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Folic acid added to flour – a bad idea…

Posted Jan 01 2010 12:00am

Browsing the Dove’s Farm website, I was less than thrilled, because I use their flour to make my bread, to find this information in the FAQ section:-

Q: What is the Doves Farm position on mandatory fortification of Folic Acid to flour?

We would like to encourage the industry to fortify more foods with folic acid on a voluntary basis and increase the eductation of the population which are most susseptable.

This is our favoured option aw well as the favourite option for the Soil Association and the Institute of Biology.

With this option we can address a number of real concerns, not just folate deficiencies. Young women can be educated at to the dangers of folate deficiency and the complications that could arise through deficiency.

Apart from the unacceptable spelling errors – look, if you have a website or a blog, use the goddamned spell-checker, always! – I find their position on this absolutely appalling.

And it’s clear that whoever wrote that tripe cannot discriminate between forcible dietary supplementation and dietary education – the former is a universe away from the latter.

While I’m all in favour of educating women, young or otherwise, as to the requirements of their bodies, pregnant or not, there is no justification for force-feeding everybody folic acid – or anything else – when they don’t need it.

I take a lot of supplements, without which I would be unable to function – for my ME/CFS – but that’s my choice. Likewise, it’s a woman’s choice, if she’s planning to become pregnant, to supplement with folic acid – or not. There should not be an element of compulsion, for her, for me, or for you.

Flour currently has added to it, in accordance with The Bread & Flour Regulations 1998, Calcium carbonate, Iron, Thiamine (Vitamin B1) and Niacin. None of that is justified for everybody.

I am not remotely short of calcium, and I eat sufficient iron-bearing foods, so I don’t need them (excess, while not necessarily toxic, can cause problems), though I can live with Thiamine and Niacin, but whether I actually need either is debatable, but I will not, absolutely not, even if I have to mill my own flour, have folic acid foisted upon me.

Folic acid is normally touted, by those obsessed with inflicting it on the entire population, as about as harmful as water (but drinking too much water can kill you – it drowns your body on the cellular level), which is simply not true, as a canter around Google will demonstrate, and not just from lunatic fringe sources, who would mostly have you guzzling the stuff by the pound, but from reputable medical websites.

Folic acid side effects, at normal doses can include nausea, insomnia, decreased appetite, flatulence, abdominal distension, difficulty concentrating and a bitter taste in the mouth. None of which is fun, but in excess it can cause B12 deficiency – pernicious anaemia – which can be fatal.

Side-effects are, apparently, rare, but that is when just a small segment of the population is voluntarily taking the stuff. How will that pan out when everybody is forced to consume it in their food, and when there will be zero control over the dose ingested?

With tablets, you know exactly how much you’re taking, and an excess is pretty much your own fault, but if it’s added to flour, there’s no control at all, and flour pops up in a great many places, not just bread and cakes, but biscuits, crackers, confectionery, pies, pasties, quiche, pizza, even batter on fish – any damn thing at all in which flour is an ingredient, no matter how minor.

According to MedicineNet.com folic acid is used to treat or prevent certain anaemias caused by poor diet, pregnancy, alcoholism, liver disease, certain stomach/intestinal problems, kidney dialysis, or other conditions. It also helps to relieve symptoms such as unusual tiredness and diarrhoea that can occur with these types of anaemias.

Not to mention women who are pregnant or about to become pregnant – folic acid is believed to help reduce the incidence of neural tube birth defects (spina bifida). Note: Some sources say “helps” as a certainty, others go for “is believed to help” – a little unanimity might be nice if we’re all going to be force-fed this shit.

That’s a relatively select bunch of people, yet we will all be supplementing with a compound which, as a supplement,  provides no benefits for the vast majority of people and yet it will be dispensed in totally unknown quantities.

We all, of course, need folic acid (0.2mg per day for an adult, increasing to 0.4mg for women who are about to become pregnant) – source, the FSA, who also say:-

Unless you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, you should be able to get all the folate you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

If you’re taking folic acid supplements, it’s important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 1 mg (1000 micrograms) or less of folic acid supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

OK, that’s my bold for emphasis (and folate = folic acid), and look how small the FSA’s maximum dose is – 1mg, FFS!

More that that, they readily admit, may cause harm, but exactly how much will we get in our diets if flour is fortified with folic acid? It’s totally impossible to say – it’s utterly unquantifiable. OK, there is an average figure for bread consumption, see below, but an average means that some people will eat very much more than that, just as some will eat very much less, but we’re not really concerned with them, and what about all the other sources where flour is used? Already, too, some breakfast cereals are “fortified” with folate, at 100% of the RDA in some cases.

