The long wait is over as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed to allow folic acid to be added to corn masa flour to possibly prevent birth defects particularly among Hispanic babies.

Adding folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, to corn masa flour will allow the fortification of 0.7 mg of folic acid per pound of corn masa flour. The fortification of other U.S. cereal grains has been implemented for years.

Folic acid is a form of vitamin B consumed by pregnant women to help in the baby's brain development and prevent the development of neural tube defects.

Since 1998, the FDA has required the addition of folic acid to most enriched pasta, rice, cornmeal, bread flour and other grain products in both the United States and Canada. This has led to reducing the number of infants born with neural birth defects by 25 to 50 percent. The overall folic acid intake has increased by an estimated 100 micrograms per day.

Some groups, including the March of Dimes, have been persuading the FDA to allow the vitamin to be added to masa flour to help reduce birth defects among Latinos and Hispanics. They have submitted a petition in 2012 to add corn masa flour in the grains where folic acid could be added. This is to boost folic acid intake of women who are consuming products made mainly from corn masa flour, a staple food in the diet of Hispanics.

The federal regulatory body worked with the group petitioners to address safety questions. They concluded that a level of 0.7 mg folic acid per pound of corn masa flour is deemed safe for pregnant women.

What Is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is important in the diet as it helps make DNA, repair RNA and produce red blood cells. Lack of folic acid in the body may lead to anemia. The lack of RBCs in anemia deprives tissues of the oxygen they need, which may result to various serious health conditions. In pregnant women, folic acid is particularly important in the brain development of the baby.

Folic acid deficiency poses a higher risk for the baby to develop neural birth defects that affect the brain, spine and spinal cord.

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