The importance of folate

Folate is a member of the vitamin B group. In its natural form, it can be derived from some foods that we eat. But the synthetic form is folic acid, which we take as a supplement to our diets.

Folate is important to women of child-bearing age. Although women have been taking folic acid as a supplement for a long time, but there is a fear that some pregnant women may not have adequate levels of folate in their bloodstream. A study done in the United States of America noted that levels went down between 2000 and 2004.

According to a research done by the Centre for Diseases and Control, USA, the levels of folate in the blood of American women went down some 16 per cent between 2000 and 2004. The thinking is that less number of women might be eating foods that do not contain folic acid, which means that fewer women eat foods that give a pregnant woman the needed folate.

Foods that contain folic acid include enriched breads and grains, say epidemiologists at the CDC’s National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. They observed that the choice of diets which are low in carbohydrate over enriched bread products may be the cause of the decline of folate in the blood stream.

They noted that while whole grains are still good choice because they are an importance source of fibre, but they are not usually fortified with folic acid. They suggest that women who are of childbearing age take a multivitamin that contain 400 micrograms of folic acid.

Studies have shown that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid could help prevent the incidence of neural tube defects (NTD) in pregnancies by up to 70 percent while the decreasing levels of folate could lead to an increase in defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, they warned. Foods that give you folic acid include:

Fortified Cereals
Most fortified cereals give up to 40 micrograms of folic acid. Read the label to make sure that you get the required 35 per cent daily requirement. Check to make sure that it contains at least three grams of fibre and not up to 10 grams of sugar.

Spinach
One cup when it is cooked contain about 100micrograms of folate. It also has adequate amount of carotene and lutien, which prevents many types of cancer. Eat spinach with your favourite foods.

Broccoli
Broccoli contains antioxidants that help to prevent many types of cancer. This vegetable has soluble and insoluble fibre that aid digestion. One half cup when it is cooked contains 50 micrograms of folate.

Great Northern Beans
Beans contain fibre, protein and have no saturated fat. It can reduce the chances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. Beans are sources of calcium, potassium and only half a cup gives up to 90 micrograms of folate.

Asparagus
These vegetables are low in calories, have no fat or cholesterol and asparagus is a good source of potassium and fibre. Four spears of this type of vegetable contain 85 micrograms of folate when cooked. Choose firm fresh spears with closed compact tips that are similar in diameter so they cook evenly. The bigger in diameter, the more tender the vegetable.

Enriched Pasta
Choose whole wheat pasta, they digest slowly and give you steady source of energy. Whole wheat is higher in fibre than the white one. It gives 100 mcg of folic acid.

Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe is a fruit that is high in vitamins A and C. One quarter of a medium sized fruit provides 25 micrograms of folate. To get a ripe melon, tap with the palm of hand, a hollow sound shows a ripe one; make sure there are no bruises or soft areas. The bottom part should be yellow or cream; if it is green, it is not ripe.

It should not smell too sweet either; a strong smell indicates that it is too ripe.

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