The importance of folate before and during pregnancy - The nutritionist says
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Pregnancy is a special and particular moment in practically every way.
Nutrition, not only in this period but also in the previous months during which conception is planned, must comply with specific recommendations for both macro and micronutrients. Among micronutrients, one of great importance is the folate, or vitamin B9, which is crucial for the correct neuronal development of the fetus.
The LARNs (Reference Nutrient and Energy Intake Levels for the Italian population) recommend an intake of 6mg per day of folate for pregnant women and 4mg per day for an adult woman. This increase of folate by 2mg over the standard intake is recommended starting from at least 1 month before getting pregnant, because this vitamin regulates the mitotic activity (the mitotic activity is the process that leads the division of a "mother" cell into 2 "daughter" cells; mitosis involves all cells of our body, with the exception of cells that have reproductive function which are regulated by the meiosis activity. If you want to learn more you can read here).
Folate also contributes to the construction of DNA, and therefore to the transmission of hereditary characteristics and, above all, favors the correct formation of the fetal neuronal tube, thus preventing the spina bifida syndrome which entails serious mental and physical disabilities. Proper supplementation of folate can reduce the risk of neural tube disorders by up to 70%.
In addition, folate is useful for preventing anaemia and congenital heart disease and lowers the risk of miscarriage by 50%. In recent years it has been observed that the folic acid has a role in the reduction of homocysteine, an amino acid normally present in the blood, high levels of which are associated with the risk of a heart attack.
Where can we find the folate or vitamin B9?
We can find the folate or vitamin B9 in green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, lettuce, spinach, artichokes, endive, chard, asparagus), in liver, milk, eggs, in some fruits (e.g. oranges, kiwis, clementines and lemons), in legumes (e.g. beans and peas ) and in dried fruit (e.g. nuts and almonds). Being a water-soluble vitamin, it tends to disperse in water and therefore it is advisable to consume raw food or, if cooked, to reuse the cooking water. There are also many fortified products on the market, such as breakfast cereals, biscuits, rusks and fruit juices.
What if we take too much folate or vitamin B9?
It is important to comply with the indications of adequate quantities of vitamin B9 because an excess could mask a deficiency of vitamin B12 (vitamin B12 is another vitamin of fundamental importance: it is important for nerve tissue health, brain function and the production of red blood cells) and, it seems, can favor the genesis of pre-cancerous cells and therefore the onset of malignant tumors.
Therefore it is highly recommended to respect the daily intake of vitamin B9.
Did you know:
Folic acid and folate are two different things, although these terms are commonly used alternately. The folic acid corresponds to the oxidized form of the vitamin, as we find it in supplement formulations, while the folate is the natural form, present in food.
Article written by Priscilla Gerosa
Nutritionist, Lecco, Italy