serve the spears can affect the final tally. Cooking destroys folate, so go raw when you can; otherwise, stick to steaming over boiling, which can suck out valuable nutrients. Spinach, oranges, romaine lettuce, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also good sources of folate.
3. Snack on nuts
When your tummy timer goes off at 4 p.m., snack on folate-rich nuts and seeds like pistachios, peanuts, pine nuts, cashews, chestnuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds. These petite powerhouses are also packed with protein, essential fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. But beware: too much of a good thing can equal a lot of calories, so pre-portion your pistachios to avoid overeating.
4. Say yes to yolks
Yolks get a bum wrap, but the circular center of an egg has 25 micrograms of folate (5 percent of the daily value), not to mention protein, lutein, choline and DHA (the latter two promote baby’s brain development). If cholesterol has been keeping you from frittatas, consider new research showing that incredible, edible yolks don’t raise cholesterol or your risk of heart disease. Forget the egg white-only omelet and get crackin’ for breakfast and beyond.
5. Bring on the beans
High in folate and fiber and low in fat and calories, protein-packed beans are a true pregnancy power food. Take lentils: one cup of the cooked legumes provides 90 percent of the recommended daily allowance of folate. Add black-eyed peas, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and lima beans to soups, stews, salads and Mexican dishes to boost your intake of the B vitamin.