Folic Acid in American Women’s Diets is Declining

An analysis by the USA Rice Federation of new research released this week from the CDC shows that for the first time since the mandatory folic acid fortification of enriched grains such as white rice, flour, breads and cereals in 1998, folate status among women is declining.

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An analysis by the USA Rice Federation of new research released this week from the CDC shows that for the first time since the mandatory folic acid fortification of enriched grains such as white rice, flour, breads and cereals in 1998, folate status among women is declining.  According to the data, blood folate levels decreased 16 percent from 1999--2000 to 2003-04 and red blood cell (RBC) folate concentrations decreased 8 percent  during the same four-year period among nonpregnant women of childbearing age.  After seeing ongoing increases in intake of this B-vitamin essential for healthy pregnancies among this group following the inception fortification program, this is an alarming discovery.  
 
This is alarming because we know that many serious birth defects can be prevented by consuming folic acid before and during pregnancy.  In fact, the recent past, CDC has reported a 26 percent decrease in the incidence of neural tube defects since fortification began in 1998.  (The current report does not include data about the incidence of birth defects during this recent period of decline in folic acid intake.)
 
According to the CDC report, released this week in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), trends that also occurred during the period of decline, and which may contribute to the findings, include low-carb dieting and an increase in consumption of whole grains, which are generally not fortified and contain less folic acid than enriched grains.   
It’s good news that Americans have gotten away from low-carb dieting in favor of a more balanced eating approach and it’s good news that Americans are increasing their consumption of whole grains.  However, it is equally important that they continue to include healthy enriched grains as part of a balanced diet.  In fact, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people consume 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole grain products per day, with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products.  Enriched white rice, for example, is low in calories, fat-free and is a good source of folic acid and iron, while brown rice is a whole grain with extra fiber and trace minerals like copper and selenium.
 
During National Birth Defect Prevention Month in January, and throughout the year, it is important for nutrition educators to support the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health groups in continued efforts to raise awareness of the importance of folic acid, essential for healthy pregnancies and possibly beneficial to heart health as well. 
 
For the the full CDC report, go to http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5551a2.htm?s_cid=mm5551a2_eFor information about how rice and other enriched grains fit into a healthy diet and help Americans reach folic acid consumption goals, please visit www.usarice.com.
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