It's hard to always rely on multivitamins to give us the nutrients we need—if we're honest, sometimes we forget to take them—which is why we should, in reality, be aiming for a diet that fulfills our nutritional needs in and of itself. Yes, it may be a lofty goal, but it's definitely possible if you plan what you're eating. We've already mentioned that foods high in potassium aid in bone health and muscular function, while foods packed with vitamin D fight fatigue and mood fluctuations. However, we never got to folate. But it's never too late.
Folate, also known as folic acid and vitamin B9, has actually been called one of the most underappreciated micronutrients out there. (FYI: Folate is the natural form, while folic acid is synthetic and used in supplements and processed foods.) It's also crucial for the growth of the brain and spine in a fetus, which occurs during the first few weeks of pregnancy, so anyone looking to become pregnant should take special note.
"Folate is also associated with improved cognitive function and protection against depression and Alzheimer's disease," says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS. On top of that, it can strengthen bones, lessen symptoms of restless leg syndrome, and keep your nervous system healthy. Basically, you want to get the right amount of this micronutrient in your diet. To get you on the right track, keep reading to see the top foods high in folic acid below.
Ed. note: Be sure to consult your doctor to determine whether increased folic acid intake is right for you.
Now there's another reason to add more salads to your diet: leafy greens are a great source of folic acid. Half a cup of cooked spinach will give you 33% of your DV (daily value) of the nutrient, while one cup of romaine will give you 15%. By simply adding a handful of spinach to your morning smoothie, you'll be about a third of the way to meeting your day's folic acid needs.
Just half a cup of this cruciferous veggie gives you 13% of your daily value of folic acid. Plus, this food also provides you with antioxidants and fiber to help your body with digestion. Try it raw with hummus, roasted in your salad, or as a topping on a pizza.
This hearty legume is a great filling substitute for meat (just remember to soak them before cooking to get rid of any rocks or debris). Half a cup of cooked lentils will give you 180 micrograms of folate plus tons of fiber (women are recommended to take in 400 micrograms daily). Use it as a base for your salad, or throw some into chili or soup. Meat eaters can even get creative and use it as breading for chicken tenders.
Citrus such as grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, and tangerines can provide you with a great source of folic acid. Just one small orange will give you 8% of your daily needs, while a glass of orange juice gives you more than double that amount (think about adding a glass of OJ to your breakfast every morning). Although grapefruit, tangerine, lemons, and limes won't give you quite as much bang for your buck, they're still great options, especially if you're not a big fan of oranges.
Did you know that some cereals are specifically fortified with folate and that the FDA was actually involved in this in order to reduce birth defects? There are even some breakfast cereals out there that contain 100% of your folate needs for the day in one serving. So, if you can only do one thing before heading out the door in the morning, pour that bowl.
What we like about asparagus is that it's super low in calories and packs a serious folate punch. Only four spears will give you 22% of your DV, so add some to your pasta or on the side of your protein of choice. Plus, because of the vitamin B6 and folic acid, some actually believe this food to be an aphrodisiac (just saying).
The next time you consider asking them to hold the avocado on your salad or burrito bowl, maybe reconsider. Although it does contain some (albeit healthy) fats, this fruit can give you about 28% of your daily folic acid needs with just one cup. Plus, it also happens to impart fatty acids, dietary fiber, and vitamin K.
Corn is just about in season—hello, grilled cob—and it's also so versatile. You can add a few handfuls to just about any salad, soup, or grain bowl or just have some as a side with your protein (or you can also get folic acid in the form of a corn tortilla or corn flour). One cup of cooked corn kernels will give you 9% of your daily needs.
We like the idea of carrots for folate because so many people keep them in the house anyway. They serve as a great base for soups and stews and are just as good roasted as they are raw with some hummus. A cup of carrots will give you 5% of your daily value of folic acid.
Seeds and Nuts
Sometimes the vitamins and nutrients are all in the fixings. You can add seeds like sunflower and flax to granola or salads (or just eat them plain). A quarter-cup of sunflower seeds gives you 21% of your daily value while two tablespoons of flax seeds give you 14%. When it comes to nuts, peanuts are the highest in folic acid, with only one-fourth of a cup giving you 22% of your daily value while one cup of almonds will give you 12%.