Vitamin B-9, most commonly known as folate, plays many critical roles in the body. Folate, along with other vitamins, is an essential nutrient that human beings need to function properly. Your body can't produce vitamins on its own (except for vitamin D, but you don't make enough on your own so it's still considered essential), so you need to ingest them from exogenous, or outside, sources.
Folate is needed in order to adequately produce red blood cells. Folic acid also works with B12 in reducing dangerous compounds in the body and for driving multiple metabolic processes. Folate is of the utmost importance to women of childbearing age, as folate is integral in the formation of the fetal brain and spinal cord during pregnancy.
Folate is found in green vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, and broccoli (the word folate is derived from the word foliage). Like most B vitamins, folate is very easily destroyed by cooking and light, and folate levels decrease rapidly once the vegetables are harvested. The good news is that many foods are fortified with folic acid, an easily-metabolized and stable version of folate. Once serving of most fortified cereals contains your daily dose of folate. Lentils and other legumes such as pinto beans are also good sources.
Folic Acid Supplements:
Women of childbearing age should consider taking a folic acid supplement. Birth defects caused by inadequate folate intake can occur before women even know they're pregnant, and the damage is unfortunately irreversible. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, her daily requirement for folate doubles and it may be difficult to meet this requirement through diet alone. Folic acid is a commonly recommended supplement during pregnancy and for women who may become pregnant.
Folic acid supplements are just like getting folate from your diet – they are one and the same and your body processes them the same. Most multivitamins sold in the US contain 400 mcg, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Check the vitamin's label to be sure it says 400 mcg or "100%" next to folic acid or folate. Another option is to take a simple folic acid supplement if you prefer.
Making sure you get your recommended daily folate is yet another reason to eat your veggies. Folate is important for everyone, and women of childbearing age should be even more aware of how much they're getting. Fresh, raw green vegetables are a great source for many vitamins and minerals, not just folate. Keep in mind, fortified cereals are also a great source and doctor recommended supplements are safe for pregnant women. Don't let this important vitamin slip under your radar!