Folic acid is a naturally occurring B vitamin. It helps in the development of neural tube in a fetus. Our body needs folic acid to produce red blood cells and DNA and is also important for the brain, nervous system and spinal fluid. The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube does not close properly, a baby is born with a very serious birth defect called a neural tube defect (NTD). The good news is that folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects.
The most common neural tube defects are:
Spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column
Anencephaly, severe underdevelopment of the brain
Encephalocele, when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull
All of these defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy, usually before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Folic acid only works if taken before getting pregnant and during the first few weeks of pregnancy
Hence, it is important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid and not just those who are planning to become pregnant for only 50% of pregnancies are planned. So any woman who could become pregnant should make sure to get enough folic acid.
It is recommended to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid and eat a diet rich in folates. This will help protect the baby from birth defects, and reduce the risk of miscarriage. Foods rich in Folic Acid are leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, beans, peas and lentils, avocado, seeds and nuts, cauliflower, carrots and citrus fruits like papaya, orange etc.
Folic acid is important for everyone in maintaining health. It plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. Folic acid may also help prevent certain health problems.
The folic acid in foods is delicate and can be destroyed by cooking. Hence, it is better to cook in a covered pan using the minimum amount of boiling water and to eat vegetables lightly steamed, microwaved, or raw.