University of São Paulo: Essential for pregnant women, food intake of folate by Brazilians is deficient

Research by the Faculty of Public Health (FSP) at USP analyzed the intake of folate (vitamin B9) by the Brazilian population and concluded that there is a deficiency in the dietary intake of this nutrient. Low levels of folate in the maternal organism can result in complications for both the pregnant woman and the fetus, such as premature birth, low birth weight and neural tube defects, which compromise the development of the spine/spinal cord and brain of the mother. kid.

Folate is found in foods like beans, dark green vegetables, citrus fruits like oranges, eggs, liver, meats, seafood, among others. In Brazil, the mandatory (mandatory) fortification of wheat and corn flour with folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate, is carried out. Thus, foods based on these flours such as breads, pasta, cakes, pizzas, sandwiches, snacks, cookies, biscuits are also sources of this vitamin.

The research was carried out during the post-doctoral project of nutritionist Cecilia Zanin Palchetti, who compared dietary folate intake by the Brazilian population in 2008/09 and 2017/18. According to the study, the percentage of people who did not meet their daily requirements for this nutrient, established according to sex and age, increased. Among women of reproductive age, who are the target audience for food fortification with folic acid, approximately 30% in 2008/09 and 40% in 2017/18 did not reach the recommended intake of this vitamin.

The northern region of Brazil was the one with the highest percentage of people who did not reach the necessary folate intake, both for men and women, in both study periods.

The research resulted in the article Prevalence of inadequate intake of folate in the post-fortification era: data from the Brazilian National Dietary Surveys 2008-2009 and 2017-2018 , published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which was considered as “The Scientific Article of the Month” (Paper of the Month of January 2022) by The Nutrition Society.

Importance of natural sources of folate

According to the survey, the food groups that most contributed to folate intake in Brazil were beans, breads, pasta and pizza, cakes and cookies, and non-alcoholic beverages in the two periods studied. In both periods, fortified foods accounted for approximately 40% of the total intake of the nutrient by the Brazilian population, while natural sources accounted for approximately 60%, highlighting the group of beans.

Cecília Zanin Palchetti – Photo: Curriculum Lattes
“Undoubtedly, mandatory fortification of foods with folic acid has contributed to increasing dietary intake of this vitamin not only in women of reproductive age, but also in the general population. However, it is important to highlight that some of the foods based on flours fortified with folic acid also have a high content of fats and/or sugars in their composition and, therefore, should be consumed in moderation”, warns Cecília.

According to the researcher, it is necessary to encourage the consumption of foods that are naturally sources of folate, such as beans, traditionally used in Brazilian cuisine. “Despite being one of the most consumed foods by our population, there was a reduction in the consumption of beans by 12.8% comparing the data from the Household Budget Survey (POF) 2017-2018 with those from the (POF) 2008-2009”, he says. the nutritionist.

Health agencies recommend that women of childbearing age and who wish to become pregnant should supplement with folic acid. However, many pregnancies are unplanned. Thus, fortifying foods with folic acid is a global strategy to decrease the occurrence of neural tube defects.

The research was carried out under the supervision of Professor Dirce Marchioni, from the Department of Nutrition at FSP, within the Postgraduate Program in Nutrition in Public Health at FSP. Cecília received a scholarship from the National Post-Doctoral Program of the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes).

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