News last week of a scientific study showing additional benefits from folic acid intake by pregnant women should be greeted with considerable excitement by baking. The study, which appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested intake of folic acid before and early in pregnancy may cut in half the risk a child will develop an autistic disorder. This health benefit is in addition to earlier evidence folic acid sharply reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects in newborns.
The foundational position of grain-based foods, the largest source of folic acid in the U.S. diet, should be strengthened by the study’s finding. The research was conducted in Norway, and U.S. bakers should be very interested in follow-up studies in the United States, measuring whether similar effects occurred after 1998 with the mandatory fortification of enriched grains with folic acid at that time.
One disappointing aspect of the widespread media coverage of the JAMA study was the failure of most news stories to mention grains as the main source for folic acid in the U.S. diet. That bread and other fortified foods seem to be invisible when it comes to folic acid discussions suggests there is work to be done educating the public but also that there is great potential for the industry to enhance the nutritional image of its principal products.