Top | Sift

Falling folates fuel concern

(article, James Berry)

Declining folate levels in young American women may lead to an increase of birth defects in their children, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Folate, aka folic acid, is a B vitamin; it increased in women during the last decade thanks to a campaign to fortify breads, cereals, and other products that use enriched flour. These efforts sprang from a long-held recognition of the part folate levels play in birth defects of the spine and brain and have led to a slide in the number of such neural-tube defects.

The CDC report, summarized in an Associated Press article, suggests that falling levels of folates will lead to increasing numbers of birth defects. The dip in folates may be linked to rising obesity rates, since obesity can inhibit folate metabolism. The recent low-carb craze may also have kept women from eating bread products containing folate-enriched flour. More chilling is the question of whether increased consumption of natural whole-grain breads made without enriched flour might contribute to the decrease in folate levels.

Folate-rich foods include lentils; garbanzo, black, and pinto beans; spinach; oranges and orange juice; and other vegetables (collard greens, broccoli, peas, parsnips). Folate is most efficiently metabolized when it's in the form of folic acid, which is added to enriched flour and available in high doses in prenatal vitamins; such vitamins are especially recommended prior to and during pregnancy.