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    Archive for the ‘folic acid’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Pre-Pregnancy Nutrition

    Don-Farrall-positive-pregnancy-testIs there a necessary [nutrient] formulation for women who are preparing to get pregnant, or will any kind of multivitamin do?

    — Coco
    Via the blog

    In most cases, a general multivitamin will do.  Steer clear of multivitamins that provides extremely high amounts, though, as these can negatively impact the health of a growing fetus.

    The two main nutrients women looking to conceive should be particularly mindful of are folic acid (known as ‘folate’ in its “from-food” form) and iron.

    Adequate intakes of folic acid/folate significantly lower the risk of fetal neural tube development problems, which occur around the third week of conception (often times a few weeks before a woman even knows she’s pregnant).  This is why it is crucial to get sufficient folate when trying to conceive.

    Most multivitamins offer 100 percent of the daily folate requirement, while the average prenatal multivitamin offers, on average, an additional 50 percent.

    Remember, though, that most cereals are multivitamins in their own right (a serving of most breakfast cereals offers 100 percent of the daily folate requirement).

    Iron is also crucial to both prevent the mother from developing anemia and to ensure that the growing fetus receives the necessary amounts of red blood cells to get enough oxygen.

    Although most breakfast cereals offer a day’s worth of iron, remember that non-heme (plant-based) iron is not as absorbable as that from animal products.

    Women looking to get pregnant who do not have a history of anemia and who eat meat (that includes chicken, pork, and seafood) regularly don’t necessarily need to supplement iron.  Vegetarian and vegan women, on the other hand, should.

    Must all women looking to conceive buy special supplements?  It depends.

    If their diet includes a variety of foods naturally rich in folate (spinach, peanuts, broccoli, avocado) as well as those fortified with folic acid (breakfast cereals, commercial breads), there is no reason for additional supplementation.  Similarly, if they regularly consume foods high in iron (meats, chickpeas, breakfast cereals) they should be in good shape.

    One of the absolute best things women looking to get pregnant can do is lose excess weight, particularly to minimize health risks for themselves — and their future babies.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Toasted Bread

    toaster_on_saleThe answer is probably no, but I’ve never heard the question asked. Does toasting bread change its nutritional value?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    While not too significant, the nutritional composition of toasted bread is slightly different from untoasted bread’s in the following ways:

    • Toasting bread lowers its glycemic index (the degree to which it can spike blood sugar).  This is more pronounced in breads made with white flour.
    • Toasting lowers the levels of two B vitamins (thiamin and folic acid) and the amino acid lysine.  The longer the bread is toasted, the greater the loss of these nutrients.  Since these nutrients are abundantly consumed in the standard U.S. diet — and bread has very low levels of lysine anyway — their slight loss via toasting is not worth worrying about.

    The biggest misconception I have heard about toasted bread is that it contain less calories than untoasted bread.  Untrue!

    However, a slice of toast requires more chewing than an untoasted slice, which helps trigger satiety faster (thereby helping you achieve a feeling of full with a lower amount of calories).

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    Give Hemp A Chance

    hemphearts_detailIn a case of culinary irony, more people are familiar with the idea of wearing or smoking hemp than they are with adding it to salads, soups, and yogurt for a low-calorie, high protein, healthy-fat punch.

    So, while Woody Harrelson lights up his eleventh “hemp ciggie” of the day, let’s talk about the seed’s nutritional profile.

    Two tablespoons of shelled (AKA free of their outer shell) hemp seeds add up to 160 calories and:

    • 2 grams Omega-3 ALA fatty acids (almost as much as one ounce of walnuts)
    • 11 grams protein (like soy, hemp is a complete protein, since it contains all the essential amino acids)
    • 20% of the Daily Value of iron
    • 52% of the Daily Value of folic acid (as much as one cup of spinach)
    • 15% of the Daily Value of potassium (as much as a small banana)
    • 60% of the Daily Value of manganese

    Shelled hemp seeds have a distinct, yet subtle, nutty flavor that goes perfectly with soups, yogurt, and stir fries.  Look for them at Whole Foods or your local health food store. 

    NOTE: If adding shelled hemp seeds to cooked food, sprinkle them on after you have plated your meal, so as to not damage the Omega-3 fatty acids’ composition.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Folate vs. Folic Acid

    What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

    Are they two different minerals?

    — (Name withheld)
    Bridgeport, CT

    Actually, they are the same vitamin!

