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Are You Getting Enough Folate?

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Low carb trend may hinder meeting nutrient needs

Low carbohydrate diets have become an increasingly popular way to eat. Touted as a quick way to lose weight and maintain blood sugars, reducing carbohydrates through diets like Paleo, Keto, Atkins and others has become common. Limiting refined carbohydrates is a healthy habit, but very low carb diets are restrictive and can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. In fact, researchers have found that rates of neural tube defects (NTD) have increased over the past few years and may be a result of restrictive diets.

In the late 90’s, the FDA required manufacturers to fortify grain products with folic acid as part of a health campaign to reduce incidence of children born with NTD; resulting in 30% fewer incidences.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45-65% of calories come from carbohydrates. This is roughly 225-325g, while a low carbohydrate diet is considered <100g/day. In addition to being the primary fuel of choice for the brain, carbohydrates are a source of folate, a water- soluble B vitamin found naturally in dark leafy greens like spinach, asparagus and Brussels sprouts.

Today’s low carb diet trends have inspired researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to dig deeper into the impact low carb diets have on blood folate levels and NTD. Their study, published in Birth Defects Research, analyzed over 11,000 pregnancies over 13 years. They measured maternal dietary folate intakes of folic acid (synthetic folate from fortified foods), and total folate which included natural plant sources. They concluded that restricted carbohydrate intake before conception was associated with a 30% increase of NTD, with a stronger association in unplanned pregnancies.

Women of child bearing age should aim for 400mcg/day of folate; once pregnant that recommendation increases to 600mcg/day. While fortified foods will help you reach the daily amount, including more of these vegetables and legumes will help you get there:

Also try these Dole recipes: Red Lentil Burgers Shaved Spring Vegetables, Spring Greens and Curry Salad

Reminder: Carbohydrates come from a variety of foods including fiber and nutrient rich whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Processed foods, sweets and sugary beverages are also a source of less nutritious carbohydrates like simple sugars and refined grains.

Published May 1, 2018

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