Protect Brain Development With Nutrients

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Recently, I attended a fundraiser for Sophie's Voice Foundation, a charitable organization founded by actors Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker in honor of their daughter, Sophie, who was diagnosed with spina bifida at birth. Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect that affects the development of the spinal cord in unborn infants. Each year, about 3,000 pregnancies are affected by these birth defects, and these children suffer from medical problems, psychosocial issues, learning disabilities, and multiple personal concerns including mobility, bowel and bladder control.

There is a silver lining here, however, with regards to nutrition intervention and prevention. Research has shown that the risk of having a baby with spina bifida can be reduced by up to 70 percent with 400 mcg of folic acid taken daily three months prior to conception and in the first three months of pregnancy. Click here for more research.

Folic acid is a B vitamin, which our bodies need to make new cells and therefore, is especially important in vitro. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all women of childbearing age who are capable of becoming pregnant get enough of this essential B vitamin daily. Pregnancy isn't always planned or controlled and therefore, if you are a woman in that age bracket, it is important to heed this advice.

Once pregnant, the FDA recommends you boost your intake to 600 mcg/day and although there's no toxic level, the FDA advises you keep folic acid consumption to 1000 mcg/day. Here are three ways to ensure you are getting enough in your diet:

1. Have a bowl of folic acid-fortified cereal every morning. The FDA requires that folic acid be added to specific flours, breads and other grains. Check the label to make sure it is fortified. It might be listed as folate, the natural form of this B vitamin but the amount, 400 mcg, which is usually added remains the same.

2. Take a vitamin. Most multivitamins sold in the United States contain the 400 mcg of folic acid recommended. If you are pregnant, your doctor should prescribe a prenatal vitamin, which also contains at least this amount.

3. Eat a diet rich in folate. In addition to the above, eating a diet rich in folate is not only beneficial for your unborn child but includes foods for overall heart health and disease prevention!

Food Source Folate (mcg)* Chickpeas, 1/2 cup 141 Spinach - cooked, 1/2 cup 131 Kidney beans, 1/2 cup 115 Orange juice, 1 cup 74 Broccoli - cooked, 1/2 cup 84 Green peas, 1/2 cup 50 Orange, medium 39 Strawberries, 1 cup 35 Romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup 32

*Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Check out the Sophie's Voice Foundation Web sitefor more information on spina bifida, family outreach programs, prenatal education, surgical options, and how you can get involved!

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of

. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto