B vitamins can lower heart disease risks

Eating Well

March 24, 1998|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you've focused strictly on lowering fat and saturated fat to reduce heart disease risks, it's time to expand your view. It's not just what you cut out, but also what you add that makes your diet heart healthy.

Research reports about the power of folate hit the news again last week. Results were from the Nurses' Health Study where a group of 80,000 women, ages 30 to 55 when the study began, was followed for 14 years. Those who consumed the most folate (a B vitamin also known as folic acid) and vitamin B-6 were the least likely to suffer a heart attack. The findings were consistent with earlier studies in men.

Scientists have known that higher levels of a blood protein called homocysteine indicate a higher risk for heart disease and that diets high in folate and B-6 lower homocysteine levels. This study suggests the end result is what we hoped. Heart attack risks go down as folate and B-6 intake go up, whether from food or from supplements. Although this study is not conclusive, the evidence is mounting. And eating foods high in these B vitamins certainly won't hurt you.

So once again the issue arises, should the RDA's be focused on preventing deficiency diseases, or on optimal intakes that lower long-term chronic disease risks. The current folate RDA is 180 micrograms (mcg). Most Americans get that much. But the protective level in this study was double that, about 400 mcg daily.

Curiously, 400 mcg is the same amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for all women of childbearing age to prevent certain birth defects. There are no known risks with folate intakes up to 1,000 mcg in that age group. Consequently, 400 mcg is the amount in most multiple vitamins. However older adults face a slight chance that high folate intakes can mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which undetected, can cause nerve damage. So if you are an older adult, check with your doctor before upping your intake.

Meanwhile, here are some things you can do to get more folate from your diet.

Have 2-4 dairy foods daily.

Have 2-3 egg yolks weekly. Each yolk provides 23 mcg vs 5 mcg for a 3-ounce portion of meat, chicken, or fish.

Add these fruits and juices to your daily fare: orange juice, grapefruit juice, cantaloupe or honeydew melon, raspberries or strawberries.

Add raw vegetables to your salads like cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower or dandelion greens.

Add cooked vegetables to your meals like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kale, spinach, okra, acorn or butternut squash or fresh corn (76).

Add cooked dried beans twice a week. Beans cooked from scratch have twice as much folate as canned beans.

Get your 6 to 11 servings of grain foods daily. Enriched grain products now include enough folate to add 100 mcg to your daily intake. Enriched cold cereals are another good source.

If you decide to take a folate supplement, choose one marked "USP" (U.S. Pharmacopoeia), your assurance it will dissolve so you can absorb it.

Registered dietitian Colleen Pierre is the nutrition consultant for Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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