ATLANTA, GA – February 27, 2019 – (HISPANICIZE WIRE) – Women in the US who like corn tortillas especially need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily if they might become pregnant. These women are not benefitting from a federal requirement to enrich other grain products because the guideline does not apply to corn masa flour. This is likely why US Hispanics are 21% more likely than non-Hispanics to have a baby with a brain or spine birth defect.
In one of these birth defects, called anencephaly, parts of the brain and skull are missing. It is always fatal. Spinal birth defects such as spina bifida have varying degrees of severity but can lead to early death or lifelong disability. Taking folic acid (vitamin B9) daily before conception and within 28 days after conception prevents most of these birth defects. It is very difficult to get the recommended amount of folic acid from unfortified foods alone.
To help women get enough of this nutrient at the right time, in 1996 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required adding folic acid to enriched wheat flour, some corn products, and enriched rice. This prevents about 1,300 brain and spine birth defects in the US every year. In April 2016 the FDA allowed – but did not require – folic acid to be added to corn masa flour.
In December 2017, researchers found two of 20 corn masa flour products and no corn tortillas in the Atlanta market included folic acid. Based on a #FindFolicAcid campaign in January 2019, this appears to be true nationwide. Consumers in 27 states contributed photos showing folic acid only in 4.4-pound bags of Maseca instant white corn masa flour and 4-pound bags of Masa Brosa instant blue and white corn masa flour. No other brands or package sizes of corn masa flour and no corn tortillas had folic acid.
Until this situation changes, women who prefer corn products for their tacos, tamales, and pupusas need to take a vitamin supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. All women who might become pregnant need this nutrient, but Hispanic women are least likely to benefit from the extra dose that other enriched grains provide.