It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the different prenatal vitamin brands available today. We’re lucky enough that there are a lot of choices.
But not all prenatal vitamins are create equal.
It’s no surprise that the question I get asked the most is, “what should my prenatal vitamin have in it?”
While there are a few must-haves in a good quality prenatal, there is ONE THING that I believe your prenatal should have.
After all, if your prenatal is an insurance policy to “fill in” the nutritional gaps in your diet, then it should contain the vitamins and minerals you need most for your baby’s development. And for your future health too.
Most of us have heard about getting enough folic acid during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. But did you know that folic acid is not actually a real nutrient?
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate.
Folate is vitamin B9. It’s naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and beans and lentils.
Folate promotes healthy neural tube development in the first few weeks of pregnancy. In fact, your baby will need it most in the first 4 weeks of pregnancy, to prevent birth defects in the brain and spine.
Coincidentally, this is about the time that most women find out they are pregnant, so it’s important to be taking a prenatal vitamin if you’re trying to conceive. Or at least start taking one as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
After research found links between folate deficiency and birth defects, food manufacturers started adding the synthetic version of folate (aka folic acid) to grains and cereals. Vitamin companies soon followed by adding folic acid to their supplements.
Now, the majority of vitamin supplements on the market today contain folic acid instead of its natural, whole food equivalent: folate.
That sounds innocent enough. Right?
But let’s have a closer look and see why your prenatal should have folate in it and not folic acid.
Folate vs folic acid
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which means scientists manufacture folic acid in a lab.
Food manufacturers then add folic acid to breads and cereals. And most vitamin brands use folic acid instead of folate in their multivitamins because it’s cheaper to make and sell.
Although we’re led to believe that they’re the same thing, folate and folic acid don’t behave the same way in your body.
Your body has a hard time converting folic acid into a bio-available form that your body and your baby can absorb. Remember, you want your body – and your baby – to absorb as much of this nutrient as possible to prevent birth defects.
Research has even found that excess folic acid can remain unmetabolized in your baby’s umbilical cord. That’s significant because that means folic acid is not being passed on to your baby.
This is more likely to happen if you are unable to absorb folic acid yourself. In fact, almost half the population can’t absorb folic acid.
1 in 3 women have a gene mutation that stops their bodies from using folic acid altogether.
That’s 1 in 3 women who don’t get the benefits of taking a multi that has folic acid instead of folate.
You can learn more about the importance of folate here.
What to look for
My best advice for when you’re choosing a prenatal vitamin, is to look for folate and not folic acid. When a brand uses folate, it’s likely to have sourced other nutrients from whole food ingredients too. And just like folate, having nutrients from whole food sources makes a difference to how those nutrients are absorbed.
My favorite prenatal vitamins
I personally take Naturelo because they source their nutrients from high quality whole foods.
I also love Premama Wellness and Ritual because just like Naturelo, their vitamins include DHA omega-3 sourced from algae oil. DHA omega-3 is important for healthy brain development, and should be an additional supplement if your prenatal vitamin doesn’t have it.
*Note: these recommendations are unsponsored.
Folate in food
Like all nutrients, they are most bio-available for our bodies to absorb when they come as nature intended: in real food. If you’re trying to conceive, or if you’ve just found out that you’re pregnancy, here are my top 10 folate-rich foods to eat.
Top 10 foods rich in folate
8. Romaine lettuce
10. Swiss chard