Flour in the UK is set to get an upgrade after successful campaigning by medical experts to fortify it with folic acid, in a bid to reduce the number of babies born with birth defects.
The policy, which will be introduced within weeks according to The Guardian, will mean that mums eating bread or other supermarket produce made with flour, will be increasing their intake without having to make a conscious effort.
Advisers argued that this was a necessary move (not least because 80 other countries already do it) because having enough folic acid during pregnancy reduces the risk of a ‘neural tube defect’ by up to 70 per cent.
Neural tube defects include spina bifida and anencephaly, a fatal condition in which the foetus develops without a portion of the brain, skull and scalp and dies in the womb or shortly after birth.
Lesley Gilchrist, independent midwife at Bespoke Birthing Midwifery Practice previously told HuffPost UK that folic acid in flour would be a good move: “I think this is a good idea because for unplanned pregnancies, women will not have much folic acid in their system.”
Folic acid plays such a major role in reducing risk that a study published in 2015 estimated 2,000 fewer babies in Britain would have been born with an NTD between 1998 and 2015 if the government had introduced the fortification of flour earlier.
What foods contain folic acid?
Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include (but are not limited to) - broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and fortified breakfast cereals.
Liver is also a good source but should be avoided during pregnancy.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) suggests good sources of folic acid include: “spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, beans and legumes (e.g. peas), yeast and beef extracts, oranges, wheat bran and other whole grain foods, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver.
They also noted that as folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin (dissolves easily in water), it is lost from vegetables during cooking: “This can be reduced by avoiding over-cooking and steaming or microwaving vegetables instead of boiling.”
How much folic acid should you be consuming?
The NHS advises adults should be consuming 200mcg of folic acid a day. But if you are trying for a baby or are pregnant then you should be having 400mcg.
Folic acid can’t be stored in the body so you need it in your diet every day: for most adults you should be able to get 200mcg from eating a varied and balanced diet.
But for would-be-mums the Department Of Health advises you take a supplement from the time you stop using contraception until you’re 12 weeks pregnant. You can buy supplements from pharmacies, supermarkets, health food stores, or on prescription.