The Zika virus has been in the news for causing microcephaly, a potentially fatal birth defect of the brain. Another birth defect that affects brain development is anencephaly, a lethal neural tube defect where babies are born without a major portion of the brain and skull.
In Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties, the rate of anencephaly-related births in 2015 was 6 per 10,000, almost three times higher than the national average.
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Causes for anencephaly in most infants are unknown, but there is a dietary factor that can increase the risk: low folate consumption by pregnant women. Low folate intake is also associated with spina bifida, a neural tube birth defect that may result in difficulty walking and loss of bowel and bladder control. Sufficient folate intake reduces the risks of congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, urinary tract problems, pre-term birth and low infant birth weight.
Folate, or vitamin B9, cannot be synthesized by the body. Good dietary sources of folate include romaine lettuce and other greens, liver, asparagus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, legumes, and other fruits and vegetables. The salad recipe below contributes over 40 percent of the folate daily value per serving.
6 per 10,000The rate of anencephaly-related births in 2015 in Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties, almost three times higher than the national average.
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to add folic acid, the supplement form of folate, to enriched wheat and rice flours to reduce the risk of birth defects like anencephaly. In April, the FDA approved voluntary fortification of corn masa flour as well. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends prenatal vitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid for most pregnant women to ensure that they obtain adequate amounts of folate and other nutrients.
Because almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and neural tube birth defects like anencephaly occur during the first month of pregnancy, many women haven’t begun taking prenatal supplements when their babies are at risk.
It is vital for all women of childbearing age to consume enough folate. According to the 2003–06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 19 percent of females ages 14 to 18 and 17 percent of women 19 to 30 don’t meet the estimated average folate requirement.
It is vital for all women of childbearing age to consume enough folate.
While it is crucial for pregnant women to consume enough folate, it is important for everyone because it is used to produce DNA, RNA and red and white blood cells. People who may have low folate levels include alcoholics, those with celiac or Crohn’s disease and people who have had gastric surgery. Low folate consumption may contribute to infertility, depression and colorectal cancer.
Getting enough folate is just one of many reasons to eat your fruits and vegetables.
Asparagus Salad with Balsamic Glaze
Preparation Time: 40 minutes. Servings: 4.
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped dried figs, chopped pitted dates, or raisins
1 pound asparagus spears, washed
6 cups Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 avocado, washed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 bell pepper, washed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup shallots, greens onions, or red onions, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon salt substitute
6 tablespoons water
1. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a microwave-safe bowl. Add the figs, dates or raisins. Microwave for 1 minute, or until hot. Set aside to allow the dried fruit to soften a few minutes.
2. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and prepare the other vegetables.
3. Pour the balsamic vinegar mixture into a blender along with the mustard, marjoram, salt substitute, and water. Puree until smooth.
4. Heat your barbecue or other grill. Place the asparagus on a large plate and brush with the balsamic glaze. Spray the grill with an oil spray. Place the asparagus on the grill for 2-3 minutes, or until nicely browned. Turn over and grill the other side until nicely browned. Remove from the grill and cut into bite-sized pieces, if desired.
5. Place about 1 1/2 cups of Romaine lettuce on each of 4 plates. Top with avocado slices, asparagus, bell pepper and shallots.
6. Serve with the dressing, salt, and pepper.
7. Refrigerate leftovers.
Nutrition information per serving (not including additional salt): 170 calories, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 88 mg sodium, 20 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, 7 grams sugars, 120 percent Vitamin A, 92 percent Vitamin C, 7 percent calcium, 15 percent iron.