If you envision having children one day, here's a crucial tip for all future mothers-to-be: include folate in your diet as much as possible.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, folate is a B vitamin found in a variety of foods and added to many vitamin and mineral supplements as folic acid, a synthetic form of folate. Folate is needed both before and in the first weeks of pregnancy and can help reduce the risk of certain serious and common birth defects called neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord.
Since neural tube defects usually occur in an embryo long before the woman has gained confirmation of the pregnancy, a healthy diet that includes the folate will have already greatly reduced the chance of that baby having a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord.
Folate's potential to reduce the risk of neural tube defects is so important that the Food and Drug Administration requires food manufacturers to fortify enriched grain products with folic acid. This will give women one way to get sufficient folate: by eating fortified breads and other grain products, such as enriched pasta, rice, waffles and cereal bars.
Other ways women can improve their folate intake would be to:
- Eat fruits, dark-green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, and other foods that are natural sources of folate.
- Eat folic acid-fortified enriched cereal grain products and breakfast cereals.
- Take a vitamin supplement containing folic acid.
Nutrition information on food and dietary supplement labels are a great way for women to determine whether they are getting enough folate, which is 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) a day before pregnancy and 800 micrograms a day during pregnancy.