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Health & Pregnancy

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Folic Acid Strikes Again


"[This study] is showing that folic acid can reduce the risk of those birth defects," says Lynne B. Bailey, PhD. "The advice would certainly be to stop taking these medications, but if the pregnancy is not planned ... this gives you more reason to adhere to the recommendations [to take folic acid]." Bailey is a professor of human nutrition at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that women get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, or folate, per day to prevent birth defects, but the CDC says most women only get about half that amount on a regular basis. In addition to getting folate through prenatal and multivitamins, another way to boost intake of folic acid is from the plate. Some good sources include:

  • Most breakfast cereals
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Dried beans
  • Peanuts
  • Chick peas
  • Wheat germ
  • Whole-grain breads

The best strategy is a combination of a supplement containing folic acid and varying the diet to include more folate-rich foods, says Bailey. In 1998, the FDA began requiring that certain foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas be enriched with folate after studies proved the vitamin significantly reduced the risk of birth defects. A few ready-to-eat cereals contain the entire daily requirement for folate in just one serving.

Bailey says there are reasons other than preventing birth defects to make sure you get enough folic acid. "The folate-rich food sources are also good sources of other nutrients that are considered heart-healthy," she says. "Folate is also associated with reducing a risk factor for heart disease. If you change your diet and the diet of your family to include more folate-rich food you're also potentially reducing your risk of heart disease and possibly even cancer."

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