Do you find yourself gasping for breath after every small climb? Do you get depressed over small issues? If yes, then you may be an anaemic, with low levels of folic acid.
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9 or Folacin, is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. It is water-soluble and essential to many bodily functions such as producing healthy red blood cells and preventing anaemia.
Lack of adequate folic acid in the body can lead to heart disease, birth defects [in the case of pregnant women], certain allergies, cancer, premature senility, acne and megaloblastic anaemia [anaemia that results from inhibition of DNA synthesis].
Why folic acid?
Let’s take a quick look at how folic acid helps:
- Folate-rich foods or supplements lower your homocysteine [a type of amino acid] levels, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. Folacin also plays a role in protein metabolism, cell growth and division.
- Folate is an absolute necessity for any woman who is pregnant [particularly if she has cravings for pickles and sweets] or is considering conceiving. A deficiency of folic acid in a mother-to-be can cause neural tube defects in the newborn such as spina bifida [an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column], anencephaly [severe underdevelopment of the brain], and encephalocele [when brain tissue protrudes out to the skin from an abnormal opening in the skull].
- Folic acid provides nourishment to the brain and helps treat depression to some extent during ageing and hence seniors should take folate supplements.
- It cuts down on the adverse effects of nicotine on the lungs, and hence is a must for smokers.
Where is it found?
Here’s a glimpse of a few good sources of folic acid.
- Dark green leafy vegetables [like mint, spinach and amaranth]
- Dairy products
- Sesame [til]
- Citrus fruits
- Lady fingers
- Cluster beans
- Ripe tomatoes
- Whole grains and nuts
- Liver and liver products.
Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet. These high-fibre, low-fat foods are typically rich in folic acid and other B vitamins, which reduce the risk for heart disease by preventing arterial blood clots.
Who needs extra folic acid?
Individuals who need the folic acid boost include:
- Teenagers and young adults who are vegetarians, if their diets are not adequately balanced.
- Individuals diagnosed with liver disease, kidney disease and malabsorption.
- People who drink alcohol in any form or take certain prescription drugs, such as oral contraceptives and anticonvulsant drugs.
What’s the daily requirement?
- An average Indian adult requires 100 micrograms/day.
- Pregnant women need 400 micrograms/day, prior to conception and during early pregnancy.
How to retain folate in food?
Folate can be lost from foods during preparation, cooking, or storage. To retain folate:
- Serve and eat fruits and vegetables raw, whenever possible.
- Steam, boil, or simmer vegetables in a minimum amount of water.
- Store vegetables in the refrigerator.
How to include it in your diet?
Folic acid is something you need all through your life. Thus, it is important that we get enough at all times. Here’s how you can make folate a part of your regular eating plan.
- Vegetable soups of broccoli + mint + spinach or lentil soup
- Baked kidney beans on whole wheat bread with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
- Strawberry/orange mixed with yogurt
- Dry fruit milk shakes
- Til bhindi
- Roasted bengal gram [bhuna chana] + mint chutney
- A colourful fruit salad by tossing together fresh berries, watermelon cubes, pineapple wedges, and orange sections Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Serve with a dressing of plain yogurt
- Stir-fry fresh asparagus, cauliflower, or broccoli with garlic and a splash of sesame oil as a side dish
- Fortified grain foods like bread, rolls, flour, rice, pasta, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
So keep yourself on a strict folic acid vigil by including as many of these sources in your diet, so that you don’t end up feeling grumpy or edgy.