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Folate-rich foods are important to all women of reproductive age, particularly women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Folate was actually discovered in the 1930’s by Lucy Willis, who was trying to prevent anemia in pregnant women, but instead found that being deficient in folate was linked to birth defects. That is why this nutrient is now recommended to prevent dangerous defects and pregnancy-related complications like preeclampsia, a condition which keeps the baby from getting adequate oxygen and blood.  

It turns out that we can all benefit from this vital B Vitamin, as it is important to the creation of your red blood cells, DNA synthesis and repair, and other important cellular functions. In fact, supplementing with folic acid has been shown to improve blood sugar control for those with diabetes, reduce inflammation, and improve the fertility of female reproductive eggs. 

Let’s dive deeper into why folate is important, how much folate you need, and how to get folate from plant-based sources. 

Why is folate important? 

Folate, or B9, is a water-soluble vitamin naturally found in whole foods, but we have a synthetic form found in supplements and fortified foods called folic acid. It is a vitamin not only essential in fetal development, but it has also been linked to cancer prevention and the reduction of an inflammatory agent called homocysteine, which is a proven link to heart disease. Folic acid is more absorbable than folate found in whole foods, but eating a diet rich in folate is preferred unless you have specific sensitivities or have been recommended a folic acid supplement by your healthcare provider. 

Benefits of Folate

How much folate do you need? 

It is possible to get enough folate for pregnancy on a plant-based diet. However, if you are pregnant, it is advisable to take folic acid supplements, as a deficiency can lead to serious birth defects. Pregnant women and breastfeeding women should aim to consume 600 mcg and 500 mcg DFE of folate per day. The average adult should aim to get about 400 mcg DFE of folate per day. Unfortunately, people who have celiac or IBD might have difficulties absorbing enough folate. Those who have a MTHFR polymorphism have difficulties converting folate into its active form and may need special supplementation of 5-methyl-THF, an active form of folic acid. People with alcohol disorders are at risk for folate deficiencies partially because alcohol hinders folate absorption.  

Folate deficiencies can also result from a poor diet, digestive diseases, low stomach acid, alcoholism, drug abuse, anemia, and pregnancy. Being deficient has been linked to many conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, depression, anemia, impaired immune function, spina bifida, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. 

Studies have shown that folate even affects your brain health. People suffering from depression often have low levels of folate in their bodies, according to The National Library of Medicine. Treatment with folate supplements reduced many of the negative symptoms. Studies show that being deficient in folate correlated with mental symptoms, especially depression and cognitive decline. Recent studies in elderly people suggest a link between folic acid, aging, depression, and dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. So it is important to make sure you are getting enough of this B-Vitamin from whole foods as you age. Although it is recommended to get folate from whole food sources, folate supplements are actually being used to effectively treat Alzheimer’s Disease as high amounts reduce inflammation and improve cognitive skills. 

How To Get Folate On A Plant-Based Diet

There are specific whole foods packed with folate you should prioritize in your diet. If you are vegan, make sure to include these fruits, vegetables, and legumes daily. Pregnant women should prioritize the ten foods below and talk to their doctor about also including a folic acid supplement. 

When it comes to absorbing the folate in these ten foods, it is important to note that boiling folate-rich vegetables in water can decrease the folate content by up to 49 percent. Opt for raw or steamed vegetables instead. Folate can also be lost during the canning process, so try to eat fresh versions of these foods as much as possible. 

  1. Spinach - One cup of raw spinach provides about 15% of your recommended daily folate, plus it contains many other nutrients that support your health, such as vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium. Spinach is easy to find and makes a delicious salad base.
  2. Black-eyed peas - One half cup of cooked black-eyed peas delivers about 26% of your recommended daily folate. They are also a wonderful source of fiber, protein, and nutrients such as vitamins A and K, manganese, and calcium.
  3. Broccoli - One cup of raw broccoli contains about 14% of your daily recommended folate and also contains vitamins C and K and plenty of fiber. Raw broccoli makes a great mid-day snack or side dish.
  4. Brussels sprouts - One half cup of Brussels sprouts contain approximately 12% of your recommended daily folate. Brussels sprouts are also a wonderful side dish and a great source of vitamins C and K and fiber. 
  5. Asparagus - One half cup of cooked asparagus provides about 34% of your daily recommended folate. It has a unique flavor that adds excitement to many dishes and contains many healthy nutrients such as vitamins A and K, and thiamin. Asparagus is also a great source of fiber!
  6. Avocado - One half of an avocado provides about 15% of your daily recommended folate. Avocados also deliver healthy fats and are incredibly delicious on toast, in smoothies or on their own!
  7. Green peas - One half cup of peas provides about 13% of your daily recommended folate. Green peas are generally well-liked and easy to come by. They also deliver an array of healthy nutrients such as Vitamin K, thiamin, vitamin B6, and manganese, just to name a few.
  8. Kidney beans - One half cup of these beans not only provides almost 30% of your daily recommended folate, they are also high in fiber, a good source of plant-based protein and brimming with additional nutrients such as potassium, thiamin, vitamin K, manganese, and magnesium.
  9. Bananas - One medium banana provides about 6% of your daily recommended folate. While not the food highest in folate, I like them because bananas are a popular fruit and generally easy to find. 
  10. Papaya - One half cup of cut papaya provides about 7% of your daily recommended folate. Papaya is a delicious treat that also contains enzymes that support healthy digestion. 
10 Plant-Based Foods High In Folates

Final Thoughts 

I encourage you to share this information with friends and family, because incorporating enough folate into your diet is important for everyone! From decreasing inflammation and helping with symptoms of depression, to reducing chances of heart disease and improving mental performance, folate is an essential B vitamin we should all be cognizant of.

XO - Serena

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