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Jan. 4 through 10 is Folic Acid Awareness Week and public health officials are encouraging all women of childbearing age to make sure they include enough folic acid in their diet.
“Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth,” said Supervising Public Health Nutritionist Irene Gil. She works with the Department of Health & Human Services Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program. “If taken before and during early pregnancy, folic acid can prevent from 50 to 70 percent of some forms of serious birth defects,” she said.Neural tube defects occur very early in the pregnancy, often even before the woman knows she is pregnant. This is why it is important for women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid. This can be done by taking a multivitamin and eating foods that are fortified with folic acid, such as fortified cereals, grains and breads.
It is also important to eat a variety of foods as part of a healthy diet and include foods rich in naturally occurring folate such as lentils and leafy green vegetables.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between 15 and 45 years of age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to prevent common and serious birth defects.
According to the CDC, all enriched cereals and grain products in the U.S. are fortified with the B-vitamin folic acid. Yet only one-third of U.S. women of childbearing age consume the recommended amount from their diet.
A Fact Sheet on folic acid can be found at the National Birth Defects Prevention Network at nbdpn.org/faaw2015.php.
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