You've probably heard of the term 'folic acid' and wondered what is it? Allow us to explain, folic acid is the artificial or synthetic form of vitamin B9. Folic acid can't be found naturally in food, it's added to processed food and several other multivitamin-mineral supplements. Now that you know what the term means, your next question would obviously be, what does it do for your body? Its key functions are - it helps your body produce new cells and supports their growth and the other, it prevents any damage to your DNA that could, later on, lead to cancer. When consumed as medication, it's used to treat anaemia and folic acid deficiency. Pregnant women can reap the most benefits from folic acid-rich food as it prevents the fetus for any deformities in the spine and in the brain. However, before you consume folic acid, it's important that you have a word with your doctor first.
Please Note: Keep away from folic acid if you have kidney disease, hemolytic anaemia, infection, alcohol addiction or pernicious anaemia.
You know that you have a folic acid deficiency when you start to experience persistent fatigue, lethargy, irritability, pale skin, shortness of breath, vomiting and weakness. In such a case like this, the first thing you need to do is:
1 - Book a doctor's appointment
2 - Change your diet to foodstuffs which are rich in folate and folic acid.
Remember, folate is the generic name for the type of vitamin B. While folate is naturally found in certain types of food, folic acid is a manmade invention and sold in supplements or added to fortified food. It's important to learn the difference between the two before we move forward. Here's a list of food items that are rich in folate!
Eggs are inexpensive and packed with protein, riboflavin, selenium and folate. Just one egg has about 23.5 mcg of folate. Eggs are also rich in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin which help to protect the eyes from damage and diseases such as macular degeneration.
Spinach and Kale are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre and folate. A cup of spinach provides 58.2 mcg. While you can include these leaves into your salad, you can also use them to make a smoothie. Try making a smoothie out of spinach, apples, oranges and some blueberries - your tastebuds would be in for a treat.
Rich in nutrients, beetroot contains magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. Also one cup of boiled and mashed beetroot pulp contains about 148 mcg folate. The best part of beetroot is that you can either include them in a salad or snack on them individually - up to you!
Don't you just love avocados for their creamy and buttery texture? We do too! Just one avocado has about 82 mcg of folate. Just so you know, avocados are also rich in potassium, vitamin K, B6 and C. They make a good substitute for mayo and taste delicious on toast with scrambled eggs and salad.
Apart from containing 84 mcg of folate when cooked, broccoli has amazing anti-cancer properties. Also not to forget, broccoli also rich in magnesium and vitamins C, K and A. Boiled broccoli with a little pepper and salt makes a healthy side dish.
Papayas aren't just healthy for your body, they're also good for your skin. One raw papaya contains about 53 mcg folate. They're also rich in vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Instead of eating toast or parathas soaked in butter, why not consume a big bowl of fresh papaya chunks, instead?
Bananas are your natural version of a health bar. They're not only delicious, but they're also a nutritional powerhouse. One medium-sized banana has about 23.6 mcg of folate. You can either choose to eat them as they are or include them in your smoothie or fruit salad.
Most people love citrus food because of their delicious taste. What you'll be glad to hear that citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and sweet lime are rich in folate. In fact, just one large orange has about 55 mcg of folate. Citrus fruits are also loaded with vitamin C that helps to achieve bright skin, boost immunity and prevent diseases.
When in doubt, eat a bowl of fresh Brussels sprouts. These tiny babies are loaded with minerals, vitamins, kaempferol and folate. Just half a cup of sprouts provides the body with 47 mcg.
A good type of food to eat between meals are seeds and nuts. They're not just rich in fibre, but also rich in vitamins and minerals. If you don't like to eat them like they are, sprinkle them in your smoothie bowl or fruit salad for taste!
There are plenty of benefits of consuming folic acid, however, they're known for three important things. Let's check 'em out!
