MANHATTAN, Kan. — Because January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, we want to raise awareness of the benefits of consuming folic acid, especially during a woman’s childbearing years. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 40 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, so ensuring your diet has a steady supply of folic acid is important, no matter whether you are trying to have a child or not.
Birth defects in the spine and brain can occur in the very early stages of conception, making it important for women to consume a healthy dose of folic acid each day, especially while trying to conceive, to help prevent the possibility of that happening. Spina bifida is a neural tube birth defect, which develops within the first month of a pregnancy – often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
By eating enriched breads and other grain products, you’re not only consuming a beneficial amount of folic acid, but you’re also lowering your chances of giving birth to a child with a birth defect.
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that enriched grain foods be fortified with folic acid. That means 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 required fortification is helping us, and our babies, be healthier. Neural tube defects were reduced by 36 percent in just five years as the result of fortification, and that trend is continuing. That’s one reason the Centers for Disease Control recognized flour fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.
Both whole and enriched grains offer health benefits. In addition to folic acid, enriched grains are fortified with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin) and iron. Whole grains are important sources of antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and numerous other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
The Spina Bifida Association (SBA) and the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) play a major role in educating women about the benefits of folic acid. Both groups promote consuming folic acid as part of your everyday diet for a healthy lifestyle and to prevent birth defects like spina bifida in the future.
For more information about folic acid and birth defects, visit the Spina Bifida Association and Grain Foods Foundation websites.
— Hannah Schlapp, Kansas Wheat Communications Intern
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