Introducing Vitamin B9

An Important Nutrient for Conception and Pregnancy

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Many women who are planning or have already had a baby will have heard about the importance of folic acid before conception and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Vitamin B9, as known as folate, describes a group of derivatives of pteryl glutamic acid and folic acid is the synthetic form of folate used in supplements and for food fortification.

There is conclusive evidence that adequate folic acid intake helps to prevent neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in babies. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age who are planning a pregnancy take a daily supplement as it is difficult to achieve through diet alone.

Folate works together with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells. It is also necessary for normal cell division, the normal structure of the nervous system and specifically in the development of the neural tube (which develops into the spinal cord and skull) in the embryo. Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are involved with the maintenance of normal blood homocysteine levels. The amino acid homocysteine is an intermediate in folate metabolism and evidence suggests that raised blood homocysteine (hyperhomocysteinemia) is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The Primary Sources of Folate

The most common sources of vitamin B9 is dark green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, asparagus, wheat germ, yeast, peanuts, oranges, and strawberries. Animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese and liver also contain vitamin B. 

Bioavailability of Folate

Folic acid from supplements is 100% bioavailable, if taken without food, and 85% bioavailable when taken with food. Naturally occurring folates in food are 50% bioavailable, but the natural forms are highly unstable. Folate is easily destroyed by heat and oxygen.

Risks Related to Inadequate Intake of Folate

Individuals with diets that lack sufficient quantity and variety of green leafy vegetables and legumes are at risk for inadequate folate intake. Folate requirements are increased during pregnancy, especially in the first couple of weeks of gestation. Folate deficiency is highly associated with the risk for neural tube defects in the growing fetus. Women of child-bearing age and pregnant women are advised to meet folate requirements using a combination of natural foods (folate forms) and fortified foods or supplements (folic acid). In many western countries, governments have mandated flours to be fortified with folate. Because folate is critical for cell growth and repair, especially for cells with a short life span, such as cells in the mouth and digestive tract, visible signs of folate deficiency include digestive problems. Other symptoms are tiredness, loss of appetite, fewer but larger red blood cells (megaloblastic or macrocytic anemia), and neurological problems.

Find more information on vitamins and micronutrient deficiencies though our partner, Vitamin Angels or download our complete vitamin and mineral guide here.

To increase your vitamin B9 intake in your next meal, try this delicious recipe:

Red Lentil and Chorizo Soup*

Ingredients
1 tbsp, olive oil , plus extra for drizzling
200g cooking chorizo, peeled and diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
pinch of cumin seeds
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika, plus extra for sprinkling
pinch of golden caster sugar
small splash red wine vinegar
250g red lentil
2 x 400g cans chopped tomato
850ml chicken stock
plain yogurt, to serve

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the chorizo and cook until crisp and it has released its oils. Remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl, leaving the fat in the pan. Fry the onion, carrots and cumin seeds for 10 mins until soft and glistening, then add the garlic and fry for 1 min more. Scatter over the paprika and sugar, cook for 1 min, then splash in the vinegar. Simmer for a moment, then stir in the lentils, and pour over the tomatoes and chicken stock.

Give it a good stir, then simmer for 30 mins or until the lentils are tender. Blitz with a hand blender until smooth-ish but still chunky. Can be made several days ahead or frozen for 6 months at this point. Serve in bowls, drizzled with yogurt and olive oil, scattered with the chorizo and a sprinkling of paprika.

*Adapted from BBC Good Food

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