News focus: folic acid

New symbol flags up healthy grains for pregnancy

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Folic acid, Whole grain

A new symbol designed to help women identify products enriched with
folic acid has been launched for use in the US.

The seal was introduced this week as part of the national Folic Acid Awareness Week by the Grain Foods Foundation, a trade association for the milling and baking industries, and the March of Dimes, which supports pregnancy and baby health. The Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy​ seal was designed to help women easily identify grain products, such as white bread, that are enriched with folic acid. The Grain Foods Foundation told that its seal is immediately available for use on products, at no cost to its members. In order to qualify for using the seal, a product must have 10 percent DV of folic acid per serving, it said. Companies that have already signed up to use the seal include George Weston Bakeries, Flowers, Alpha Baking, 21st Century Grain, North Dakota Mills and Kroger. Folic acid, a chemical form of a common B vitamin (folate), has been linked to a reduced rate of a specific birth defect that affected the development of the spinal cord and central nervous system. For nearly a decade, the US and Canada have required wheat flour and other grain products to be fortified with folic acid. Incidence of neural tube defects (NTD) at birth has been found to have decreased 26 percent and 42 percent respectively since that time. However, recent surveys have shown that awareness is still lacking among American women, which often means that women of child-bearing age are not consuming the recommended daily levels of folic acid (400 micrograms). According to a 2007 survey by the Gullup Organization, which was funded by the government body Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women aged 18-24 were found to have the least awareness regarding folic acid consumption (61 percent). And a study by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Inc (SRBI) conducted in October last year found that only 12 percent of women perceive enriched white bread as having high levels of folic acid, despite the fact that it actually has twice as much folic acid as whole grain or whole wheat bread. "These survey results demonstrate the need for women to better understand how to get specific nutrients through their diet,"​ said Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation. "The Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal will make it easier for women to choose foods that are healthy for them and their babies​," added Dr Jennifer Howse, president of March of Dimes. "Folic acid is the most important vitamin women can take to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine, and it's most important that they start taking it before they get pregnant and continue to take it after." ​The new seal will be produced both in English and in Spanish. The two organizations hope its availability in the two languages will also help encourage Hispanic women to choose folic acid- enriched products; according to CDC, Latino women consume the least amount of folic acid among all ethnic groups. The use of a symbol on product packaging to flag up certain nutritional benefits of the items is already popular in the US. The Grain Foods Foundation has another seal - the Grains for Life logo - which is designed to promote the consumption of grain foods. This was launched almost three years ago, and is currently used on around 50 products found in supermarkets across the country. Other popular symbols used by the industry include nutrition group Oldways Whole Grain Stamp - for whole grain products - and its Med Mark - which flags up Mediterranean diet products. In addition, the American Heart Association has a red and white heart-check mark that is used on products that meet 'heart healthy' guidelines.

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