    Folate is a B vitamin (known in a small handful of scientific circles as “Vitamin B9”) found primarily in beans, legumes, green vegetables, fruits, and, if organ meats are your “thing”, beef liver.

    Folic acid, meanwhile, is the the synthetic version of folate (i.e.: the type available in supplements).

    In what I consider an odd turn of events, our bodies absorb folic acid more efficiently than folate.

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    In The News: "Second Hand" Obesity

    Today’s New York Times reports on a new pooled analysis study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which concluded that “obese women are more likely to have babies with rare but serious birth defects, including spina bifida and other neural tube defects.”

    Although spina bifida is generally associated with insufficient maternal intake of folic acid, lead study author Dr. Judith Rankin theorizes that in the case of obese women, “insulin resistance and undiagnosed diabetes may be playing a causative role in birth defects… though the precise mechanism is not known.”

    This new study gives further credence to weight-loss recommendations given to obese women planning to start a family.

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    You "Ask", I Answer: Homocysteine/Cholesterol

    According to a book I read by Dr. Ray Strand, cholesterol is not the only factor causing cardiovascular diseases.

    There is something called homocysteine where high levels of it also may cause some damages.

    — Eugene Goh
    Via the blog

    I’m glad you brought this up.

    On the one hand, it is an important factor many people are unaware of, but I have also seen unnecessary panic over it.

    High homocysteine levels are indeed one factor that can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, but it is not as applicable to – or prevalent in — the general population as high intakes of saturated and trans fat.

    Let’s backtrack a little.

    Homocysteine is an amino acid produced when methionine — an essential amino acid largely found in meat, fish, eggs, beans, and seeds – is broken down.

    In healthy individuals receiving adequate nutrition, homocysteine is converted back to methionine and all is well.

    Certain populations, however, run into some difficulties.

    The group in the most danger consists of individuals born with a condition known as homocystinuria, in which the enzyme needed to convert homocysteine back into methionine is missing.

    Consequently, homocysteine often accumulates in their systems.

    Since vitamin B12 plays a major role in homocysteine-to-methionine conversion, vegans also run the risk of having high homocysteine levels if their diet does not provide adequate amounts of that vitamin.

    Folic acid – another B vitamin — also plays a crucial role in homocysteine breakdown.

    This isn’t quite as troubling since a 1996 law passed in the United States requires folic acid fortification in refined grains, and the vitamin is also easily obtainable from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

    High homocysteine levels are problematic because they damage the inside of arteries, thereby allowing blood clots to form and LDL to build up as plaque, heightening one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

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    Nutrition History: Healthier Breads

    Look at the food label for any grain product (even the most refined of breads) and you’ll always see 4 B-vitamins (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folate) and iron listed.

    Thiamin(B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3), are bread’s enriched vitamins, while iron is its enriched mineral. Meaning, the flour lost these nutrients while undergoing the milling process, so they are added back in.

    The requirement of replenishing these nutrients stems from the Enrichment Act of 1942, an initiative to lower the rates of vitamin and mineral deficiencies at the time.

    In February of 1996, the Food & Drug Administration required that folic acid (the bioavailable version of folate, another B vitamin) be added to all grain products,in an effort to lower rates of neural tube defects (research unequivocally demonstrated that babies of women who consumed low levels of folate during the first trimester of pregnancy had a higher risk of being born with neural tube defects.)

    Folate is not originally found in the endosperm of grains (which is the only part white bread is made from), so it is put in via fortification (added on), rather than enrichment (added back).

    Since folate is a B vitamin (which is water soluble), it is crucial to get the required amount every single day.

    Whole grains naturally contain folate, so they do not need extra amounts.

    Quick lesson on whole wheat vs. white or regular wheat bread:

    Whole wheat breads use all 3 parts of the wheat shaft: the germ, bran, and endosperm
    Refined wheat breads only use the endosperm (thus completely missing out on nutrients found exclusively in the bran and germ, such as vitamin E and selenium).

    Fortunately, the folate initiative has worked! Since the fortification of folate to breads, cereals, and pastas, neural tube defects have decreased by 25 percent in this country.

    Why bread products? They are widely consumed by people in the United States, regardless of age, socioeconomic level, or ethnicity.

    That being said, commercial breads are not the best sources of folate. Spinach, asparagus, and all sorts of legumes (lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, etc.) provide more substantial amounts of this crucial B-vitamin.

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