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Best Foods for Folate

Rachel O'Reilly

By Erica Favela 

One of the most widely known nutrients that is known to be important for pregnancy is folate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend folic acid supplementation for all women of childbearing age because the biggest need is during the first trimester.

Folate works with vitamin B12 in many processes. It is especially important during pregnancy because of it’s role in DNA synthesis and cellular division. Right from conception, growth and cellular division begins. New DNA is required for new cells, and mother must increase her red blood cells, which requires folate.

Research has found that adequate supplies of folate can:

Folate comes from the Latin word folium, or foliage. This may help you remember that folate is found in green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, beet greens, and swiss chard. Folate is naturally found in food, while folic acid is the synthetic compound often used in supplements or fortified foods. 

Try to eat these greens in their raw form, as folate is heat sensitive and cooking will diminish this nutrient. Here’s some examples of how to get in these greens:

  • Spinach salad tossed with pesto, sliced cherry tomatoes, and slice of salmon on top

  • Massaged kale salad with pine nuts and currants

  • Throw any combination of the above listed greens into a smoothie (see recipe below)! 

Here are some other go-to foods that have good amounts of folate (per 3.5 ounces) :

  • Black-eyed peas (prepared from dried beans, not canned) 440 mcg

  • Kidney beans 180 mcg

  • Mung beans 145 mcg

  • Asparagus 110 mcg

  • Lentils 105 mcg

  • Walnuts 77 mcg

When choosing any of the above beans, opt for dried beans that you soak and then cook. Canned beans will have gone through processing and manufacturing that can lower their nutritional content. For instance, once cup of cooked garbanzo beans (prepared from dried beans) versus the same amount of canned garbanzo beans will offer around ~275 mcg vs. ~75 mcg of folate, respectively.

Again, remember that nutrients work synergistically. Folate absorption is affected by zinc status, so don’t forget to eat high zinc foods. Foods that are highest in zinc are shellfish, oysters (cooked), and red meat. Others include nuts, seeds, eggs, and chicken. If you’re thinking that you need detailed charts that outline the varying amounts of different nutrients in all foods, and measuring so that you get everything you need, please reconsider!

The purpose of taking a deep dive into nutrients like folate is simply to showcase the powerful effects that nutrients have on our bodies (and growing babies), and to encourage you to do the planning that’s necessary for creating whole food meals, rather than quick-and-easy meal replacements or ready-made dinners that frequent many grocery store aisles. If you’re having trouble getting whole food meals on the table, check out Meal Planning 101


Mama's Go-To Green Smoothie

Here's an easy way to get some folate-rich greens in your day. This recipe also includes ginger, which is an excellent remedy for nausea. If struggling with digestion/constipation, add a tablespoon of chia seeds or fresh ground flax seeds. 

  • Large handful spinach or kale 

  • 1 cup water or coconut water 

  • 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil 

  • 1/2 inch grated ginger 

  • 1 scoop protein powder of choice or 1/2 cup full fat greek yogurt

  1. Add greens and water first. Blend 20 seconds. 

  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. 

To make this into a "smoothie bowl," add 1/4 - 1/2 avocado for a thick texture and pour into a bowl. Top with toasted coconut flakes and sunflower seeds. Chewing helps with digestion and nutrient absorption.