Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in food. Its oxidized form, on the other hand, is folic acid (monopteroiglutamic acid), a synthetic molecule contained in vitamin supplements and added to enriched foods. Vitamin B9 is a very important water-soluble vitamin for the human body because it is involved in various essential physiological processes.
WHY ARE FOLATES IMPORTANT?
Folate is essential for our well-being in several ways. For example, it is involved in the DNA synthesis, chromosome repair, and protein synthesis, including hemoglobin (essential for the formation of red blood cells). Furthermore, it is essential for cell regeneration and important for the health of the mucous membranes.
Vitamin B9 is essential for proliferation and differentiation of tissues, especially embryonic tissues. This is why folic acid is importantl during pregnancy, especially for the prevention of congenital malformations, for example neural tube defects that occur due to folate deficiency (spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele). During breastfeeding, it is necessary to replenish folate losses through milk. Generally, doctors recommend taking folate supplements starting from one month before conception up to the third month of pregnancy.
Vitamin B9 can also help prevent other health problems. Thanks to the synergy with vitamin B12, for example, it can help reduce homocysteine levels in the blood, an amino acid whose accumulation can lead to heart attack and stroke. Finally, vitamin B9 is also important for the proper functioning of the nervous system and the efficiency of the reproductive system.
The daily requirement ranges from 0.4 to 0.6 mg per day, based on age, gender, and health status. Women who are planning to get pregnant or who are pregnant should consume 0.6 mg per day, while for breastfeeding 0.5 mg per day is enough. A reduction in the absorption of folate may be due to the intake of certain drugs, various health conditions (diabetes, celiac disease, etc.) and alcohol abuse. If you follow a varied and balanced diet, you are guaranteed an adequate intake of folate.
In the case of folate deficiency, various symptoms may appear: weakness, fatigue, paleness, anemia, pain in the mucous membranes, tingling, headache, irritability, or neurological disorders such as insomnia, depression, memory problems, etc. The lack of folate during pregnancy and breastfeeding carries serious risks for the fetus. In the event of deficiency and / or increased need for vitamin B9, the doctor may prescribe specific folic acid supplements or foods enriched with folate.
Folate is found mainly in leafy greens such as spinach, rocket/arugula, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, and asparagus, but also in turnip, fresh mustard, and tomato. Legumes (especially black beans and peas), whole grains (rice, pasta and bread), wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, and dried nuts (almonds, walnuts) also contain folate. Fruits that contain folate include avocado, papaya, melon, strawberries, kiwi, oranges and bananas. Among animal products, folate is found in red meat, especially offal, eggs and some cheeses (to be consumed occasionally and in limited portions), shellfish (crab), and fish.
Folate are thermolabile compounds, degradable at high temperatures, and water-soluble, so it is easy to lose them during cooking due to thermal degradation and water solubility. Therefore, boiling is not recommended, and it is considered the worst cooking method. As a result, nutritionists recommend consuming raw, sauteed, or steamed vegetables, as this limits the loss of folate to only 10-15%. Cutting the vegetables into chunks or florets can reduce cooking times to 10 minutes or less. With these simple precautions, the nutritional properties and the maximum amount of folate is preserved.
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