Folic acid in pregnancy

Although I specialise in pregnancy exercises and keeping yourself fit the safe way, you can't simply focus on fitness to the exclusion of other aspects of wellbeing: nutrition is vital for both your wellbeing and that of yoru growing baby. Folic acid is, as you know, high on the agenda when it comes to the healthy growth of yoru baby. Here are the whys, the whats and the hows:


You have probably heard the words "folic acid" and "pregnancy" thrown together in the same sentence but you might not be quite sure what it is, why it's important and what food is folate-rich, so here's your guide...

What is folic acid?


Folic acid (folate) is part of the family of B vitamins, and it works alongside vitamin B12 in a process which occurs throughout foetal development - the synthesis of DNA. Your requirement for folic acid in pregnancy more than doubles and given that stores in the body are small, it is easy to develop a deficiency. Don't forget to give your own pregnancy diet an honest MOT by downloading my FREE Pregnancy Diet Quiz which you'll find on the right hand side of the screen. The feedback we'll send back will set you up for a healthy - and tasty! - pregnancy.

Why is folic acid important?


Folic acid is particularly important during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is why advice is to take folic acid supplementation during the preconceptual period too. Studies have demonstrated that folic acid supplements can prevent neural tube defects, significantly reducing the number of babies born with spina bifida, as well as with hydrocephalus and anencephaly (water on the brain and absent brain respectively). A lack of folic acid is also associated with cleft palate and hare lip. Given the strong evidence that folic acid in pregnancy can massively reduce the incidence of these conditions, the government has issued guidelines recommending folic acid supplements for women planning pregnancy.

Where do I get folic acid from?


Unlike other vitamins, folic acid is more readily absorbed in synthetic form than from food sources, which is why a dietary supplement of folic acid is recommended. Make sure that you discuss with your healthcare provider what supplement to choose before taking folic acid in pregnancy. Despite taking a supplement, you should still make sure that you eat folate-rich foods. Here are some top pregnancy foods starting with those highest in folic acid:  

  • brussels sprouts
  • spinach
  • oranges
  • green beans
  • cauliflower
  • orange juice
  • broccoli
  • peas
  • cabbage
  • tomatoes
  • brown rice
  • carrots

In a separate category I would like to add folate-rich foods which are either processed or have been fortified with folic acid. I have to confess that I am far from being a fan of processed breakfast cereals due to the added sugar, salt and fat but nevertheless, many have been fortified with folic acid and are, therefore, an excellent source of folic acid in pregnancy:

  • fortified cornflakes
  • fortified branflakes
  • fortified breads
  • Bovril
  • Marmite

Given that folic acid works in unision with vitamin B12 I'd also like to mention foods which are rich in this vitamin, so that you can have a go at combining them in recipes which will help boost your stores of these two vital vitamins. Here are some top vitamin B12-rich foods:

  • eggs
  • cheese
  • milk
  • meat
  • sardines and other fish

If you are vegan, you will have spotted that there are no vegetables included in this list and, given this, I would recommend that you talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not you should take a vitamin B12 supplement and if so, which supplement to take.

Let me know on facebook if you'd like me to write a newsletter with some folate-rich recipes in it :)