Folate Deficiency and Neural Tube Defects in Pregnancy

Folate is a B group vitamin needed to protect unborn babies against serious birth defects. It is known as ‘folate’ when it is found naturally in food, such as green leafy vegetables, and as ‘folic acid’ when it is added to food, such as bread and breakfast cereals, or used in dietary supplements. 

Within the first 28 days of pregnancy, the neural tube, which is responsible for the development of the brain and spine, closes. Inadequate concentrations of folate can prevent closure of the neural tube, which can lead to a neural tube defect.

Taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help ensure women get enough of this essential nutrient.

Many foods are naturally rich in folate, but folate dissolves in water and is easily destroyed by cooking. It is best to lightly cook vegetables or eat them raw. Microwave or steam cooking is best.

The following are good sources of natural folate:

  • ⁠? VEGETABLES (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, English spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnip, sweet corn, zucchini)⁠
  • ? FRUIT (avocado, grapefruit, orange)⁠
  • ? LEGUMES (chickpeas, soya beans, lima beans, red kidney beans, lentils, haricot beans)⁠
  • ? EGGS⁠
  • ? NUTS⁠
  • ? JUICES (many apple and orange juices)⁠⁠