10 Foods with More Folate than Kale
Folate, also called vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient that's particularly important for women who are (or might become) pregnant. It plays a key role in DNA synthesis, protein metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and more. And while folate deficiency isn't super common, women of childbearing age are particularly at risk for not getting enough.
According to the National Institutes of Health, pregnant women need 600 micrograms of folate every day, while breastfeeding women need 500 mcg and all other adults need 400 mcg. "Folate is especially essential in pregnancy since it can help protect against severe and debilitating birth disorders, including neural tube defects," says Shahzadi Devje, M.Sc., RD, owner of Desi~licious RD. The catch is that the neural tube forms within the first month of gestation—before many women even know they're pregnant. So really, any woman who might get pregnant should aim for 600 mcg per day.
While kale is an excellent source of folate, you don't need to go to town on a massive kale salad for lunch every day just to get your fix. And while just 3 ounces of beef liver (the best source out there) will get you halfway to your recommended intake, not everyone wants a plate of liver and onions for lunch every day. If you're planning on becoming pregnant, Devje and other health care providers recommend supplementing with a prenatal vitamin to make sure you're hitting your daily intake (as always, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new supplement). But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't also be getting the nutrient from food, and luckily there are a ton of folate-rich options out there, from beans to shellfish to store-bought bread. Below are 10 of the best (and most delicious!) sources of folate.
Although kale gets loads of attention, spinach is actually the best plant-based source of folate. It has 131 mcg per cooked half-cup, which is 22% of the recommended daily intake for pregnant women, and one-third of the recommended intake for other adults. Lisa Young, Ph.D., RD, a private practice dietitian, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, recommends eating a spinach salad topped with nuts (another good source) for a big hit of folate. Spinach is also a great source of nonheme (i.e., plant-based) iron, as well as vitamins A and C.
2. Supermarket Bread
Because folate is so crucial for fetal development, many processed grain products are fortified with folate, Young says. And while it's probably best not to rely solely on supermarket bread, it's reassuring to know that a slice of white bread contains 50 mcg, which is 8% of what's recommended daily for pregnant women and 12% of what's recommended for other adults. That means that just one sandwich can deliver a quarter of your daily needs. (And, yes, whole-wheat bread is a great source, too!)
3. Breakfast Cereal
Like bread, breakfast cereal is also fortified with folate during processing. If you're looking to up your folate intake, a serving of most breakfast cereals will deliver 100 mcg, 17% of a pregnant woman's daily needs, and 25% of the needs of other adults. Opt for one that's high in fiber and low in sugar, and pair it with a cup of low-fat milk for an additional 12 mcg of folate.
4. Black-Eyed Peas
"Black-eyed peas, also known as cowpeas, are delicious little legumes that can be enjoyed hot or cold," says Devje. They've got 105 mcg of folate per half-cup (17% of the RDA for pregnant women, 26% for other adults), and are super versatile. " I relish them in a warm and hearty curry that's seasoned with sumptuous spices and finished with a squeeze of tart lemon and fresh cilantro," Devje says.
Pictured Recipe: Garlic-Parmesan Asparagus
Asparagus is a folate powerhouse, with 89 mcg in just four spears. That's 15% of your needs if you're pregnant, and 22% if you're not. "Roasting veggies on a sheet pan is a simple method we use as a busy family to eat more vegetables," Devje says. "Plus, roasting is a great way to highlight the natural sweetness of vegetables. Simply coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees until cooked." You'll also get a dose of potassium, thiamin, vitamin A and vitamin C.
6. Brussels Sprouts
In colder months, swap out asparagus for earthy Brussels sprouts. They've got 78 mcg of folate per half-cup, which means that pregnant women will get 13% of their daily requirement and other adults will get 20%. (And let's be real: When Brussels sprouts are cooked properly, who eats just half a cup at a time?) "These cruciferous vegetables also contain fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants," Devje says. She chops them up and uses them raw in salads, but you can also roast them until they're browned and crispy around the edges.
7. White Rice
Believe it or not, white rice is also fortified with folate. It has 15% (90 mcg) of your daily needs if you're pregnant, and 22% if you're not. Because white rice lacks the level of fiber and other nutrients found in brown rice and other whole grains, it's a good idea to eat it alongside a pile of fiber-rich vegetables. Luckily, we have plenty of veggie-packed stir-fry recipes that perfectly fit the bill.
If you need yet another reason to enjoy avocado every single day, know that a half-cup (sliced) will deliver 59 mcg of folate—10% of your daily needs if you're pregnant, and 15% if you're not. You probably have plenty of ideas for how to use this incredible fruit, which is also rich in potassium, fiber and unsaturated fat.
9. Green Peas
Green peas are a staple for a reason. They're easy to buy frozen, prep quickly, are versatile and are kid-friendly. They're also a great source of folate, with 47 mcg per half-cup serving. (That's 8% of your daily goal if you're pregnant and 12% if you're not.) The starchy green veggies are also high in zinc and other antioxidants, and can be tossed into any number of recipes, from pasta to salad to stew.
Crab cake lovers, rejoice. This sweet shellfish packs 39 mcg of folate in 3 ounces, which is 9% of what most adults need daily. It's also great for pregnant women (provided the smell isn't off-putting), because it's got 6% of your folate needs and is served fully cooked, making it safe to eat. It's also a great source of protein, vitamin B12 and selenium.