We all know that folate is vital for us when we’re trying to conceive. Our body uses folate to aid in DNA production and cell division. So, as adults, folate is important for US as it helps produce new cells to keep our body functioning at top level. When we’re trying to conceive, folate is vital, as it is required not only our health, but for our baby. Obviously, the miracle of life requires a lot of cell division. We start with a single cell, an egg, which is implanted with male DNA from sperm which then, divides and divides to multiply cell numbers. Then, along with more division, cell differentiation occurs, which produces all the different body parts and bodily systems.
Folate deficiency in mothers is highly linked to neural tube defects, so much so, that in 2009, Australia brought in mandatory fortification of folate, for flour used for bread making, in order to try to reduce the number of children born with these defects. Neural tube defects are a group of disorders that are characterised by an opening in the spine, or brain that remains from early development in the womb. A common condition you may have heard of, is spina bifida.
Spine and brain fusion occurs so early in pregnancy, that you may not even realise you are pregnant, which is why it’s important to get adequate amounts of this important nutrient before you conceive.
So, how do we meet our requirements of this important nutrient?
One of the best sources of folate is fruit and vegetables, especially leafy greens, like spinach and kale.
The downside is that folate can be easily lost through processing, cooking and storage.
Research shows that many of us don’t meet our recommended fruit and vegie intakes. However, one study found that people were more likely to drink fruit and vegie juices, than eat whole fruit and veg. So, the question is: ’Are green juices a good source of folate?”
Let’s start by looking at…
1. Store-bought juices
The answer is generally no; store-bought juices are not a good source of folate. Store-bought juices can often wait weeks before they’re consumed, giving plenty of time for the folate to degrade. The folate in juices found in clear packaging which is exposed to light will break down even faster, than the folate found in cardboard or opaque packaging. Furthermore, many commercial juices are heat treated before packaging, to decrease bacterial content. However, this treatment also degrades a lot of the natural folate content. Some companies opt to fortify their juices with additional folate to help boost folate levels again, however, the acidic nature of juices means that added folate will also degrade, meaning that the amount written on the label, may not be present at all! So, if you’re going to choose a store-bought juice, opt for one with opaque packaging, which has been fortified with added folate, but don’t expect it to meet all of your folate requirements.
2. Freshly squeezed juices
I have some good news here! Research shows that as long as juices are freshly squeezed, and immediately consumed, folate levels are just as high as eating fresh fruit or vegetables. The juicing technique itself doesn’t reduce folate, just the storage. So, if you’re trying to boost your folate intake, a freshly squeezed green juice or smoothie each day can be a very good idea. Obviously it’s essential to include the pulp of the fruit and vegetables as well, otherwise you’ll be discarding a lot of the folate from that.
While freshly squeezed juice can be a great source of folate, it’s important to remember that it is also a concentrated source of fruit sugar, so can be high in kilojoules. It can also increase your blood sugar levels, so be careful of juices if you’re trying to watch your weight or if you have diabetes. Eating whole fruit or vegetables are usually lower kilojoule options, and don’t tend to cause as much of a spike in blood sugar levels.
But, we need to consider…
How to prepare our whole fruits and vegetables.
One interesting study researched the effects of different cooking and processing techniques on folate levels in various legumes and vegetables. They found that the canning process resulted in the highest amount of folate loss, causing up to a 77% reduction. The other processes that resulted in high folate losses were blanching and boiling. However, the study found that steaming and microwave cooking cause very little loss of folate in vegetables and legumes. So, the best options for folate are steamed vegetables, either cooked in a steamer or microwave.
The other thing to note is that the fresher your fruits and vegies are, the less folate will be lost. So, in an ideal world, we’d all grow our own fruit and vegies, Or buy them locally to reduce food miles which contribute to a reduction in folate.
The best way to ensure that you’re meeting your folate requirements, is to eat a diet that is high in minimally processed fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes.
Finally, although it’s essential to eat a diet as rich in folate as possible, especially in the lead up to pregnancy, I’d also recommend fortifying your diet with a folic acid supplement. A supplement doesn’t replace the folate in your diet, but is an important addition.
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