We are so excited to announce the arrival of our second child in early December of this year!! Emma will turn three in August, and I am reasonably sure she understands that someone will be joining our family. When you ask her where the new baby is, she points to my stomach, and she’s already labeled herself as “The Best Big Sister!”
Like many women experience, my first trimester brought a whole host of lovely experiences, from nausea to vomiting, but I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel a bit like my old self again! It ironic that at a time when your diet (especially as a Registered Dietitian/Assistant Professor who teaches “Nutrition Through the Lifecycle”) should be a focus, you are carrying saltines and ginger ale around in your purse for use at a moments notice! With that said, it is critically important to include the critical micronutrient, folate, during this first trimester. Even women who may become pregnant (Ages 14-50) need to consume folate in proper amounts. Men are not left out of the equation either, as several epidemiological studies have suggested that increased folate intakes may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including colorectal, lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, cervical, breast, ovarian, bladder and other cancers (1, 4).
The “B-complex” group of vitamins include folate, which is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. When it is added in during processing, such as the case with cereals, grains, bread or dietary supplements, it is termed ‘folic acid.’ During the first two to three weeks of pregnancy, the nervous system begins to develop, and it is during this time that folate/folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). One such example of a neural tube defect you may have heard about is spina bifida, where the spinal cord and nerves don’t close properly and can sometimes be visible outside of the body.
½ cup of cooked broccoli has 52 mcg per serving (2)
The amount of folate needed as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for any women who has the possibility of conceiving is 0.4 milligrams (0.4mg) of folate/folic acid per day. Dietary supplements may also be labeled as 400 micrograms (400mcg). Once pregnant, this amount jumps to .6 milligrams (0.6mg) or 600 micrograms per day.
Folate can be found in many foods in its naturally occurring state, including vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas, eggs, seafood, dairy products, meat and poultry (1). Dark green leafy vegetables are foods with some of the highest folate levels, such as spinach, asparagus, and brussels sprouts. Just one cup of boiled spinach provides 131 mcg per serving (2)! There’s a wonderful table on the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements page that lists foods with folate and their amounts so you can make sure you’re getting adequate folate within your diet. Per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans we should focus on nutrient-dense foods that contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other naturally occurring substances, that may have a positive impact on health (3). Besides fruits and vegetables, fortified foods, such as cereals and grains, can also help supplement the diet for specific nutrients that otherwise may not be consumed in recommended amounts as well.
Since many fruits and vegetables are a good source of folate, “Having a plant for two” could not be more important during pre-conception and pregnancy. Once pregnant, taking a prenatal vitamin is also essential to ensure other critical nutrient needs are met, including adequate levels of iron as blood volume increases throughout pregnancy.
I love to include a variety of vegetables and fruits in my pregnancy diet for my health and the health of my family.
1. Carmel R. Folic acid. In: Shils M, Shike M, Ross A, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005:470-81
2. Office of Dietary Supplements – Folate. (2018, October 4). Retrieved May 16, 2019, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/#en4
3. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. (2015) Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/
4. Bailey, L. B., Stover, P. J., McNulty, H., Fenech, M. F., Gregory, J. F., 3rd, Mills, J. L., … Raiten, D. J. (2015). Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development-Folate Review. The Journal of nutrition, 145(7), 1636S–1680S.