Fitting in Folate: Did the FDA Forget Fortifying Gluten-Free Goods?

fdachinesefood1In 1996 the FDA mandated that all flour and uncooked cereal-grain products in the U.S. be fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of the water-soluble B complex vitamin, by January of 1998. The policy was put in place after researchers found how important folic acid was in the development of red blood cells, DNA synthesis, cardiovascular health, and for preventing neural tube defects during fetal development. Unfortunately, B complex vitamins have varying absorption rates, especially as the bioavailability of the vitamin varies from about 50% from diet, to about 100% absorption from supplementation. The FDA determined that preventing the micronutrient deficiency was a benefit that outweighed any risk of toxicity, especially with a water-soluble vitamin. 15 years after this law was passed, it is rare to see the problems associated with folate deficiencies, as most commercial products have folic acid added to them.

Gluten-free flours, however, are not subjected to the same laws. As such, many manufacturers do not add B complex vitamins to their gluten-free flours, and therefore many processed gluten-free foods remain unfortified.

Though some feel incredulous about the lack of fortification, many advocate for the end of adding nutrients to food. The controversy lies in the manipulation of food. While it is beneficial for food to be fortified with important vitamins and minerals that our diet may otherwise be deficient in, the isolated nutrients are not always processed biochemically in our bodies as they would be in the original, whole food form. In many cases, the fortified foods have synthetic micronutrients (as opposed to naturally occurring), or vitamins that are typically best absorbed in fat (vitamins A, D, E, & K) are provided in the absence of fat (such as vitamin A and D fortification of skim milk), making it harder for our bodies to absorb.

As I’ve stated before, I am a huge advocate of whole, naturally occurring foods for a gluten-free diet. I am suspicious that my own dietary issues stem from eating processed foods, over simply cutting out gluten. Therefore, I believe my gluten-free issues could be due to any effect of processing food, not just the fact it contains gluten.

If you feel concerned about your own diet and want to find some naturally occuring gluten-free ways to get in your folate, try incorporating more beans (such as garbanzo, black, or kidney), leafy green vegetables, asparagus, and lentils into your diet. Also, remember that synthetic supplementation of vitamin B12 is actually easier for your body to absorb (one of the only vitamins that is easier to absorb in its synthetic form than natural form), and you can take a small pill under your tongue to get sufficient amounts everyday.

What do you think about fortification? Is it something the gluten-free community should demand in our flours, or does over-processing foods contribute to adverse reactions among celiacs?


2 thoughts on “Fitting in Folate: Did the FDA Forget Fortifying Gluten-Free Goods?”

  1. I’m relieved that most gluten free products do NOT have folic acid added, as it is shown to promote breast cancer. Much better to get folate naturally through food. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find gluten free AND folic-acid free nutritional yeast. I hope this doesn’t become a problem in other areas.

    If folic acid starts being added to all things GF, we’ll all be in trouble. I sure hope this doesn’t get suggested to the FDA. Goodness know the government doesn’t need any more help screwing up food.

  2. I think fortification is criminal! Many people have common mutations in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene that is responsible for producing an enzyme that converts Folic acid into the usable form, folate. It also converts homocysteine into usable products. Unconverted homocysteine is toxic and shown to be involved in many health problems including miscarriage, neural tube defects, autism, heart disease, brain fog, fatigue and more! Used colloquially among health enthusiasts, MTHFR sounds like a dirty word and, unfortunately, the effects of unmethlyated folic acid and homocysteine on mothers and their babies during gestation sums up the damage it can do. I believe that mandatory folic acid fortification may be one of several factors in the huge spike in autism that was seen in the past 15 years. Those with the MTHFR gene who take folic acid supplements are adding that much more of a load to their scarce supply of the MTHFR enzyme, especially if they eat a lot of fortified foods.
    There is also the moral aspect of tampering with food. The government has no right to dictate that food producers adulterate their product nor do they have the right to force consumers to ingest poison. The fortification mandate was based upon bad science, lobbying, ignorance and outright criminality! The FDA has the blood of hundreds of thousands of lives on their hands! Let the consumers and producers decide what to include in their product. Can it be that folate acid deficiency is due to the government’s promotion of the Standard American Diet (SAD) of nutrient-poor grains and empty calories in the first place?

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