Folic acid (folate or vitamin B9) is a vitamin that is essential during pregnancy and vital to the correct development of the foetus: its main role is to create new cells, thus facilitating the manufacture of genetic material.
Folic acid is not synthesised by our body. It must therefore be taken in through the diet. It is found in green and broad leaf vegetables (such as beets, lettuces and spinach), and also in citrus fruits, pulses, asparagus, red beets, avocados, eggs, peanuts and hazelnuts.
It is important to be aware that although fruit and vegetables normally provide an adequate intake of the vitamin, this intake falls short of the recommended levels necessary to meet the needs of the unborn child. It is possible to compensate for this using folic acid supplements in tablet form, subject to prior consultation with a doctor.
It is advisable to start taking folic acid at least one month before conceiving and to continue for the first trimester of pregnancy: this way, mothers-to-be can protect the embryo and support the development of the foetal organs. In fact, many studies have shown that the correct intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy has significantly reduced the incidence of neonatal malformations, particularly those affecting the central nervous system. These include neural tube dysfunctions, skull malformations and heart defects.
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