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Folic acid: a vitamin important at any age

Do you have a daughter, sister, mother, aunt, female cousin or friend of childbearing age? Remind them to meet the folic acid recommendation for their health and for the health of their potential children.

January is Folic Acid Awareness Month, a good time to pay attention to this important vitamin. Folic acid is important for everyone regardless of age or gender, it is especially important for women of childbearing age.

When women get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy, their babies have a lower chance of certain birth defects, such as spina bifida. Folic acid is good for everyone, too. Some studies suggest folic acid may help reduce our risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease and possibly Alzheimer's disease.

Folic acid is a B vitamin the body needs for healthy cells and blood. Many times folic acid is referred to as folate, which is the natural form of the vitamin found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, dry edible beans and citrus fruits. Folic acid is the man-made form of the vitamin found in fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, rice and vitamin supplements.

How much folate or folic acid do people need?

The current recommendation is 400 micrograms daily for all women of childbearing age, 180 micrograms for post-menopausal women, 200 micrograms for men, 150 micrograms for children ages one to three and 200 micrograms for children ages four to eight.

Most people get some folate from their daily diet. Eating a variety of foods or in some cases, supplementation, can meet these recommendations.

What foods contain folate or folic acid?

A variety of foods contain folate and/or folic acid. Some of the best food sources of folate are cooked dry edible beans (144 micrograms per half cup), liver (220 micrograms for 3.5 ounces), leafy greens like broccoli (40 micrograms per half cup), and fresh-squeezed orange juice (56 micrograms per three-fourths cup).

As of 1998, grain-based foods labeled "enriched" have to be fortified with folic acid. Many breakfast cereals contain folic acid, too. Read food labels to learn more about your choices.

Surprisingly, folic acid added to foods and vitamin pills is easier for the body to use than the folate naturally occurring in foods. One very simple and effective way is to make sure your multivitamin has enough folic acid, 400 micrograms.

For more information on this topic, contact Luella Morehouse, FNP Education Assistant, NDSU Extension Service Stutsman County, 116 1/2 First Street East, Jamestown, ND. Morehouse may be reached at 252-9030 or luella.morehouse@ndsu. edu.