Posted January 15, 2015
As part of Healthy Baby Month and National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the Grain Foods Foundation has partnered with the Spina Bifida Association to spread the word about the important role folic acid in the diet plays in helping protect unborn children. This is especially important in early weeks of pregnancy when the woman may not know she is pregnant but when neural tube defects, like spina bifida, develop.
Grain Foods Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member and registered dietician Sylvia Melendez-Klinger explained, “Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps cells grow and develop, which is why it’s so important for a healthy pregnancy and preventing spina bifida. The single biggest step a woman can take is to prevent spina bifida from occurring is consuming enough folic acid before getting pregnant.”
According to Grains for Your Brain, “if women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented.”
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that enriched grain foods be fortified with folic acid, meaning folic acid is added to flour as part of the milling process. Today, enriched grains – including white bread, tortillas, pasta and cereal – have twice the folic acid as whole grains and are the top source of folic acid for women of child-bearing age. Sadly, however, a recent Grain Foods Foundation survey showed 51 percent of Americans are unaware of this important health benefit.
Despite low awareness, the prevalence of neural tube defects was reduced by 36 percent in just five years as the result of fortification and the trend continues downward. That is why the Centers for Disease Control named flour fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.
On a final note, as forty percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, ensuring the diet has a steady supply of folic acid is important, no matter whether a woman is trying to have a child or not.
According to the Spina Bifida Association and the Grain Foods Foundation, “Expectant mothers, even those who don’t know it yet, can help protect their babies simply be eating the foods they love.”
For more information, check out Grains for Your Brain.
By Julia Debes