A member of the B vitamin family, folate, or, in its synthetic form, folic acid, offers many benefits for a pre-pregnant woman. It helps prevent neural tube defects (NTD), serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. "One of the best things you can do to ensure a healthy baby is to make sure you are eating a healthy diet, with plenty of folate-rich foods, before you get pregnant," says Bethany Thayer, M.S., R.D., director of wellness programs and strategies at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Studies show that if all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of all NTD could be prevented. The best way to guarantee you're getting enough folate is to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid, and eat a diet full of folic-acid rich foods like the following.
It's not just for kids. Most fortified cereals supply a whopping 100 to 400 mcg of folic acid in each half cup to one-and-a-half cup serving. To make sure you're getting the max, look for at least 35 percent of the daily value for folic acid on the nutrition label, says Thayer, as you're likely eating more than one cereal serving in a sitting (say that 10 times fast!). And look for at least 3 grams of fiber, and fewer than 10 grams of sugar, suggests Thayer. Have a bowl in the morning with low-fat milk, sprinkle it on your yogurt, or keep it in a snack-size plastic bag in your office drawer or glove compartment to munch on throughout the day.
These mighty members of the legume family contain 180 mcg of folate in each half-cup serving. They're also packed with protein and fiber, and low in fat, which make them a super substitute for meat. Buy them dry in the health food store and put them in a strainer to rinse away any dirt, dust, or debris. Boil them for 15 to 20 minutes and add spices (try turmeric or ginger) and serve over rice, or add them to soups or stews. If you don't have time to boil them, just pop open a can and rinse them before eating to remove approximately 30 percent of the sodium.
One half cup of this dark leafy green, cooked, contains about 100 mcg of folate. It's loaded with phytochemicals like beta carotene and lutein, which protect against many forms of cancer. Layer chopped frozen spinach in lasagna, saute it with some garlic and throw it on top of a potato, or add it to an egg white omelet.
This cruciferous vegetable is a veritable superfood. It has major antioxidant powers to help prevent certain cancers, plus soluble and insoluble fiber to help with digestion. What's more, each half-cup cooked serving boasts 50 mcg of folate. Shred it into a broccoli slaw or top homemade pizza with small steamed florets.
This type of white navy bean is full of fiber and protein and has no saturated fat. It may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Beans are full of key nutrients, including calcium and potassium, and a half cup contains 90 mcg of folate. Buy the low-sodium canned version, and rinse them under cold water and drain—that will wash away some of the sodium and help lessen the gas you may experience from eating them. Try beans in a stir-fry, and throw them into soups, stews, and chili.
These folic-acid rich spears are low in calories, contain no fat or cholesterol, and are an excellent source of potassium and fiber. Four spears of boiled asparagus contain 85 mcg of folate. Look for firm, fresh spears with closed, compact tips that are similar in diameter to cook evenly. The larger the diameter the spears, the more tender the veggie. To prepare, trim stem ends slightly and cook for five to eight minutes in boiling water.
Any soon-to-be pregnant woman needs plenty of energy, and pasta is a carbohydrate that supplies glucose, the fundamental fuel for your body. Choose whole-wheat pasta, which digests more slowly and provides a slow, steady stream of energy; it's also higher in fiber than the white type. One cup of cooked pasta provides 100 mcg of folic acid.
This deliciously sweet fruit is high in vitamins A and C, and a good source of folate; a quarter of a medium cantaloupe provides 25 mcg. To find a ripe melon, tap it with the palm of your hand and listen for a hollow sound, and make sure there are no bruises or overly soft spots. The rind (underneath the netting) should be yellow or cream (if it's green, it's not ripe). Take a sniff—it should smell subtly sweet, but not too much so. A strong odor signals the fruit's too ripe.
They've gotten a bad rap, but eggs are nutrient-dense, supplying a load of nutrition with a very small calorie count. They're a great source of protein and contain almost every essential vitamin, including 25 mcg of folate. Choose omega 3-enriched eggs; omega 3, especially docosahexaeonic acid (DHA), is key for baby's brain development. Keep some boiled eggs in the fridge for a ready-to-go snack.