Folates are currently under intense scrutiny regarding their ability to modulate disease risk, birth defects, CVD/stroke, and possible colon cancer. The objective of this project is to bring together commercial and consumer interests via 7workpackages which seek to provide folate-rich and enriched foods with specified consumer benefits for optimal bioavailability, function and health. Nutritional scientists, biochemists, clinicians, and food technologists will work together with industry to achieve this objective. Results will include verification of folate efficacy in moderating specific risk factors for chronic disease, quantification of bioavailability of natural folates versus synthetic folic acid added to foods and isolates, and pre-competitive information for development of effective and sustainable dietary strategies to support competitive-edge within the EU food industry, and meet consumer expectations of health benefits.
Folic acid significantly reduces the incidence and reoccurrence of neural tube defects (such as Spina bifida) in women. Marginal folate deficiency is also associated with elevated plasma homocysteine, an emerging risk factor for vascular diseases and stroke, and linked to certain cancers, notably colon. Our understanding of the dose-response relationships in these situations is limited and has led to uncertainties over folate requirements for optimal health and function. Current recommendations suggest that protection from neural tube defects can be achieved through intakes of an extra 400 €g daily of folic acid as supplements, fortified foods or natural food folates. The assumption is that all three routes of administration would have equal effects on folate status.
There is also much debate as to the best means to increase folate intakes in European countries where folic acid fortification is not permitted. Information is required on the relative absorption and utilisation of folates from foods as prepared and delivered to the consumer. The absorption and transport processes of folates from foods are complex and, to large degree, not fully understood. It is not possible to predict bioavailability for a given diet or food, and the influence of food composition and other dietary and physiological variables on folate bioavailability cannot be determined accurately. Understanding factors controlling folate availability is a necessary, pre-competitive step to designing commercial processes, which provide the desired levels of bioavailability and functionality.
There are also concerns as to possible adverse effects, particularly in the elderly, of the high consumption of folic acid from fortified foods, notably masking the diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency. Therefore, strategies for increasing the consumption of natural food folates need to be explored. In particular, the question as to whether sufficient quantities can be absorbed from these foods to protect against chronic diseases.
- Development of foods (including improved use of raw materials and optimised food processing techniques) that will enable the diet rich in folates within the range indicated to be protective for human health;
- Verification of the efficacy of folates in moderating specific risk factors for chronic disease;
- Quantification of bioavailability of natural folates versus synthetic folic acid added to foods;
- Pre-competitive information for the development of effective, sustainable, ethically-acceptable dietary strategies for folate-rich foods and folate-enriched products, to support competitive-edge within the European food industry, and meet consumer expectations of health benefits.