February 14, 2006

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Low Carb For Life Reprint: Folacin in a Low Carb Diet

The bonus in this column reprint is that the salad would be fabulous for a Valentine's dinner tonight!

If I ever have doubts about the wisdom of my low carb diet, I'll just look at the arguments coming from low carb detractors. The lack of logic is often breathtaking. These folks have to twist themselves into knots to find reasons why a low carbohydrate diet is a bad idea.

Witness an article that recently appeared in my local paper. In it, Gideon Koren, director of the Motherisk program at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, warns that women of child bearing age shouldn't eat a low carbohydrate diet, because they won't get folic acid, and folic acid deficiency can cause birth defects.

There's no doubt that folic acid, or its naturally occurring counterpart, folacin, prevents neural tube defects. But do we have to abandon the health benefits of our low carb diets?

Koren refers to the enrichment of bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals with folic acid, and says that without these foods, we will be deficient in this nutrient. Notice the word "enrichment" - in other words, these foods are not good sources of this vitamin naturally. Instead, folic acid is added to them. There is no difference between eating a food to which a vitamin has been added, and taking a vitamin pill - except for the carbohydrates and calories involved, of course. And surprise, surprise, tacked on at the very end of the article we find, "The problem could largely be avoided if all women of childbearing age took a daily multivitamin that contains folic acid." Good idea.

"Enrichment" is something that is only done to grains that have been refined and heavily processed. These are mostly carbs of the worst kind, with a sky-high blood sugar impact, and little-to- no fiber. Even if you're on a program like South Beach that allows some "good carbs", these products ain't it. To recommend highly refined and processed junk carbs for women of childbearing age because they have a few artificial vitamins added is just dumb - especially since high insulin levels can cause health problems that make conception difficult or impossible, and diabetes and high blood pressure are common risks of pregnancy.

It is more than possible to get plenty of folacin from low carbohydrate foods. One slice of white bread has 21.5 micrograms of folic acid, or roughly 1/20 of the 400 micrograms needed each day. It also has 12 grams of carbohydrate, and almost no fiber. One cup of orange juice - another source recommended by Koren - has 26 grams of carbohydrate, and less than a half a gram of fiber. How much folacin? 74 mcg. Three cups of romaine lettuce, on the other hand, has 228 mcgs of folacin, or over half our daily requirement - and only 4 grams of carbohydrate, of which 3 are fiber, for a usable carb count of just 1 gram. Looks like the low carbohydrate source wins.

The thing Koren seems to have missed is that when we cut carbs, we add other foods to replace them - and quite a few of those foods are high in folacin. I, for example, will often order the insides of a sandwich on a bed of lettuce, instead of on bread. Lots of folacin! For that matter, the cauliflower we substitute for potatoes and rice has more folacin than either.

All green leafy vegetables are low in carbohydrates and high in folacin, so eat your salads! Cooked vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are good, too. An egg has a little more folacin than that slice of white bread we mentioned. Peanuts are a pretty good source, and even meat and dairy products contribute a bit.

Indeed, it seems that the only reason there was a need for folic acid enrichment was that so many people base their diets on cheap, starchy foods. Remove the junk carbs from the diet, and there's plenty of room for foods that are naturally high in folacin.

This salad is spring-y and beautiful and extraordinarily delicious. It also has 238 micrograms of folacin per serving!

Spinach-Strawberry Salad

1/2 cup Splenda
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced red onion
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound prewashed baby spinach
1 cup sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Combine everything from the Splenda through the salt, and shake or stir well.

Put baby spinach in your big salad bowl. Pour on the dressing, and toss well. Top with strawberries, almonds, and feta, and serve.

Serves 4 to 6. Assuming 4 servings, each will have 227 Calories; 19g Fat, 8g Protein 11g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber, 6 grams usable carb

Posted by HoldTheToast at February 14, 2006 12:13 PM