There's a warning for women who are at child-bearing age - a lack of Folic Acid in your diet could cause birth defects.
Two new surveys have found that folate levels in U.S. women of childbearing age have declined, with only 40 percent of women taking daily multivitamin supplements containing the essential nutrient before pregnancy.
In an effort to promote increased consumption of folic acid among women of childbearing age, the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation have created a new Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal that will be featured on select products at retail to help women quickly and easily identify grain products, such as white bread, that are enriched with folic acid.
Daily consumption of folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial because birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, can occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Only 12 percent of women ages 18-45 know that folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy, indicates the most recent March of Dimes/Gallup survey. Also the number of women taking multivitamin supplements containing folic acid beginning before pregnancy was only about 40 percent in 2007.
"Unfortunately, most women don't realize they should have sufficient levels of folic acid in their bodies long before they consider having a baby," explained Judith Reichman, M.D., a gynecologist and one of the nation's leading medical voices on women's health issues.
She added: "Given the number of unplanned pregnancies, if women are sexually active, it is critical that they pay attention to their diet, take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid and consume folic acid-rich foods every day."
"The Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal will make is easier for women to choose foods that are healthy for them and their babies," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the 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," she added.
However, two-thirds of women think that whole wheat and multi-grain breads contain the most folic acid, as per the SRBI survey. It was also revealed that only 12 percent of women are under the misconception that enriched white bread has high levels of folic acid.
In fact 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. Enriched grains are an easy, inexpensive and delicious way for women to get essential vitamins such as folic acid," noted Judi Adams, MS, RD and president of the Grain Foods Foundation.
The March of Dimes has advised all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily beginning before pregnancy and continuing into the early months of pregnancy.
The popular and important sources of folic acid are bread, crackers, bagels, pasta, pretzels and tortillas made from fortified, enriched white flour.