Of the four million women who give birth in the US each year, some 3,000 babies are born with neural tube defects, which include certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is a critical element needed for proper spinal cord development during the first three weeks of pregnancy. Because this is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, it’s important for women of child-bearing age to follow a healthy lifestyle and to include folic acid as part of their diet.
The Grain Foods Foundation has joined with the March of Dimes to remind all women of child-bearing age of the important role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects. Enriched breads – and many other grains such as rice, tortillas, pasta and cereal – are important sources of folic acid.
• White flour is enriched with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin), as well as iron, and is fortified with the B vitamin folic acid.
• Enriched flour contains two times as much folic acid as its whole grain counterpart – making enriched grains the largest source of folic acid in the diets of most Americans. Whole grain products, with the exception of some breakfast cereals, are not fortified with folic acid.
• Since the FDA required fortification of enriched grains, the number of babies born in the U.S. with neural-tube birth defects has declined by 34 percent in non-Hispanic whites, and by 36 percent among Hispanics.
Grain foods are a delicious and nutrient-dense component of a healthy diet and have been shown to help with weight maintenance. In fact, people who consume a medium-to-high percentage of carbohydrates in their diet have a reduced risk for obesity. This is important for women of childbearing age as obese women who are pregnant have a significantly higher risk of needing a Cesarean section delivery, delivering too early, developing pre-eclampsia, and having an exceptionally large baby. They also face double the risk of stillbirth and neonatal death.
For a balanced diet, the USDA recommends at least six one-ounce servings of grains daily. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal and even tortillas and pretzels are examples of grain foods.