Folic acid is an extremely important vitamin during early pregnancy. The vitamin, commonly taken in a prenatal vitamin, is present in green leafy vegetables and other foods that aren’t typically eaten in high enough concentrations to supply the folic acid needed to protect the fetus from neurologic damage and other possible complications during development.

Certain populations are less likely to consume foods containing folic acid and thus the problem of reduced folic acid consumption is more prominent. According to a petition presented to the Food and Drug Administration, the Hispanic population is the target of several organizations, including the March of Dimes Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Council of La Raza. The petition suggests fortifying corn masa flour to decrease the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. The petition stated that the Hispanic population is about 20-percent more likely to suffer these birth defects possibly due to reduced folic acid consumption in a normal diet.

Folic acid is the number one vitamin used to prevent neural tube defects, but taking folic acid after pregnancy is often too late. Neural tube defects can develop before the woman knows she’s pregnant, which is why women of child-bearing age are encouraged to eat a folic acid-rich diet. Corn masa flour is commonly used to prepare tamales and corn tortillas, so enriching the flour with folic acid would increase folic acid consumption naturally during all stages of life. Upon pregnancy, folic acid levels would already be at optimal levels if corn masa flour was used regularly.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse of the March of Dimes states, “We’ve seen the success with fortifying cereal grains with folic acid. Adding folic acid to corn masa flour can successfully decrease neural tube defects in the Hispanic community.”

Source: March of Dimes Foundation. April 25, 2012.