While the U.S. government has instructed companies to enrich foods with this B vitamin, Americans everywhere are still not getting healthy levels of folate in their daily diet. This is very important, because few nutrients live up to the label of being “essential” more strongly than this one.
A report in the American Journal of Public Health says that overall folate intake is far below the targets set by the FDA when they mandated the fortification of foods with the vitamin back in 1998. In supplement form, folate is called “folic acid.” This plan did succeed in lowering birth defects in the U.S., as most expecting mothers now understand how important folate is in that respect.
But the success of the plan didn’t reach as far as hoped. The FDA’s ultimate goal was to have 50% of women of childbearing age getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. The new study shows that these women increased their intake by at least 100 mcg a day, but people over 65 (also in great need of this vitamin) increased their intake by less than 100 mcg.
Across all age groups and ethnic lines, despite heavy fortification of breads and cereals, the vast majority of Americans have not reached that 400 mcg a day target. Incredibly, many individuals have actually decreased their folate levels.
Here’s a very quick look at folate’s essential nature:
— Without it, our cells cannot divide properly. Folate helps create and maintain new cells, and this is immensely important for infants and expecting mothers. Everybody needs folate in order to make red blood cells that function properly and in order to avoid anemia.
— Folate is required to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of all cells. DNA is where your genetic information is stored. RNA is needed for the synthesis of protein in every cell. Folate helps your body avoid any changes to the DNA that can lead to cancer when a cell mutates too far.
— Folate breaks down and reassembles several amino acids. One of them is “homocysteine,” which, if left unchecked, can lead to heart disease and stroke.
— Your risk of heart disease can be sliced in half by folate.
— It reduces the risk of birth defects by up to 80%.
— If you are taking SSRI antidepressants, folate will make the medicine work more effectively.
— Folate may help prevent cancer due to its ability to ensure that cells act naturally and normally.
— You can find folate in high levels within leafy green vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Here are some specific natural sources you may want to add to your diet: spinach, asparagus, beets, liver, baked beans, fortified cereal, long- grain rice, broccoli, green peas, avocados, peanuts, oranges (and juice), tomato juice, Romaine lettuce, lentils, and chick peas.