The best foods with folic acid for pregnancy

There’s lots of folic acid in certain vegetables and wholemeal flour

Expectant mothers know the importance of a healthy pregnancy and one key factor in ensuring this is adequate folic acid intake. Folic acid, a B vitamin, plays a pivotal role in fetal development and the prevention of birth defects. 

In this article, we'll explore the importance of folic acid and the best foods rich in folic acid that should find their way onto your plate during this pregnancy.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information included in this material is for informational purposes only. Always seek medical advice for any concerns about health and nutrition.

What is folic acid or folate?

Folate and folic acid are both forms of vitamin B9, an essential nutrient for the human body. Folate, the natural form, is abundant in a variety of foods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, and citrus fruits. It plays a crucial role in critical bodily functions, including DNA synthesis, cell growth, and amino acid metabolism. 

On the other hand, folic acid is the synthetic counterpart commonly used in dietary supplements and fortified foods. This synthetic form is particularly important in programs aimed at reducing the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy. 

Both folate and folic acid are essential for human health, with folate being vital for cell division and DNA formation, especially during periods of rapid growth and development, while folic acid is recommended to pregnant women to ensure they receive sufficient levels of this critical vitamin, essential for preventing birth defects, particularly neural tube defects in developing fetuses.

Why is it important for pregnant women?

Folic acid is of paramount importance for pregnant women due to its pivotal role in supporting the healthy development of the fetus and preventing birth defects, particularly neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Adequate folic acid intake during pregnancy also reduces the risk of other congenital malformations, such as heart defects and cleft lip or palate, while helping to prevent anemia by supporting red blood cell production. Furthermore, it contributes to placental health, ensuring the baby receives the necessary nutrients and oxygen.

How much folic acid is needed in pregnancy?

Folic acid is the ultimate “vitamin for mothers“. According to the Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommends 520 mcg during pregnancy and then reduces slightly to 450 mcg when breastfeeding.

In general, the intake of folic acid through nutrition is not sufficient. Folic acid belongs to the group of B vitamins. It is an all-rounder: On the one hand, it is important in aiding cell division and contributes substantially to the new formation of cells. it supports the formation of blood and the development of the brain.

Can you take too much folic acid? 

Excessive folic acid intake, especially through supplements, can pose risks to health. Both folic acid and vitamin B12 play crucial roles in a biochemical process where homocysteine, a compound of our body, is converted into methionine. This conversion is important for maintaining proper levels of amino acids and supporting various bodily functions. 

Consequently, a high intake of folic acid may obscure the signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, delaying its diagnosis and potentially leading to neurological effects if left untreated.

On the other hand, insufficient folic acid intake during pregnancy can lead to more immediate and direct risks. Folic acid deficiency causes tiredness and fatigue.

Best food sources that are high in folic acid

Several foods are rich sources of natural folate, which is the form of vitamin B9 found in food. These foods can help pregnant women and others meet their folic acid needs. Some of the best food sources high in folic acid (folate) include:

  • Leafy Green Vegetables: Foods like spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard are rich sources of folate.
  • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans are excellent sources of folate.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus is a particularly good source of folic acid.
  • Avocado: Avocados not only provide healthy fats but also contain folate.
  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, and their juices are good sources of folate.
  • Papaya: This tropical fruit is high in folate.
  • Broccoli: Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains a significant amount of folate.
  • Brussels sprouts: These little green vegetables are rich in folate.
  • Beets: Beets are not only colorful but also provide a decent amount of folate.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Some nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds and peanuts, contain folate.
  • Fortified Foods: Many grains and cereal products, such as breakfast cereals, are fortified with folic acid. Check the product labels for information on added folate.
  • Beef Liver: If you consume animal products, liver is a highly concentrated source of folate. However, it should be consumed in moderation due to its high vitamin A content.
  • Eggs: Eggs contain folate, particularly in the yolk.

Furthermore, folic acid is very quickly used up by the body, especially if twins or multiple births are on the way, or in cases of closely spaced pregnancies. It is good advice to always watch your folic acid intake, and not only during pregnancy.

Should you supplement folic acid during pregnancy?

Supplementing folic acid during pregnancy is commonly recommended due to its crucial role in preventing neural tube defects in the developing fetus. 

In the Philippines, folic acid supplements are often sold in pharmacies, drugstores, and health food stores across the country. Folic acid supplements are typically offered in tablet or capsule forms, making them convenient for daily consumption.

Nevertheless, it's essential to consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate dosage and duration of folic acid supplementation tailored to individual health needs and circumstances.

Frequently asked questions on folic acid:

Is folic acid good for pregnancy?

Yes, folic acid is highly beneficial during pregnancy. It plays a critical role in preventing neural tube defects and supporting the healthy development of the baby's brain and spinal cord. Adequate folic acid intake is essential for a healthy pregnancy and is routinely recommended by healthcare providers to reduce the risk of birth defects.

When to take folic acid in pregnancy?

Folic acid should be taken before conception and during the early stages of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. It's typically advised for women who are planning to become pregnant or in their childbearing years to take a daily folic acid supplement. If pregnancy is confirmed, continuing folic acid supplementation throughout the pregnancy is recommended for optimal fetal development.

What food has folic acid?

Several foods are rich sources of folic acid, also known as folate. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are excellent natural sources of folate. Additionally, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, and fortified cereals can contribute significantly to folic acid intake. Incorporating a variety of these foods into your diet can help ensure you're getting an adequate amount of this essential B vitamin.

Is folic acid safe for pregnancy?

Yes, folic acid is considered safe for pregnancy. However, as with any supplement, it's advisable to consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure it aligns with individual health needs and circumstances.


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[3] Salko, D.E. (2021). 10 Natural Food Sources of Folate (Folic Acid) For Pregnant Women > Personalabs. [online] Personalabs. Available at:[Accessed 11 Oct. 2023].

‌[4] (2020). Folic acid for pregnancy: Benefits, when to take, and how much. [online] Available at:

[5] CDC (2019). Facts about Neural Tube Defects. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:

[6] National Institutes of Health (2017). Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate. [online] Available at:

[7] CDC (2019). Recommendations: Women & Folic Acid. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:

[8] Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Folate (folic acid). [online] Available at:

[9] Recommended Energy Intakes per day Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges. (n.d.). Available at:


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