January 7-13 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week.
Folic acid or folate has many health benefits. The benefits include reducing blood vessel plaque which will reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Another benefit is reducing the risk of cervical and colon cancer. Also folic acid can prevent birth defects.
The birth defects that folic acid can prevent include neural tube defects such as spina bifida where the baby’s spinal cord comes through the back or anencephaly where part of the brain and skull is missing, cleft lip and palate and sporadic congenital heart defects.
Birth defects can occur in the first 30 days of the pregnancy. If planning to become pregnant, it is recommended to take a 400 mcg folic acid supplement daily and eat foods high in folate for three months before conceiving. Many women may not be aware of the pregnancy until after 30 days. To prevent birth defects, it is recommended that women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement daily and eat foods high in folate, even if not planning to become pregnant.
Foods high in folate include leafy vegetables, beans and orange juice. Foods enriched with folic acid include grains and flour, cereals and pasta.
The WIC (women, infant and children) program provides foods high in folate to pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women, and to children up to age 5. The benefits can include these high folate/folic acid items: up to 36 ounces of fortified cereal, up to 32 ounces fortified bread or pasta, up to $11 fruit and vegetables, which can include leafy green vegetables if desired, up to 32 ounces of dried beans or 128 ounces of canned beans, up to 128 ounces of bottled juice or 3 cans of frozen concentrated juice, which can include orange juice if desired.
If you are pregnant or have a child under age 5, call the Meigs County Women Infant and Children Program (WIC) at 740-992-0392 to see if you are eligible for supplemental foods and nutrition education for you or your child.
Wendy McGee, RD, LD, is a WIC Health Professional at the Meigs County Health Department.