Folate and folic acid

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Folate and folic acid
Food Act 2006
Folate is a water soluble B vitamin that is found naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate
that can be found in supplements and is added to fortified foods. Folic acid is more easily absorbed than
naturally occurring folate.
What does folate do?
Folate is required to make DNA and RNA, without which cells cannot divide. This is especially vital during
periods of rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and during pregnancy. Adults and children
need folate in order to make normal red blood cells and prevent anaemia.
Folate and pregnancy
Folate is important to the healthy development of babies in early pregnancy. A baby’s growth is the most
rapid in the first weeks of life – often before a woman is aware she is pregnant. The neural tube closes and
fuses very early in life, becoming the baby’s brain and spinal column. If the tube doesn’t close, the result is
a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that women who are pregnant, or
considering becoming pregnant, take folic acid supplements at least one month before and three months
after conception to reduce the risk of birth defects. As many pregnancies are unplanned, it is
recommended that woman follow a folate rich diet throughout their childbearing years. Folate rich foods
include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, citrus fruits and juices, legumes and some nuts. For more
information on folate in pregnancy please refer to the Queensland Health fact sheet Healthy Eating in
Pregnancy.
Folate deficiencies
There are some medical conditions that increase the body’s need for folate, or result in the body excreting
more folate. These include pregnancy and lactation, alcohol abuse, kidney dialysis, malabsorption, liver
disease and some certain kinds of anaemia. Some medications will also affect folate levels in the body.
Please consult your medical practitioner for further information.
Folic acid fortification
From September 2009, a requirement was introduced that wheat flour for bread making must contain folic
acid. This means that bread including all plain, fancy and sweet breads, rolls, bagels, focaccias, English
muffins and flat breads containing yeast must contain added folic acid.
Other products that might be made with bread-making flour include crumpets, scones, pancakes, pikelets,
crepes, yeast donuts, pizza bases and crumbed products.
Flour mixes for domestic bread making must also contain folic acid. However, other types of packaged
domestic flour are not required to have folic acid added.
Organic bread is not required to contain folic acid. Bread made from other cereal grains such as rice, corn
or rye, provided they do not contain wheat flour, do not have to contain folic acid. However, manufacturers
may add folic acid if they wish.
Some manufacturers voluntarily choose to add folic acid to other foods including breakfast cereals, yeast
spreads and fruit juice.
Folic acid must be listed in the ingredient list on food labels. Unpackaged bread and bread that is made
and/or packaged at the point of sale is not required to be labelled. However, this information may be
available on request.
Mandatory iodine fortification is expected to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects in babies.
However even with mandatory fortification, pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant will
need to take folic acid supplements as recommended by the NHMRC above.
For further information
Queensland Department of Health has a variety of fact sheets with detailed information on food safety.
Fact sheets can be accessed from the Queensland Health website at www.health.qld.gov.au.
Further information relating to the fortification of food can be found on the Food Standards Australia New
Zealand website at www.foodstandards.gov.au.
Folate and folic acid – August 2015
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