By Cherise Evertz


One of the most important vitamins that we need to develop and grow is folate. Also known as folic acid, folate is especially important for pregnant women as folate can help to reduce the chances of abnormalities in the development of the spinal cord and brain in unborn babies. But, folate is important for everyone regardless of gender or pregnancy status. If you are wondering what you can do for your health and folate intake, we have some interesting information to help you understand what folic acid is and how to get more into your diet.

What is folate?

As part of the B-group vitamins, folate occurs naturally in food. However, when it enters the body as a form of a supplement or food additive it is known as folic acid. It is also sometimes called vitamin B9. This vitamin is what will help you to grow healthily and to improve your development overall.

What does folate do?

Folate is an important vitamin for your body and has a variety of functions. Three of the main functions include making DNA, forming red blood cells and helping to grow or repair cells and tissues within the body. This is why this vitamin is particularly important for women during pregnancy. 

As your foetus develops in your womb, folate helps to improve growth and the formation of the neural tube during weeks five and six of your pregnancy. All of these aspects help your baby to grow healthily and helps to reduce any causes of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Sources of folate

One of the best ways that you can get enough folate is through natural sources such as your diet. Some of the best sources of folate include:

  • broccoli
  • avocado
  • lettuce
  • asparagus
  • beef liver
  • papaya
  • oranges and grapefruits
  • orange juice
  • canned tomato juice
  • kidney beans
  • green peas
  • rockmelon
  • hard-boiled eggs 
  • bananas
  • Brussel sprouts
  • boiled spinach

If however, you’re looking to supplement your diet to increase your folic acid intake this is commonly found through dietary supplements or fortified foods such as cereals, bread and flours.

Benefits of sufficient folic acid

There are several different reasons people will use folic acid and folate in supplemental forms. Although some people choose to take these supplements to treat certain conditions, there are other health benefits to taking a folic acid supplement. Depending on your circumstances there are some common benefits and uses to these supplements explained further below.

Prevention of pregnancy complications

If you know someone who is trying to fall pregnant or is currently pregnant, chances are they may have taken folic acid supplements at some point during conception or their pregnancy. Folic acid supplements for pregnancy are quite common as studies show that this supplement helps to reduce the complications with neural tube defects including spina bifida and anencephaly –  a condition where a baby is born without parts of their skull or brain. Many doctors will prescribe folic acid supplements for pregnant women to help prevent any fetal birth defects but also to help prevent any pregnancy-related complications.

Folate deficiency

There are many different reasons why someone may have folate deficiency including inadequate dietary intake, alcoholism, pregnancy complications, following surgery and any malabsorptive diseases. Like any other vitamin deficiency, folate deficiency can lead to various side effects including birth defects, impaired immune function and depression. If you are concerned about potential vitamin deficiencies, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor to decide whether a supplement is best for you. They may even ask you to complete further testing to rule out any other issues.

Heart disease

Heart disease affects many people of various ages, ethnic backgrounds and health status. But there have been studies to show that supplementing with folate-based supplements can help improve heart health. Folate helps to improve the metabolism of homocysteine amino acids. Homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Therefore, sufficient folate in your diet or via supplements can help reduce heart disease risk, reduce high blood pressure and help improve blood flow. In general, it is thought that folate supplements can help to improve cardiovascular function. This may also mean improvements for diabetes sufferers to help control and improve blood sugar levels, reduced insulin resistance and better heart-health.

If you’re thinking about falling pregnant or concerned about any potential deficiencies in your diet, it’s always best to have a chat with your doctor about your concerns. They will be able to assess your personal needs and if needed, they can send you for further testing such as a blood test to determine any deficiencies that you may need assistance with.

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