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Folate: from food to functionality and optimal health

Contract number : QLK1-1999-00576
Contract type : Shared Cost Project
Total cost : € 2.908.990
EC contribution : € 2.199.998
Starting date : 1/02/2000
Duration : 42 Months
Scientific Officer : Alkmini Katsada
Project website : folate
Prof. Dr Paul Finglas
Institute of Food Research,
Nutrition and Consumer Science
Norwich Research Park, Colney
NR4 7UA Norwich
United Kingdom
Tel.: +44-1603 255318
Fax: +44-1603 507723
E-mail: paul.finglas @

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.

(expected) Results and achievements
  • 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.


Academisch Ziekenhuis Vrije Universiteit
Clinical Chemistry
De Boelelaan 1117
PO Box 7057
1007 MB Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Brewing Research International
Cereal Science
Lyttel Hall
RH1 4HY Nutfield Redhill
United Kingdom
Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione
Unità di Chimica degli Alimenti della Nutrizione
Via Ardeatina 546
00178 Rome
Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet
Department of Food Science
Ulls Väg 29 C
PO Box 7051
750 07 Uppsala
University of Helsinki
Department of Applied Chemistry and Microbiology
Latokartanonkaari 11
PO Box 27
00014 University of Helsinki
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Institute of Biochemistry, Food and Nutrition
PO Box 12
76100 Rehovot
Department of Physiology
Utrechtseweg 48
PO Box 360
3700 AJ Zeist
The Netherlands
Universidad de Murcia
Ciencias Sociosanitarias
Facultad de Veterinaria
Campus Universitario de Estpinardo
30.071 Espinardo
Universität Bonn
Institute of Nutritional Science
Dept. of Pathophysiology of Human Nutrition
Endenicher Allee 11-13
53115 Bonn
Umeå University
Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine
Nutritional Research and The Medicinal Bank
901 87 Umeå
School of Veterinary Medicine Hannover
Department of Food Toxicology
Bischofsholer Damm 15
30173 Hannover
Kellogg Management Services Europe Ltd
Scientific Affairs
Talbot Road
M16 0PU Manchester
United Kingdom
Wageningen Agricultural University
Division of Human Nutrition & Epidemiology
8129 Bomenweg2
6700 EV Wageningen
The Netherlands

Fifth Framework Programme

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