What is Folate?

Folate is a B vitamin that occurs in food. Folic acid is the synthetic version of this vitamin that is found in supplements and fortified foods.

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Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN

Faith Bontrager, RN, BSNFaith's passion in nursing is to help people find the options they need to discover their personal path to optimum health. Ask her friends and they will tell you that their appreciation of nutritious food has grown through Faith. About Faith Bontrager, RN, BSN


A Healthy Pregnancy

There is No Substitute for a Healthy Diet

Pregnant women often ask me, "What brand of prenatal vitamins should I take?" before they ask about a healthy diet. My response is that prenatal vitamins can never replace healthy food.

But you have probably heard that taking folic acid supplements help reduce birth defects? Yes and No. There is very good evidence that adequate folate (the nutrient in food) and folic acid (the equivalent substance in supplements) does decrease the rate of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Since the US began fortifying cereal grains with folic acid and encouraging folic acid supplements, the number of neural tube defects have declined significantly.

But is folic acid supplementation the complete picture? Could it be that women of child bearing age eat a poor quality diet and that a greater number of birth defects could be prevented if women also addressed other areas of diet quality?

When researchers began to study the role of nutrients in preventing birth defects, they mostly focused on one nutrient at a time and usually looked at supplements instead of general diet quality. This made sense. It was certainly easier to study - divide women into 2 groups, give one group a supplement, don't give it to the other group, watch the results. This early research effectively established that there is a link between nutrition and the risk of birth defects.

But taking a vitamin pill is not the same as eating a nutritious diet. Nutrients are combined in certain ways in food, they also interact within the body. There may be nutrients that we haven't yet discovered or interactions that we don't know occur.

When it comes to reducing the risk of birth defects, a growing body of research indicates that pregnant women and their babies will get benefits from a healthy diet that a vitamin supplement alone can't provide.

I am NOT telling you to stop any supplements that your physician has recommended for you. Your doctor knows your medical and family history, reviews your laboratory results, and is monitoring your health during pregnancy so can make recommendations specific to your circumstances. I am, however, encouraging you to eat an excellent quality diet if you plan to become pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.

Nourish yourself and your child!