Growing a healthy baby takes a lot of nutrients. One of the most important nutrients you need before getting pregnant and during the first trimester is folic acid, also called folate, which among other things can help protect against neural tube defects, according to the American Pregnancy Association (AAP).
Foods with folic acid help your body produce the extra blood it takes to grow a baby. This nutrient is also crucial for “development of new cells, including DNA and RNA,” notes Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian and creator of Whole Nutrition Services.
The AAP notes that women of childbearing age should consume 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day before becoming pregnant, as well as through the first three months of pregnancy. Fortunately, this nutrient is found in several delicious foods you’re probably already eating.
Here’s how they measure up, as well as some new ways to enjoy them:
Stir fresh spinach into soup — a half cup of cooked spinach satisfies nearly one-third of your daily need for folate. Raw spinach is also a good source of folic acid, but cup-for-cup, contains less than cooked spinach (due to volume).
This vegetable is a healthy source of folic acid, notes Cipullo. A serving of four boiled spears supplies close to one quarter of the folic acid you need daily.
3. Romaine lettuce
Make a salad with fresh romaine — one of the most folate-rich types of lettuce — to boost your folic acid intake.
A half cup of this tiny vegetable supplies 12% of the folic acid you need for the day.
5. Brussels sprouts
Raw or cooked, these little gems are packed with the folic acid you need.
Whip up a quick batch of guacamole or top tacos and burritos with sliced avocados.
7. Orange juice
Have a glass of O.J. with breakfast and you’ll consume 10% of your folic acid needs right off the bat. Oranges themselves are also a good source.
This fruit offers 24 micrograms of folic acid.
Kidney beans and black-eyed peas are two of the top legume sources of folic acid. Other legumes also supply a small dose.
A bowl of fortified breakfast cereal can supply 100% of your daily folic acid. Look for cereal that’s also made with whole grains. As Martha Rosenau, a registered dietitian and creator of Peak Nutrition, notes, whole grains are an essential part of your diet.
11. Wheat germ
Add a few tablespoons to homemade baked goods. You can even use wheat germ to replace 1/2 a cup of flour.
12. Enriched pasta
Enjoy spaghetti, penne or ravioli because many pastas contain added folic acid. They also are great for quick side dishes, Rosenau notes.
With 90 micrograms of folic acid per cooked cup, enriched white rice is cheap and can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways. Enriched white rice has much more folic acid than brown rice.
Include sandwiches and toast in your pregnancy diet, and you’ll be getting about 10% of your folic acid needs in each slice.
Also a great source of protein, eggs are cheap and easy to prepare.
16. Beef liver
If you enjoy the taste of liver, beef liver (ideally, calves’ liver if you can’t get grass-fed beef liver) is one of the very best sources of foods with folic acid — and iron, too! Due to the high content of Vitamin A, which can cause birth defects if you consume too much on a regular basis, this is best as an occasional treat — maybe once or twice a month.
Though it contains far less folic acid than beef liver, halibut is also a good way to increase your folic acid intake.
Include three ounces of cooked crab meat in salads or soups and you’ll get about 10% of your daily folic acid requirements.
Besides being a great source of calcium, protein and vitamin D, a glass of milk is also a good way to get more folic acid into your diet.
Rich in protein and iron, cooked chicken is cheap and quite versatile.
5 great recipes for a tasty dose of folic acid
Try one of these recipes to make sure you’re adding folate to your diet:
- Freaking fantastic fish: Make this halibut from What We’re Eating to incorporate fish into your eating-for-two diet.
- Wheat germ pancakes: Add wheat germ in a very delicious recipe from Crazy for Crust.
- Breakfast burrito: Roll scrambled eggs and black beans into a tortilla for a folic acid-rich breakfast burrito, such as this one from A Flavor Journal.
- One-ingredient ice cream: Make bananas seem indulgent with this easy, healthful recipe from Tidy Mom.
- Spinach and strawberry salad: Try this salad recipe from The Healthy Foodie for a quick and colorful way to eat your spinach.
If you’re worried that you aren’t getting enough folic acid, speak with your doctor about the benefits of a folic acid supplement. In the meantime, Rosenau notes that you should”always serve a vegetable” — pregnant or not.