Benefits of folic acid in pregnancy
Eating healthy, nutritious food is important at every stage in your life. However, during pregnancy there are specific demands for particular nutrients. Iron, calcium, iodine and folic acid are in high demand.
Following a varied and balanced pregnancy diet will help to provide your body with sufficient vitamins and minerals. But even with the best diet, you will need to take specific supplements to meet your your own and your baby’s needs.
All pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements for at least one month before conceiving and for the first three months of their pregnancy. This mineral is essential for the healthy development of the neural tube.
Speak with your healthcare professional before taking any supplements, to ensure they are safe to take during pregnancy.
Folic acid is the supplement form of the vitamin, folate. It is a B-group vitamin found in a variety of fresh foods.
Primarily, in early pregnancy folic acid helps protect babies from developing neural tube defects. The neural tube will form two of your baby’s most important body parts – their brain and spinal cord and the bones that enclose them. It is vital that pregnant women are receiving the recommended dose of this important vitamin.
When taken for one month before conception and in the first trimester, folic acid may also help to protect your baby against having a low birth weight and growing poorly in the womb.
If you are planning to conceive, it’s a good idea to start taking a folic acid supplement before you fall pregnant. Building up your levels of this essential vitamin will help to give your little one a great start in the womb. In fact, folic acid is so important in the first trimester of pregnancy that many researchers say all women of child bearing age should be taking supplements, even if they aren’t planning a baby. This is why folic acid is added to many common foods such as bread and breakfast cereals.
During the first three months of pregnancy, a daily folic acid supplement is also recommended. It’s important to follow a healthy pregnancy diet full of foods that are naturally rich in folate as well.
Foods high in folate
Adding folate-rich foods to your pregnancy diet is another way of meeting your nutritional needs during pregnancy. These are some of the best sources of folate:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- Chick peas
- Dried beans
- Bran flakes
- Citrus fruits including oranges and orange juice
- Wheat germ
- Wholegrain bread
- Bread and cereal products fortified with folic acid
During pregnancy there are various reasons to be extra careful about what you eat – it is important to know which foods are safe to eat and which you need to avoid. Some foods contain toxins or bacteria which could cause you to become ill and for your baby to develop complications. Make sure most foods you eat are well cooked and when choosing a recipe be selective about what you eat. It is important to do what you can to protect yourself and your baby during pregnancy.
Another important point to remember when selecting what to eat is the nutritional value of the food you are eating. Getting enough nutrients in your daily diet while pregnant such as folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A to name a few, are important to support your baby’s current and long term growth and development.
There are a range of foods which need to be avoided during pregnancy. Most maternity care providers will advise pregnant women to stay away from certain fish, raw meats, raw eggs, soft cheeses, sprouts, pate, unwashed vegetables. Other foods which are best avoided are included in the list below.
Certain fish (such as shark, marlin, southern blue fin tuna, orange roughy and swordfish) contain high amounts of mercury that is accumulated in their fatty tissue – pregnant women need to avoid eating large amounts. Your growing baby has a sensitive developing nervous system and while it is not clear how much seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy, it is safer to avoid them if possible. Also avoid altogether raw or undercooked seafood, such as oysters and sushi.
Perhaps the thought of raw eggs never crossed your mind but they can be a source of salmonella. Foods that contain raw egg include mayonnaise, caesar salads, eggnog, hollandaise and raw cake and biscuit mix, as well as lightly scrambled and poached eggs. To reduce the risk of salmonella, remember to cook eggs thoroughly before eating them alone or when included in other food.
Raw chicken should be avoided at all times, but especially during pregnancy. Eating or coming into contact with surfaces that have had raw chicken prepared on them can also transmit salmonella. Even cold chicken as leftovers needs to be reheated so it’s very hot or even recooked to destroy any traces of salmonella.
Whether it is a rare steak, or an uncooked meat dish, raw or undercooked meat poses a particular risk. Raw meat should be avoided during pregnancy as it can cause a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis or E. Coli infection. This can result in a potential intrauterine fetal infection. Other dangers that may result from eating raw meat are coliform bacteria and salmonella.
Soft cheese such as blue cheese, feta, brie, camembert, cottage, ricotta, Latin-American soft white cheeses and any unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk should be avoided during pregnancy as they may contain the bacteria, Listeria. This bacterium is very harmful to a baby during pregnancy and needs to be avoided. While adults with Listeria quite often show no symptoms it could cause life-threatening complications to a fetus or newborn baby. Listeriosis has been known to cause miscarriage, premature births and blood poisoning.
Unwashed fruit and vegetables
After buying fruit and vegetables make sure you wash them very carefully. Unwashed vegetables have the potential to transmit toxoplasmosis – a parasite that contaminates the soil. Also any moldy fruit and vegetables should be avoided altogether.
Other foods to avoid when pregnant
Apart from the foods listed above to avoid when you’re pregnant, women should avoid eating raw sprouts as they have led to some incidents of salmonella outbreaks. Soft serve ice cream and a range of deli foods, such as deli meats can also contain Listeria, so it is important to avoid or if possible to minimize contact with this harmful bacteria. Current research recommends pregnant women eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of healthy and nutritious foods. Excluding particular foods, including those which are considered to lead to allergies is not recommended.
Many foods contain additives and preservatives. Read food labels and try to limit your intake of processed, pre packaged foods and junk foods.
Pregnant women need to make sure they are eating different amounts of vitamins to support the growth of the fetus. Pregnancy causes a woman’s body to experience a range of hormonal changes, this adds a lot of strain to the body. Your maternity care provider will be able to advise you about nutritional supplements.
Keeping the right things in mind
Foods to avoid when pregnant are actually quite varied, so it is important that you keep a comprehensive list in your head of the foods you should avoid to support your baby’s healthy growth and development. Aim to eat a nutritious, balanced diet and avoid dieting extremes. Speak with your maternity care provider if you have any individual queries about keeping your weight gain within a healthy range.
Another important issue to think about if you are eating out is to try and make sure the food is served steaming hot and not lukewarm nor cold. Also try and avoid too much fast food as they can be high in sugars and saturated fats.
It's best to limit your intake of caffeine.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so remove it altogether (it's only for a short while). Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been connected with a range of developmental and growth disorders for babies. It also stops the absorption of folic acid and iron and reduces the calcium in your bones.
Try not to worry about your changing appetite, just take into account the above foods to avoid and try to gain weight at the recommended rate which your doctor or maternity care provider will monitor.