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Eating Foods Enriched in Folic Acid Before Pregnancy May Help Prevent Birth Defects

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The Grain Foods Foundation Reminds Women about the Importance of Folic Acid During Birth Defects Prevention Month

JANUARY 2013 – RIDGWAY, Colo. – January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and the Grain Foods Foundation is partnering with the March of Dimes to remind women about the important role that enriched grains play in helping to prevent birth defects. About 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year. Yet some birth defects may be prevented by incorporating folic acid rich foods, like enriched grains, into one’s diet before getting pregnant. Folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three to four weeks of a pregnancy, often before a women even knows she is pregnant. Foods made from enriched white flour (especially bread) contain important B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin) and folic acid, which are essential in helping reduce the risk of a baby born with a birth defect.

“One of our primary goals is to educate consumers about the important nutrition benefits of bread and grains,” said Judi Adams, MS, RD, president of the Grain Foods Foundation. “In particular, it is important for women in particular to understand that enriched grains are a primary source of folic acid, which is critical during their childbearing years.”

“We are working together with the Grain Foods Foundation to increase awareness of the importance of folic acid in a woman’s diet to reduce the risk of babies born with neural tube defects,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes. “Folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three to four weeks of pregnancy, often before women even know they are pregnant. That is why it is important that all women of childbearing age take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid and have sufficient amounts of folic acid in their diets.”

Between 1995 and 2002 neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida, have declined by 36 percent in Hispanics and 34 percent in non-Hispanic whites. Yet Hispanic women are significantly more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have children born with these serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid fortification of enriched grains was mandated in the United States in 1998 and since then products (like bread, crackers, bagels, pasta and tortillas) made from enriched white flour have been important for growing fetal development. In fact, enriched grains have been fortified with twice the amount of folic acid found in whole grain products.

“Most women know that they should eat a healthy diet during pregnancy, but diet is equally important pre-pregnancy,” explained Bruce Young, MD, Ob/Gyn and member of the Grain Foods Foundation clinical advisory board. “A woman’s diet and lifestyle throughout her childbearing years have a significant impact on her unborn child. I recommend to my patients of childbearing age that they follow a sensible diet (which incorporates foods from all foods groups) and exercise.”

In addition to Birth Defects Prevention Month, January marks Folic Acid Awareness week (January 8 to 14, 2007). Both initiatives share a common goal of increasing awareness for the importance of folic acid consumption as part of a healthy diet.

About the March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a new campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth. Visit the March of Dimes website at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish Web site at nacersano.org.

About the Grain Foods Foundation
The Grain Foods Foundation, a joint venture of members of the milling and baking industries formed in 2004, is dedicated to advancing the public’s understanding of the beneficial role grain-based foods play in the human diet. Directed by a board of trustees, the Foundation is funded through voluntary donations from private grain-based food companies and is supplemented by industry associations. For more information about the Grain Foods Foundation, visit www.grainpower.org.