Get fit with folic

If you’re trying to fall pregnant, you’ll have heard that folic acid is a must. But why?

Nutritionists say that making sure you're getting enough folic acid is one way to ensure you're a prepared pregnant mom-to-be.

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 and folacin, naturally occurs as folate. This wonder vitamin helps normal folk be healthier but is absolutely essential before and during pregnancy since it helps to prevent birth defects.

Is it really necessary to take folic acid before and during pregnancy?

Registered Dietitian Charlene Villinger replies:
‘Yes, folic acid requirements increases during pregnancy from the usual recommended daily intake of 400 - 600 micrograms. The mother creates new red blood cells (maternal erythropoiesis) and it aids foetal and placental growth. But most importantly, folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.  

‘If planning to fall pregnant, you need to start taking folic acid supplements to ensure that the folic acid levels in the body is optimal from the day of conception, and not only from the day you find out that you are pregnant.

‘The neural tube closes by 28 days of gestation which is before most woman realise that they are pregnant.  It is advised that all woman of childbearing age should increase their intake of folic acid.’

Why supplement?
It's absolutely essential to take some sort of folic acid supplement during pregnancy. Villinger says that it was found that woman who only obtained folic acid through their diet, did not have sufficient levels of folate concentration in their blood. Only when a folic acid supplement is consumed in addition to dietary sources are the folate concentration levels in the blood seen as optimum for protection against NTD.

Where to find folic acid
You can find high levels of folate in the following foodstuffs: lentils, beans, spinach, asparagus, broccoli and spaghetti.  In South Africa, all bread makes with the fortification logo are fortified with folic acid and many other vitamins. Many cereals are also enriched with folic acid.

Folic acid tablets are available over the counter at most pharmacies countrywide. Talk to your doctor or clinic about suitable vitamin supplements to prepare your body for pregnancy.

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