Including folic acid in your diet is a key strategy for optimal health, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. There is an annual National Folic Acid Awareness week in early January during which the increased intake of folic acid is promoted to reduce neural tube defect.
Sponsored by the National Council on Folic Acid (NCFA), the observance stresses that folic acid is a B vitamin necessary for proper cell growth. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from a multivitamin and by eating fortified grains, in addition to a variety of foods.
Reames says cooked dry beans and peas, oranges and orange juice, deep green leafy vegetables like spinach and mustard greens and folic acid-fortified grain products are good sources of the vitamin.
In particular, women of childbearing age should take folic acid to help prevent a pregnancy affected by a neural tube birth defect (NTD), a serious birth defect of the brain and spine. Spina bifida, the most common NTD, is the leading cause of childhood paralysis and presents lifelong challenges for affected families.
Research has shown that if adequate amounts of folic acid are consumed before pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects can be prevented.
NCFA chairwoman Adriane K. Griffen said, "Considering that half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it is especially important that all women of childbearing age take folic acid daily to help prevent NTDs – even before they are thinking of becoming pregnant."
Reames adds that emerging research shows that folic acid may reduce the risk of birth defects, such as cleft lip, cleft palate and heart defects, the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and colon, cervical and breast cancer. Men’s cell growth also can benefit from consuming the B vitamin.
For more information about folic acid and National Folic Acid Awareness Week, visit the Web site of the National Council on Folic Acid.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture