Beans are brimming with folate—a vitamin that women need before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. One cup boasts about 200 to 300 micrograms, depending on the variety. Folate (and folic acid, the form used in dietary supplements and fortified foods) is so important for mothers-to-be because it helps produce DNA and form healthy new cells. As with iron, the daily recommendation for folate is highest during your childbearing years (400 mcg/day). The only other times it’s higher is during pregnancy (600 mcg/day) and lactation (500 mcg/day). Nutrition experts advise pregnant women, and those planning to get pregnant, to get 400 micrograms of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods—in addition to eating folate-rich foods.
Other ways to get folate: Green leafy vegetables like spinach (1/2 cup cooked = 121 mcg) and citrus fruits (a cup of OJ = 110 mcg) are also rich in folate. Fortified foods, such as bread, pasta, flour, breakfast cereal and rice, can contain as much as 700 micrograms per serving, although most fall in the 300 to 400 mcg range.