Each 8,5 g serving of Marmite provides you with 55% of your recommended daily allowance of folic acid, essential for the healthy development of your baby’s brain and spine.
One of the B vitamins, folic acid is of the utmost importance during pregnancy, and women are generally advised to start taking additional folic acid in the months before they fall pregnant. Oral contraceptives deplete this vitamin, so if you’ve been taking these contraceptives before deciding to fall pregnant, it is even more essential to build up your reserves.
Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is crucial in the development of DNA, and therefore plays an important part in cell growth and development as well as tissue formation. Getting enough folic acid is particularly important for the rapid cell growth of the placenta and the developing foetus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, up to 70% of all neural tube defects, i.e. malformations of the brain and spine, could be prevented if every woman of childbearing age took the right amount of folic acid daily. If the neural tubes, which eventually become a baby’s spinal cord and brain, don’t develop properly in early pregnancy it can lead to defects including spina bifida, which is an incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column; anencephaly, the severe underdevelopment of the brain; and encephalocele, the protrusion of brain tissue through an abnormal opening in the skull.
The protective effect of folic acid during pregnancy goes further than neural tube defects. The SA Cleft Lip and Palate Society gives one cause for these defects as "folic acid deficiency in the mother at the time of conception and during early pregnancy". And studies being done by researchers funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada suggest that folic acid may play a role in a baby’s heart development.
In addition to protecting your baby from birth defects, folic acid could also protect your own health as it is vital in the formation of red blood cells and for protein metabolism, and might lower the risks of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers.
According to the Florida Folic Acid Coalition, research has not definitively confirmed that folic acid can reduce the incidences of these serious diseases, yet studies conducted thus far have shown very promising results.
Remember that folic acid is water soluble, so it can’t be stored in the body. This means that it should regularly form part of your diet. Apart from the brewer’s yeast in Marmite, other sources of folic acid include leafy green vegetables, asparagus, fruit like oranges, strawberries and papaya, legumes and certain fortified cereal and bread products.
Be sure to talk to your health services provider about compiling a balanced pregnancy diet!