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For folate to confer the greatest benefits, you need to supplement before conceiving. Birth defects of the spine and brain occur in the first weeks of pregnancy; often, this is before a woman even realizes she's pregnant.
Because 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, the current Institute of Medicine recommendation is that all women capable of becoming pregnant get 400 micrograms of folic acid from supplements or fortified foods in addition to their intake of folate from a varied diet. If you are already expecting, getting the folate you need is still important. In fact, once pregnancy is confirmed, the IOM- recommended intake for supplementation jumps to 600 micrograms. Most prenatal vitamins contain 800-1,000 micrograms, which will cover your folic acid needs. But you also need to eat foods like fortified cereals, beans and leafy greens (see box at below). "Folate is better absorbed by your body from food," explains Blatner.
It's better to get folate from food. Here's how much of your daily value is in each serving.
•Fortified cereals (¾ cup) 400 micrograms 100%
•Black-eyed peas (½ cup) 105 micrograms 25%
•Frozen spinach (½ cup) 100 micrograms 25%
•Asparagus 4 spears 85 micrograms 21%
•Enriched egg noodles (½ cup) 50 micrograms 13%
•Fortified wheat bread (2 slices) 50 micrograms 13%
•Peanuts (1 ounce) 40 micrograms 10%
•Orange juice (¾ cup) 35 micrograms 9%
•Banana (1 banana) 20 micrograms 5%