Folate vs. Folic Acid: Which is Best for Pregnancy?

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During pregnancy, proper nutrition is of paramount importance for the health and development of both the mother and the baby. Among the essential nutrients, folate (also known as vitamin B9) plays a crucial role in preventing birth defects and supporting the healthy growth of the foetus.

However, when it comes to folate, there's often some confusion about whether to opt for natural folate or its synthetic counterpart, folic acid. In this article, we'll delve into the differences between folate and folic acid and help you make the best choice for your pregnancy.

Folate vs. Folic Acid: What's the Difference?

Folate: Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 found in various foods, particularly green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fruits. It plays a vital role in DNA synthesis, cell division, and the formation of red blood cells. During pregnancy, folate is especially important as it helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in the developing baby.

Folic Acid: On the other hand, folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9. It is commonly used in fortified foods and as a supplement in prenatal vitamins. Folic acid has the advantage of being stable and easily absorbed by the body. However, not everyone can efficiently convert folic acid into the active form of folate that the body needs, which can be problematic for some individuals.

Food Sources of Folate

Consuming folate-rich foods is an excellent way to ensure you're getting this essential nutrient in its natural form. Here are some foods that are naturally high in folate:

  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, collard greens, and broccoli are excellent sources of folate.
  • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas are rich in folate.
  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges and grapefruits contain folate.
  • Avocado: Avocado is not only a source of healthy fats but also provides folate.
  • Asparagus: This green vegetable is another folate-rich option.
  • Papaya: Enjoy some sweet papaya for a folate boost.
  • Fortified Foods: Many cereals and grains are fortified with folic acid to help people meet their daily requirements.

Recommended Folate Intake During Pregnancy

The National Health Service (NHS) recommends that pregnant women should aim for 400 micrograms (μg) of folate daily, in addition to a balanced diet. This is to ensure proper neural tube development and reduce the risk of birth defects.

While it's possible to meet your folate needs through a well-balanced diet, some individuals may find it challenging to do so consistently. In such cases, prenatal supplements containing folate or folic acid are recommended. These supplements are designed to provide the necessary amount of this essential nutrient, helping bridge any nutritional gaps.

However, it's important to note that not everyone can efficiently convert folic acid into active folate. Some individuals have a genetic variation that reduces their ability to convert folic acid, which can result in a deficiency even when taking folic acid supplements. For this reason, choosing a supplement that contains folate or methylfolate, a more bioavailable form, may be a better option for some individuals.

We recommend Zita West Folate. We use Quatrefolic® for our folate supplements, which is more readily absorbed by the body and we therefore recommend this over folic acid, and it contains the 400mg dosage recommended by the NHS.

Folate and folic acid both play a vital role in supporting a healthy pregnancy by preventing neural tube defects and promoting proper foetal development. While it's possible to obtain folate from dietary sources, supplementation is often recommended, especially for individuals who may have difficulty converting folic acid into its active form.

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