Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid and folate, is a vital nutrient for healthy development of a baby's brain and spinal cord (neural tube). A deficiency of this nutrient is closely associated with defects that include spina bifida, neurological impairment, learning disabilities, and paralysis.
These defects begin in the first 28 days after conception, often before a woman even suspects she might be pregnant. Waiting until the pregnancy is confirmed can be too late to begin adding this nutrient to the diet.
Women have been urged to take folic acid supplements before pregnancy when a baby is in the plans. Many pregnancies, however, are unplanned so all women of childbearing age are urged to get plenty of vitamin B9 even if they're not trying to conceive.
Recent studies have indicated folic acid is just as important when men consume it before conception, too. A diet deficient in the nutrient increases the risk that a man's children will have neural tube defects.
Folate is the form of B9 that occurs naturally in foods. Folic acid is its synthetic form that is used in supplements and to fortify many grain-based foods such as breakfast cereals and breads.
The body makes better use of folic acid (synthetic) than folate. When folate-rich foods are consumed, the body utilizes only about 50% of the nutrient. The natural form of the nutrient is also destroyed by cooking so maximum benefit comes when folate-rich foods are eaten raw.
- Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are an excellent natural source of folate and they are the foundation of most salads. Choose fresh spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, or romaine for salads, sandwiches, wraps, and burgers.
- Hearty Greens
For heartier greens such as kale, turnip, collards, and mustard, stack a few leaves and roll them up from side to side. Now slice into thin strips to toss into salads or add to a lettuce blend for sandwiches, wraps, and burgers.
- Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Broccoli is B9 rich, too. So are Brussels sprouts. Slice Brussels sprouts in half and lay the cut side down so it's easy to handle. Slice the sprout into thin strips to boost nutrient value of cabbage-based slaws, as the main slaw ingredient itself, and on salads.
- Fresh Fruit
Citrus fruits, kiwis, and strawberries contain impressive amounts of folate and they make excellent snacks and dessert. Slice a couple of cups of any or all of them and put them in a mixing bowl. To make these fruits extra sweet and delicious, drizzle with no more than a teaspoon of honey and toss gently. Let set about 30 minutes so the sugar in the honey draws the juices out of the fruit and forms a nutritious fruity sauce. Eat as is or serve it over yogurt, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, pancakes, and waffles. Spoon it over ice cream for a special-occasion indulgence.
Source: "Dad's Folic Acid Consumption May Be Vital to Baby's Health." BabyMed. n.d. Web. Apr 8, 2014.