F is for Folate

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by Randi Karlinsky MS, RDN, LDN, CHC, NASM-CPT

Folate is part of the commonly known B vitamin complex. It is a very unique vitamin because U.S. public health organizations recognize its extreme importance to our health and therefore have taken many steps to help increase intake among the U.S. population. These programs have helped to decrease the occurrence of many life-threatening conditions associated with folate deficiency such as neural tube defects. Currently, folate exists in many forms within our food supply in addition to natural sources (listed below). Examples include fortified foods, enriched foods, and of course, folate supplements. Below you will find the many benefits of folate and why it’s so important to have excellent sources of folate in our diet.

Folate supports nervous system health by aiding in the production of the specific nervous system function: messaging. Folate supports the production of the messenger molecules the nerves use to send signals throughout the body.

Folate supports overall cardiovascular health in a few different ways. Most importantly, adequate dietary folate intake helps to regulate the blood levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid which serves as a marker for cardiovascular disease. When elevated, risk for a variety of cardiovascular-related diseases is elevated as well. Optimal levels of folate in the blood help to lower homocysteine levels keeping cardiovascular risk at a minimum.

Folate is one of the many nutrients needed for red blood cell production. Red blood cells are essential to our health because they help carry oxygen from our lunges to the rest of our body. Folate deficiency impairs the production of red blood cells reducing its ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Finally, the most important reason to make sure you are consuming adequate folate is its role in reproductive health. Folate’s role in the development of the nervous system begins at conception. When a folate-deficient woman becomes pregnant, the fetus is at an increased risk for neural tube defects. This is a developmental condition negatively affecting the development of the nervous system in the fetus. For this reason, it is extremely important for women specifically to make sure they are consuming adequate folate, even if they are not considering pregnancy anytime soon.

Excellent sources of folate:

  • Spinach

  • Turnip greens

  • Bok choy

  • Parsley

  • Romaine lettuce

  • Lentils

  • Beets

  • Cauliflower