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Prairie Fare: Don’t Rob Yourself of this Vitamin

Don’t rob yourself of folic acid’s potential health benefits.

By Julie Garden Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service

A thief escaped with $50,000 worth of broccoli, according to an Associated Press story. Maybe the thief was falling short of the recommended daily servings of vegetables, noted the author, tongue in cheek.

Maybe the thief had a nutritional deficiency of the B vitamin folate and recognized broccoli is a good source.

Maybe not.

OK, maybe the thief was just after the trailer holding the broccoli.

At any rate, if someone offers you bargain broccoli from a trailer, consider yourself warned. The vegetables might be “hot.”

Jan. 8-14 marks national Folic Acid Awareness Week. Folate is the form of folic acid naturally found in foods.

Folate gets its name from “folium,” the Latin word for leaf. It was identified about 70 years ago as the nutrient able to prevent a type of anemia during pregnancy. Folate first was extracted from spinach leaves.

In 1996, folic acid, the man-made form of the B vitamin, was added to enriched grain products, including cereals, flour, corn meal, pasta and rice. Many people lacked this important vitamin in their diets, according to a 1988 to 1996 health study, but, with the fortification, the situation has improved.

Of the many vitamins, why does folic acid get its own recognition week? Folic acid can help prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida, if consumed before and during pregnancy. According to some of the latest research, folic acid may have many roles in health.

Besides pregnancy, some medical conditions require additional folic acid intake. People with liver disease, Crohn’s disease or convulsions, on kidney dialysis or taking certain medications used to manage diabetes may need additional folic acid. Those who abuse alcohol also may need more folic acid. If any of these apply to you, discuss it with a doctor or pharmacist.

Folic acid is used by the body to make new cells, including red blood cells. It’s used to make our genetic material, DNA and RNA. Some studies have shown that adequate folic acid may help prevent certain types of cancer, including colon cancer.

Folic acid may be good for our heart. Folic acid reduces levels of “homocysteine,” which is an amino acid (protein building block) found in the blood. Some researchers have reported that high homocysteine levels are linked with heart disease, but more research is needed.

Some researchers are studying folic acid and its relationship to Alzheimer’s disease and depression. In a study of elderly Canadians, researchers reported that low levels of folate in the blood were linked with higher risk of dementia.

In a multiyear study of elderly nuns who later donated their bodies to science, researchers found brain changes characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease among the nuns who had the lowest blood folate levels. High homocysteine levels may play a role, according to the researchers.

Don’t rob yourself of folic acid’s potential health benefits. Enjoy plenty of folate and folic acid-rich foods, including fortified breakfast cereals, leafy greens (romaine lettuce, spinach), Great Northern beans, broccoli, peanuts, oranges, orange juice and bread products. In addition to eating nutritious foods, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are encouraged to take a folic acid supplement.

For more information about folic acid, contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service or visit the NDSU Extension Service Web site at http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/food.htm (click on “Health and Fitness” then “Healthy Pregnancy”).

Here’s a side dish recipe from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service featuring folate-rich broccoli. Try it with meatloaf for an oven dinner.

Broccoli and Corn Bake

1 15-ounce can of cream-style corn

1 10-ounce package frozen broccoli, cooked

1 beaten egg

1/2 c. crushed saltine cracker crumbs

1/4 c. margarine

Topping

6 crushed saltine crackers

1 Tbsp. melted margarine

Mix corn, broccoli, egg, cracker crumbs and margarine together in greased 1 1/2 quart casserole. Mix topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Sprinkle over corn mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 21 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 45 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, jgardenr@ndsuext.nodak.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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