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Prairie Fare: Be Aware of the Benefits of Folic Acid

A healthy baby begins with a healthy pregnancy.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Lately we’ve had a bumper crop of baby girls in our workplace. When we hear gurgles followed by “oohing” and “aahing,” we know a baby is in the vicinity. Everyone quickly huddles around the little bundle.

During pregnancy, many expectant parents are asked if they want a boy or girl. Usually the answer is, “We want a healthy baby. We don’t care if it’s a boy or girl.”

A healthy baby begins with a healthy pregnancy. Consuming the recommended amount of folic acid is one way to reduce the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida. This neural tube birth defect occurs when the fetus’ spine does not close completely during the first month of pregnancy. It can result in a wide range of disabilities, including paralysis and developmental issues.

Every woman of childbearing age needs to consume adequate folic acid. In fact, folic acid is needed by all of us, male or female, young or old. For more information about a healthy pregnancy, visit this Web site at

Be aware of the benefits of folic acid, especially during January, which includes a National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Can you answer these questions? The answers are listed after the quiz.

1. What is folic acid? a. A type of fat b. A vitamin c. A mineral d. A protein

2. Why is folic acid important? a. It helps you see better in the dark. b. It helps your body use calcium. c. It helps your body make cells. d. It helps your blood clot.

3. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. At least what percent of birth defects can be prevented by women consuming enough folic acid? a. 10 percent b. 20 percent c. 40 percent d. 50 percent

4. Which of these is the best source of folic acid? a. Fortified cereal b. Milk c. Chicken d. Salmon

5. Getting enough folic acid may help prevent which of the following? a. Heart disease b. Alzheimer’s disease c. Cancer d. All of these

Answers: 1. b; 2. c; 3. d; 4. a.; 5. d

We all need folic acid because our bodies continually build cells. Folic acid is found in most multivitamin supplements or as an individual supplement. Many foods, including breakfast cereals, flour and pasta, are fortified with folic acid.

Some cereals contain 100 percent of the recommended daily value for folic acid. Read the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much folic acid your favorite cereal contains. Navy beans, spinach, orange juice, peanuts and romaine lettuce are foods naturally rich in folate, the natural form of the vitamin found in food.

Here’s a recipe from the National Pasta Association. It’s rich in folate/folic acid from the broccoli and pasta. You can find more delicious pasta recipes by visiting the association’s Web site at

Chicken and Broccoli Pasta Dijon

1 pound mostaccioli, penne or other medium pasta shape, uncooked

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. vegetable oil

3 c. broccoli florets

1 large red bell pepper, cut into short, thin strips

1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, toss chicken with salt, pepper and garlic. Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken mixture; stir-fry four to five minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet and place in a medium bowl.

Add broccoli, red pepper and chicken broth to skillet. Cover; simmer over medium heat five to six minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Transfer to bowl with chicken. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the milk with cornstarch and mix until smooth. Add to skillet with remaining milk; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; stir in mustard. Stir in reserved chicken mixture. When pasta is done, drain well. Toss with chicken mixture. Serve immediately with additional freshly ground pepper, if desired.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 310 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 50 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D, is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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