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Health & Fitness What is folic acid and why is it going to be added to flour in the UK?

20:05  20 september  2021
20:05  20 september  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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Folic acid is set to be added to flour in the UK under new public health rules.

Flour has been fortified with calcium, iron, thiamine and niacin since the Second World War ended.

Now, folic acid will also be added to non-wholemeal flour as part of an effort to improve public health and reduce the number of babies born with birth defects.

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Government plans for mandatory fortification were first introduced in 2019, and are now set to be implemented following an agreement with the devolved administrations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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But what is folic acid and why is it going to be added to flour in the UK? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the man-made version of folate — also known as vitamin B9 — which helps the body make healthy red blood cells.

Everyone should eat foods containing folic acid — such as leafy green vegetables — as part of a healthy balanced diet, but a higher intake is recommended for women within their first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

According to advice from the NHS, women planning a pregnancy are strongly recommended to take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day while trying to conceive and up until they are 12 weeks pregnant.

Why is folic acid going to be added to flour?

The mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid is being introduced to reduce the number of babies born with neural tube defects in the UK.

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The neural tube forms and develops the early brain and spine within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, often before the mother is even aware she is pregnant.

Not consuming enough folate during this vital 12-week period can lead to neural tube defects in the foetus, resulting in babies born with life-threatening spinal conditions like anencephaly or spina bifida.

The addition of folic acid to foods has already been a successful public health policy across a number of countries across the world, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

In these countries, the policy has resulted in a fall in the number of neural tube defects in babies.

In the UK, manufacturers already add folic acid to products like breakfast cereals, but the Government has insisted that a higher overall intake is required for women in their first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Ministers have said that adding folic acid into non-wholemeal flour will help prevent about 200 cases, or about a fifth of the UK’s annual total, of neural tube defects every year.

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Wholemeal flour and gluten-free foods will not be subject to the mandatory fortification.

What has the Government said about folic acid?

Speaking about the new public health policy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Few things are as important as a baby’s health - and folic acid-fortified flour is a quick, simple win to enhance their development.

“This will give extra peace of mind to parents and families, as well as helping boost the health of adults across the country.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid added: “With the safe and taste-free folic acid baked into the national diet, hundreds more babies will be born healthy each year.

“Focusing on preventing life-threatening health issues such as spina bifida will ensure fewer people will require hospital treatment, and more individuals and families are able to live healthier lives.”

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