Folic acid isn’t cumulative, your body takes what it needs and excretes the rest, as with vitamin C (and something as innocuous  as that can cause severe diarrhoea if taken in excess), so what is the long-term effect of way too much folate for way too long – where do we get to the point when it’s all too much of an insult for the body to sustain?

Bread accounts for the largest intake of flour, and average bread consumption for an adult male in the UK is 113g per day (various online sources), but what’s that it real terms that everyone can comprehend, like slices? I have no idea. One slice of my own bread, about as thick as a standard sliced loaf, is 40g, but my slice is about 70% the size of that from a commercial sliced loaf, which would give 57g per slice. Actually, that comparison isn’t going to work, as there is clearly far more air and water in commercial, Chorleywood Process, bread than there is in mine, as my figure would give a daily intake of 2 slices for 113g.

So let’s look at me, instead. I’ll probably eat maybe 200g of bread on an average day, almost double the average. The only conclusion that can be drawn from that, other than that commercial bread is crap, is that anyone making their own bread, or buying artisan-produced bread, would have a higher flour intake, and thus a higher folate intake, than someone eating mass-produced crappy white bread.

So while we’re improving our diets making and/or eating higher-quality, better-tasting bread, we’ll be putting our health on the line by hoovering up about twice the average intake of folate from bread than those eating Chorleywood bread (pumped up with air and freighted with water), never mind all the other sources.

How is that – in a sane world – possibly a good thing?

The bottom line is that nobody has any idea what the intake of folic acid from flour would be for any given person, though I can be certain mine will be higher than most, nor do they have any idea what the long-term effects of chronic excessive intake might be, because it doesn’t normally happen, except for the odd idiot who supplements to excess, but you can’t extrapolate from that and apply it to an entire population.

I can only draw one conclusion from this. and it’s that the attitude of Dove’s Farm, and anybody else that thinks forcibly medicating the entire population with unknown amounts of folate is a wizard wheeze, is utterly irresponsible.

The idea has no merit whatsoever.

That folate supplementation is good for some people is beyond doubt, fine, I don’t have a problem with that, but nobody, without a proven need, should be medicated and, except in very rare cases, nobody should ever be medicated against their will and with unknown quantities of a potentially dangerous substance.

Before leaving this subject, let’s look at some food sources of folic acid/folate. I cannot see, from the following list, why anybody eating an average diet should need to have folic acid forced on them by having it added to such a ubiquitous food item as flour. It’s insane.

Some Food Sources of Folate/Folic Acid

This list is from the US Office of Dietary Supplements, as I can find nothing comparable from a UK source. Note that foods marked * are fortified with folate in the US, so should be disregarded.

Note: DV equals Daily Value, the amount of folic acid required per day for pregnant women.

Food Micrograms (μg) % DV^
*Breakfast cereals fortified with 100% of the DV, ¾ cup 400 100
Beef liver, cooked, braised, 3 ounces 185 45
Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature, cooked, boiled, ½ cup 105 25
*Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV, ¾ cup 100 25
Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled, ½ cup 100 25
Great Northern beans, boiled, ½ cup 90 20
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears 85 20
*Rice, white, long-grain, parboiled, enriched, cooked, ½ cup 65 15
Vegetarian baked beans, canned, 1 cup 60 15
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 60 15
Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 50 15
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup 50 15
*Egg noodles, cooked, enriched, ½ cup 50 15
Broccoli, raw, 2 spears (each 5 inches long) 45 10
Avocado, raw, all varieties, sliced, ½ cup sliced 45 10
Peanuts, all types, dry roasted, 1 ounce 40 10
Lettuce, Romaine, shredded, ½ cup 40 10
Wheat germ, crude, 2 Tablespoons 40 10
Tomato Juice, canned, 6 ounces 35 10
Orange juice, chilled, includes concentrate, ¾ cup 35 10
Turnip greens, frozen, cooked, boiled, ½ cup 30 8
Orange, all commercial varieties, fresh, 1 small 30 8
*Bread, white, 1 slice 25 6
*Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 25 6
Egg, whole, raw, fresh, 1 large 25 6
Cantaloupe, raw, ¼ medium 25 6
Papaya, raw, ½ cup cubes 25 6
Banana, raw, 1 medium 20 6

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