If you consume folate or folic acid supplements on a daily basis, you will protect your body from dangerous cancers related to the lung, pancreas, gut and breasts. One of folate's main role is to get involved in gene expression. If folate is absent in your body, your body is more likely to create DNA that's unstainable and easily breakable. This also puts your body on the risk of getting cancer faster. While folic acid supplements do a fantastic job at preventing cancer, you mustn't consume them without your doctor's approval. Also, supplemental folic acid isn't as great as natural food folate. Too much of supplemental folic acid can, in fact, increase the risk of cancer. Hence, choose natural folate or be mindful of your consumption of supplemental folic acid.
During the first few weeks of pregnancy, if you have low folate levels, your unborn child is likely to develop neural tube defects such as malformations of the brain and spinal cord. The moment a woman reaches reproductive age, she must consume at least 400 mcg supplemental folate per day. Here diet should contain more of leafy greens, beetroot, citrus fruits, Brussel sprouts and avocados as they're naturally rich in folic acid.
Homocysteine is basically a molecule that's inflammatory in nature and is linked to the development of heart diseases. So how what role does folate play here? It, in fact, brings down the homocysteine levels down and converts that molecule into another one called methionine. If you do not have enough folate in your body, the homocysteine levels start to rise again and that later put your heart at risk of getting a disease.
For every pro, there's a con. In the case of folic acid, there are side effects too. First things first, it's important to learn how your body breaks down and absorbs folate acid. Before getting absorbed into your bloodstream, the folate gets broken down and converted into its active form in your gut. Then, your liver and other tissues take the job of breaking down the folate even further. In most cases, there are no serious side effects of consuming folic acid supplements. You might end up with an upset stomach, but nothing serious. Since folic acid is water-soluble, the excess is passed naturally by the urine. Still, here are some of the side effects that you could possibly experience if you consume too much of folic acid.
If you consume too much of folic acid supplements, you may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. Since your body needs vitamin B12 to create red blood cells and keep not just your heart, but the brain and nervous system healthy, lack of this vitamin can create brain and nerve damage. What's scary is that the damage is irreversible. So ladies, if you ever experience fatigue, weakness, difficulty in breathing and concentrating, you may have to get your B12 levels checked.
In order for a pregnant woman's unborn child's healthy brain development, she must either take folic acid supplements or consume food that's rich in folate. In the case of pregnancy, a woman is recommended to consume over 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day. Any lower or higher than that may either increase insulin resistance or slow brain development in the child.
It's amusing how folate works. One side, it prevents cancer and the second side, it makes you prone to cancer. However, it all boils down to how much folic acid you choose to consume. When folic acid is exposed to healthy cells, it protects and prevents them from becoming cancerous. However, when cancer cells are exposed to folate, they grow and spread. However, this is not the case with all types of cancers, it depends on your health's history and the kind of cancer you have.
Folic acid can be consumed every day. Either once in the morning or once at night. No matter what time of the day that you choose to consume it, you must stick to the time. If it's folic acid supplements or tablets, make sure that it's consumed with a glass of water. If you forget to take folic acid during the day or night, do it as soon as you remember! Also, in the case of pregnancy again, a woman should start consuming folic acid a month before her pregnancy and continue to do so until she gives birth.
As mentioned before, folic acid helps in the formation of the neural tube. Not consuming it every day can severe defects in the baby's spine and brain.
Folic acid needs to be consumed on an empty stomach. At least 30 minutes before eating food or 2 hours after your meal. So if it's in the morning, let it be the first you do after you wake up.
A month or 3 months before you get pregnant.
Unless your doctor prescribes you a higher amount, you should not get more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day. The average is 400 mcg for adults and for pregnant women, it should be between 400-1000 mcg. Too much of folic acid can cause nerve damage and hide signs of lack of vitamin B12.
To summarise all that we have learned, folic acid is extremely good for not just only good to consume for pregnancy, but for regular adults as well. Since it does more good than bad, make it a point to consume folic acid supplements or folate every single day until it becomes a habit.