Folate intakes drop

Americans are not consuming enough folic acid, a B vitamin that may prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain (i.e., neural tube defects) and may also protect against heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report published in the November 2006 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration mandated folic acid fortification of U.S. grain products such as enriched white rice in 1998 to help prevent birth defects, intake among Americans still falls short with less than 50% of women of child-bearing age and less than 5% of those 65 and older consuming the FDA-recommended 400 micrograms (mcg) per day.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, many serious birth defects can be prevented by consuming folic acid before and during pregnancy. In fact, they report that the incidence of neural tube defects has decreased by 26 percent since fortification began in 1998. As a good source of folic acid, enriched white rice is the perfect food choices for women of child-bearing age. A half-cup serving of cooked rice contains approximately 46 mcg, or 11.5 percent, of the 400 mcg Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folic acid. In addition, rice partners well with other folic acid-rich foods like spinach, asparagus and beans to help increase folic acid intake even further.

MyPyramid and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that 45-65 percent of calories come from carbohydrate foods, like rice. Enriched white rice, for example, is low in calories, fat free and is a good source of iron. Brown rice is a whole grain with extra fiber and trace minerals like copper and selenium. In addition to being the perfect partner to many other healthy foods, like vegetables and beans, rice is gluten free and non-allergenic, so it’s the ideal food choice for adults and children with allergies to gluten. Plus, rice is low-cost and easy to prepare. And now, with research showing additional health benefits for folic acid, there are even more reasons to eat rice.

According to a report in the October 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, folic acid deficiency has been associated with a higher risk of early miscarriage among women with low blood levels of the folic acid vitamin than women who had adequate folic acid levels. More recent research points to other health benefits for folic acid, including:

  • High dietary folic acid intake may be associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Diets high in folic acid may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dietary folic acid intake may be associated with reduced risk of ovarian cancer, especially among women who consume alcohol.
  • Adolescents can lower levels of a marker for cardiovascular disease (CVD) by boosting their intake of folic acid from enriched grain products.

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