Research Points To Increased Folate Levels In Women

New Zealand Food Safety Authority

New research on the impact of folic acid in bread shows increased levels of folate in women of childbearing age and that fortification of bread is contributing to this, says Julie Collins, MAF Biosecurity, Food and Animal Welfare Policy Director.

MAF has released research that looked at whether the desired folic acid content in breads was being achieved and the impact it has on the blood folate status of women of childbearing age. The research found an increased level of folate in women of childbearing age.

“It is good news in terms of the research showing that blood folate levels for women have increased since previous studies in 2008/9 which may contribute to a reduced risk of children being born with neural tube defects,” says Julie Collins.

“Folic acid fortified bread is one way women can access folic acid. Bread was chosen for fortification with folate because surveys had suggested that it was widely consumed by women of childbearing age.”

Research indicates that women who don’t get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy have a higher risk of their baby developing abnormalities known as neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida.

“In the survey of women, an average of 59 percent returned a red blood cell folate measurement of 906 nanomoles per litre or higher, a level associated with a very low risk of NTD. This was up from 26 per cent of women as reported in the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey,” says Julie Collins.

“While this improvement in red blood cell folate status can’t fully be attributed to the voluntary fortification of bread with folic acid, it does appear that voluntary fortification of bread has made a contribution to the increased folate status of women.”

Fortification of other foods with folic acid such as breakfast cereals and spreads may also have played a part, along with folic acid supplements.

“The research also showed varying levels of folic acid in the bread products surveyed. This is not surprising given that adding folic acid to bread is a new and complex process. MAF is working with the baking industry to continue monitoring and improving the process to increase the levels and consistency of folic acid fortification,” says Julie Collins.

“It has been pleasing to see the three baking companies involved in the research take immediate action upon receiving the independent research data on the varying levels of folic acid present in their products.”

“MAF is working with the baking industry in order to ensure more consistent levels of folic acid in the bread. MAF will independently retest the bread to check whether the improvement to the manufacturing process deliver the desired levels of fortification.”

“In the first half of next year, MAF will be consulting on whether fortification of bread with folic acid should be voluntary or mandatory in the NZ Food Standard. It will be working with key health and baking industry stakeholders to ensure all key issues are considered,” Julie Collins said.

Scientific Interpretive Summary is available here:

The research report is available here: