Consultation Begins For Folic Acid Plans

Published on: 13/06/2019

The government has launched a consultation for plans to add folic acid to wheat flour in the UK, in an attempt to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida, a congenital defect of the spine.

What is folic acid and why is it important?

Folic acid is essential for women who are pregnant and it is recommended that women take the supplement for one month prior to conceiving and then for the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. In many cases, for example unplanned and unexpected pregnancies, this doesn’t happen and some women are simply unaware or forget to take their daily dose. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida and anencephaly by 50% or more and may also lower the risk of pre-eclampsia and early labour.

Why will it be added to flour?

Mandatory fortification would mean everybody who ate bread would receive the health benefit of extra folic acid and it is estimated that fortifying flour could prevent up to 200 birth defects a year. Women from poorer areas are less likely to purchase the amount of folic acid tablets that are recommended for their pregnancy and bread already has vitamins added to it such as iron, calcium, and thiamine. More than 60 countries already add folic acid to their flour with proven reductions in birth defects. The charity Shine have been campaigning for this change for the last 25 years and are happy the UK is finally ready to introduce these plans.

Which other foods contain folic acid?

If you do not eat bread, there are other dietary sources which contain a good amount of folic acid:

. Fortified foods such as cereals

. Wheat bran and other whole grains

. Beans and legumes 

. Spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli 

. Yeast and beef extracts

. Oranges and pure orange juice

. Poultry, pork, and liver

If you have restrictions around what you can or can’t eat and feel you may not be getting enough folic acid in your diet, then speak to your midwife or GP about extra supplements.