Folic acid needed for healthy diet

The start of a healthy life begins long before birth, since a woman’s nutritional intake before pregnancy’even before conception’affects her unborn child’s physical development. That’s why it’s so important that women of child-bearing years make sure they have enough folic acid in their diets, nutritional experts say. In addition to a healthy diet, the right amount of a B vitamin called folic acid can help lessen a womans’s chances of having a child born with neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, according to Drs. Jenna Anding and Sharon Robinson, Texas Agricultural Extension Service food and nutrition specialists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a 19 percent decrease in incidents of neural tube defects since some items in the U.S. food supply have been fortified with folic acid. Folic acid’called folate when it occurs naturally in foods’is part of the B vitamin complex. Folate can be found in leafy, green vegetables, legumes and orange juice. However, Anding added, folic acid’which is the synthetic form such as vitamin tablets and fortified grain projects’is absorbed by the body better than naturally-occurring folate. “We know folic acid and folate are needed to help the body cells grow and reproduce,” Anding said. “For us to develop, we need folic acid. It helps DNA do its job.” To help more women learn how a healthy diet including folic acid can help their children be born healthier, Anding and Robinson developed an extensive and comprehensive nutrition education project, “in a collaborative effort with Texas A&M University Health Science Center,” Anding said. The project, named Celebrando los Ninos, is being funded by Houston Endowment Inc., a philanthropic organization that supports the community through grants and charitable contributions. According to Robinson, the project’s goals are: “To identify barriers to folic acid consumption, develop and test culturally sensitive nutrition educational materials, and train professional and lay educators to facilitate the delivery of nutrition education programs to the Hispanic community in the Texas Colonias.” “Our goal is to develop educational materials to teach women of child-bearing years’and we are targeting women in the colonias’an awareness of and the importance of folic acid,” Anding said. The collaboration was established earlier this year and is currently under way in a pilot program in Hildago and Cameron counties, because these counties have experienced higher rates of neural tube defects than other counties, the specialists said. The Texas Department of Health-Neural Tube Defect Surveillance and Intervention project is investigating possible causes of these higher rates, Anding and Robinson said. Until the causes can be identified and rectified, the best prevention is a healthy diet, which includes at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Because folic acid helps lower the risk of some neural tube defects which affect the brain and spine, and because the brain and spine are developed during the first few weeks of pregnancy’often before the women realizes she is pregnant'”any woman who could get pregnant would benefit from folic acid,” Anding pointed out. “And the CDC estimates that 50 percent of all pregnancies are not planned,” she added. “We want women to consume a healthy diet’follow the food guide pyramid'(but the) folate you get through food, the body doesn’t absorb as well as the synthetic version,” Anding said. Which is why some foods have been fortified with folic acid. Information from the CDC stated: “In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration, authorized the addition of folic acid to enriched grain products, which became mandatory in 1998. Fortification is estimated to provide an additional 100 micrograms of folic acid to the diet of reproductive-aged women, which helps more women attain the necessary 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.” Robinson listed enriched flour, cornmeal, rice, grits and most breakfast cereals as some of these grain products that have been fortified with folic acid. “The bottom line is: We don’t know (what causes these particular birth defects). But we do know that supplementing the diet with folic acid could reduce your risk of having a child with neural tube defects by as much as 70 percent,” Anding said. Experts have estimated the cost of raising a child with a neural tube defect to be in excess of $260,000, Anding said. “If one case is prevented, the program has paid for itself.”

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