You may already know how important it is for women to get enough folic acid before conception; this B vitamin dramatically reduces the odds of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
But folic acid also matters for men: The first study to look at the effects of a father’s diet on chromosomal abnormalities in sperm has shown that folate, the form of the vitamin that’s in food (folic acid is the synthetic version) may be crucial for dads-to-be, too. We already know that a poor diet may affect conception by impairing sperm count and motility (how well sperm move), says Suzanne Young, M.P.H., a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and coordinator of the study. But the new research showed that men who consumed high levels of folate—more than 700 micrograms (mcg) per day—had up to 30 percent fewer occurrences of a specific chromosomal defect where the sperm has extra or missing chromosomes. “These abnormalities would cause either miscarriages or children with genetic problems if the sperm fertilized an egg,” explains Young, who also found that the more folate a man got, the lower the levels of the defect. Since folate and folic acid aren’t stored in the body—that’s why it’s important for you and your partner to get the recommended 400 mcg every day—it’s virtually impossible to overdose on it. And it’s easy to get enough since many foods, especially cereals and breads, are fortified with folic acid. Spinach, black beans, oranges, and strawberries naturally contain good amounts of folate.