Posts Tagged ‘fortified grains’

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Anifa is an 18-month-old girl who was born with spina bifida, a serious birth defect of the spine. Like many children with spina bifida, Anifa is paralyzed and has no bowel or bladder control. She lives with her family in a village in Nigeria where there is no primary health center to help her. As a result, Anifa could not have surgery to close the opening in her spine until she was nine months old. During this time, her spinal cord was exposed and without protection. In the U.S., the first surgery for a baby born with spina bifida usually takes place within the first 24 hours of life to avoid complications or death. But Anifa had no choice but to wait.

In the United States, children born with spina bifida often live long and productive lives, even though they face many challenges. In many other countries, however, the outlook for children like Anifa is not as positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first began researching folic acid’s role in preventing birth defects in the early 1980s. Early studies found the risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect (NTD), such as spina bifida, was reduced if the mother had taken folic acid before and during early pregnancy. As a result, U.S. Public Health Service released the 1992 recommendation that all women who could become pregnant should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Women can get folic acid in three ways: diet, vitamin supplements, and flour fortification. Experts agreed that getting 400 mcg of folic acid from naturally-occurring food sources alone was impractical—women would have to eat a lot of folate-rich foods which are expensive and not readily available in many communities.

In January 1998, in response to requests from the CDC and its collaborators, including the March of Dimes, the FDA mandated fortification of cereal grain products labeled as enriched in the United States. “At that point, we had what we thought was the best possible coverage of women of child-bearing age to get folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects,” says former CDC scientist Joe Mulinare. With a 36 percent reduction in the rates of neural tube defects by the end of 2006, folic acid fortification was recently named one of the Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the United States.

Folic Acid Awareness Week is January 6-12th, 2013. We are honored to have this guest post from the CDC. Author: Christina Kilgo, MA, Health Communication Specialist and SciMetrika contractor for CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Folic acid in fortified grains

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

grainsOf the four million women who give birth in the US each year, some 3,000 babies are born with neural tube defects, which include certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is a critical element needed for proper spinal cord development during the first three weeks of pregnancy. Because this is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, it’s important for women of child-bearing age to follow a healthy lifestyle and to include folic acid as part of their diet.

The Grain Foods Foundation has joined with the March of Dimes to remind all women of child-bearing age of the important role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects. Enriched breads – and many other grains such as rice, tortillas, pasta and cereal – are important sources of folic acid. 

• White flour is enriched with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin), as well as iron, and is fortified with the B vitamin folic acid.
• Enriched flour contains two times as much folic acid as its whole grain counterpart – making enriched grains the largest source of folic acid in the diets of most Americans. Whole grain products, with the exception of some breakfast cereals, are not fortified with folic acid.
• Since the FDA required fortification of enriched grains, the number of babies born in the U.S. with neural-tube birth defects has declined by 34 percent in non-Hispanic whites, and by 36 percent among Hispanics.

Grain foods are a delicious and nutrient-dense component of a healthy diet and have been shown to help with weight maintenance. In fact, people who consume a medium-to-high percentage of carbohydrates in their diet have a reduced risk for obesity. This is important for women of childbearing age as obese women who are pregnant have a significantly higher risk of needing a Cesarean section delivery, delivering too early, developing pre-eclampsia, and having an exceptionally large baby. They also face double the risk of stillbirth and neonatal death.

For a balanced diet, the USDA recommends at least six one-ounce servings of grains daily. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal and even tortillas and pretzels are examples of grain foods.

Folic acid awareness – pay attention!

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

grains-and-veggiesNot enough American women understand that consuming the B vitamin folic acid every day can help prevent serious birth defects and that they should take it before they become pregnant. Did you?

Studies show that if all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of all birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, could be prevented.  The most recent March of Dimes survey revealed that only 28 percent of women of childbearing age knew folic acid can prevent birth defects and only 11 said they knew that folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy.  Wow, those are really low numbers for something so important!

This January, as part of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, we’re trying to remind all women of child-bearing age of this really important role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects. Daily consumption of the B vitamin folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial because NTDs can occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

We urge all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.  Bread, crackers, bagels, pasta, pretzels and tortillas made from fortified, enriched white flour are popular and important sources of folic acid.  In fact, enriched grain products have been fortified with twice the amount of folic acid found in whole grain products. Other good sources are leafy green veggies like spinach and kale, dried beans, legumes, oranges and orange juice.  And you’ll find it in a daily multivitamin, too.

Taking folic acid as part of your daily routine before, during and after pregnancy is a great New Year’s resolution!