Folate, a water-soluble B-group vitamin, is widely accepted to be a crucial nutrient for women planning pregnancy. Studies have shown that folate can significantly protect against the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs, such as Spina bifida) in newborn babies if women are supplemented with folic acid prior to conception, and up to the first 28 days of the pregnancy.
Pregnancy is not the only time when folate has a role to play in optimal health. Marginal folate deficiency is also associated with the elevated risk of vascular diseases and stroke, and possibly linked to increased risk of certain cancers, notably colon, and Alzheimer's disease in the elderly.
A group of scientists led by Paul Finglas, Nutrition & Consumer Science Division, Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK are currently working on a project called "Folate: from Food to Functionality and Optimal Health". The aim of the project is to bring together commercial and consumer interests to provide folate-rich and enriched foods with specified benefits for optimal function and health. According to a recent statement by the group, work will be carried out to develop effective, sustainable, ethically-acceptable dietary strategies for folate-rich foods and folate-enriched products to meet the range of folates indicated to be protective for human health.
Dietary sources rich in folate include leafy vegetables, fruits and berries, beans, whole grain products and liver.