a new study suggests that getting enough folate BEFORE conception (as well as after) might decrease the risk that your baby will develop autism. The importance of perinatal nutrition doesn't begin at conception!
As I've noted before, synthetic folic acid can be dangerous, so if you're choosing the supplement route, make sure you're getting true folate. Of course, if you want to increase your folate intake naturally, you can always just eat more greens and beans - two of the foods that are richest in this helpful vitamin.
Of course, during pregnancy, nutrient requirements for many vitamins & minerals increase - especially for folate - and we want to make sure our babies get what they need for proper development. So, do you really need a prenatal vitamin?
Theoretically, we should be able to get all our nutrition from our food. That is how our ancestors survived & thrived. In today's world, however, industrial farming practices strip the soil of its vital nutrients, leaving us with food that is less nutritious than the food our ancestors used to eat.
One option is to eat organic produce to ensure you're getting those nutrients. According to the Organic Consumers Association, organic farming practices result in food that is 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamin and mineral content. The Rodale Institute's 30-year Farming Systems Trial concurs that healthy soil (measured by carbon content) is better equipped to "hold onto" vital nutrients for the plants. Folate food sources include leafy greens (think: foliage), beans & lentils, and liver(1).
Attempting to get vitamins through your diet is a tricky proposition. You must be willing to commit to a varied diet that is heavy on the veggies. You can't "forget" to eat or skip lunch to work on that proposal. And organic food ain't cheap (though, if money is a concern, I highly recommend CSA boxes, which bring local organic produce to your door at less-than-retail prices. Find a CSA near you here). Stress or illness can also deplete nutrients, so in these situations, you'll need to eat more to replenish your stores.
In the US, popping pills to solve our problems is practically a national pastime, so many people may opt for the ease of a multivitamin. This, too, poses a challenge - which multivitamin should you select? Many drugstore brands use synthetic forms which aren't as absorbable as the nutrients found in food. In addition, some vitamins denature over time with exposure to air, light or heat, so the dosage listed on the bottle may not end up being what you receive. The safest bet is to use a whole foods multivitamin, but I haven't found one yet that provides adequate amounts of the necessary vitamins in absorbable forms. One that comes close is Designs For Health's Prenatal Pro capsules. Designs for Health is one of the only companies using folate instead of folic acid. Many health professionals consider these interchangeable, but there is an important distinction. Folate occurs naturally in food, while folic acid is synthetic and may increase your odds of developing cancer(2). This product is only available through licensed providers, so visit my store to purchase it.
Bottom line: If you're really, really good, you may be able to fulfill your nutritional needs through organic food without a multivitamin. For most of us, however, a combination of a healthy diet and an effective, absorbable, whole-food-based prenatal vitamin is probably a smart idea.