There are not many things the entire medical community agrees on when it comes to pregnancy (peanut butter, high impact exercise, flu shots?) but when it comes to the importance of eating good foods with folic acid and taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folate, everyone is in agreement.
Luckily, there are tons of foods available that are chock full of folic acid and you probably eat a lot of them without even realizing it now.
If you want to make sure you are getting enough folic acid in your diet every day, make sure to eat several of the foods below daily in addition to your supplement.
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Why do we need folic acid for pregnancy?
Folic acid is essential to the normal development of your baby’s spine, brain and skull. Adequate amounts of folic acid can dramatically decrease the chance of your baby being born with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
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What is the difference between folate and folic acid?
Although they are often used interchangeably, there is a notable difference between naturally occurring folate and folic acid and the type you ingest can make a difference to you if you have the MTHFR gene that can make getting pregnant hard.
For an in-depth explanation of the difference, this article is great.
How much folic acid should you take?
Health Canada and most other sources recommend that women of child-bearing age take 400mg-600mg minimum of folic acid every day, even if they are not planning on getting pregnant.
This is because the risk of neural tube defects is highest in the very early weeks of pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant.
Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains 400mg+ of folate per day, these ones contain 800mg of folate per tablet which make them a great choice for moms-to-be (the folate is actually methylfolate, a natural, more absorbable form of folic acid, for optimal neurological development).
Can you take too much folic acid?
According to the Institute of Medicine, the tolerable intake level for adults is set at 1,000 µg/day of folate from fortified food or as a supplement but there is no upper limit for folate found naturally in food.
If you are taking a supplement that contains 400mg of folic acid plus some fortified foods each day, it is unlikely that you will reach the daily limit of 1000mg.
Should you load up on folic acid foods before pregnancy?
If you are trying to get pregnant or planning for a pregnancy in the next few months, it’s a good idea to start boosting your folic acid levels at least three months prior to TTC.
You can take a supplement and make sure to add foods with folic acid into your diet to ensure you are getting enough.
When you are trying to conceive or if you are going through fertility treatments, it’s wise to pay attention to your pre-pregnancy diet and exercise plan. Not only can your diet improve your fertility, but it can also help you maintain a healthy weight for the nine months of pregnancy.
The fertility diet is the pre-pregnancy meal diet that I personally followed and many women have found it helpful in improving their nutrition before they got pregnant. You can find a fertility diet plan menu to download here.
If you are wondering whether you can continue the diet after you get that BFP, read my tips on What Should I Be Eating While Pregnant (After Infertility?).
Can folic acid help you to get pregnant?
No, folic acid is not a supplement that can boost your fertility itself. It is essential for a healthy pregnancy but it will not help you get pregnant in the first place.
If you want to see what vitamins and supplements can help to improve your chances of getting pregnant, this list is helpful.
What foods are high in folic acid for pregnancy?
Below you will find some of the best foods with folic acid at levels that can really make a difference to your daily diet. Try and incorporate at least one or two of these foods into your daily diet before and during pregnancy.
Fortified Cereal, Pasta, Rice and Bread
Since 1992, the US government has mandated that certain cereal products be fortified with folic acid.
According to the CDC:
“Right after this intervention was started, the number of pregnancies affected by and babies born with neural tube defects began to decline.
Using data from a number of birth defects tracking systems, researchers have found that since the beginning of folic acid fortification in the United States, about 1,300 babies are born each year without a neural tube defect who might otherwise have had a neural tube defect Therefore, these data confirm that folic acid fortification is an important way to prevent neural tube defects.” Source: CDC
Although fortified cereals can help to increase your folic acid levels the CDC estimates that the average adult gets 140mg of folate from fortified foods which means you still need a supplement or foods with naturally occurring folate while pregnant.
Spinach and leafy vegetables
Spinach is one of the easiest-to-find foods with folic acid. You can incorporate it easily into salads or use it as a replacement for lettuce on sandwiches.
If you are eating out, look for foods that have spinach or ask if spinach can replace your greens for salad. Salad bars tend to have spinach as an option. You can also get spinach as an addition in most sandwiches at chain sandwich stores as well.
Other ways to get this in are by adding it to juices and smoothies or adding to soups like lentil soup.
Orange juice, grapefruit, whole oranges, clementines, and other citrus based fruits are a great way to pack in folic acid for your pregnancy diet. Have a glass of juice or snack on some fruit throughout the day.
Citrus fruits are also great for fertility; they boost healthy reproductive systems and can help sperm strength in males.
Beans are a great source of folic acid with one cup of black beans packing an impressive 146mg per cup. They are also a fantastic source of fibre which is essential for warding off the dreading pregnancy constipation.
You can add all kinds of beans to salads, stews, chilis and soups.
Another member of the legume family, lentils are fantastic for giving your folate levels a boost. You can throw a handful of lentils into many dishes to flesh them out and you won’t even notice. I often add a cup of red lentils to chilis and stews to stretch the meat out and save money – double win!
Eggs are a fertility wonder-food as they are high in protein and low in carbs but did you know that eggs contain folic acid? In fact, eggs are one of the best foods with folic acid that money can buy!
One egg contains 25mg of folate so the average 2-3 egg omelette packs an awesome healthy pregnancy punch!
Add some spinach and avocado to your omelette and you have a pregnancy super meal!
Another fertility superfood that you should continue eating throughout your pregnancy – avocados are full of healthy fats and nutrients. But is there folic acid in avocados? You betcha!
In fact they have more folate than almost every other food available per ounce! One California avocado contains 121mg of folate so start munching on avocado toast for breakfast!
Bananas are high in many nutrients that can help you in pregnancy. They are high in potassium which can help with sciatica in pregnancy and are also great at filling you up quickly if you feel faint when you are expecting.
Some women also find that eating a banana first thing in the morning can help with their morning sickness as it gets something in their stomach quickly.
What about bananas and folic acid? With 25mg per medium sized banana, they make a great snack on the go. You can also add them to smoothies with spinach for some extra folic acid.
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