On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Folic Acid, By Any Other Name, Is Still Crucial

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I see articles on the benefits of "folate," but the nutrition and supplement facts panels only list "folic acid." Is folate the same as folic acid, or is it something different? -- T.T., Dallas, Texas

DEAR T.T.: Folic acid and folate are essentially the same active compound. Throughout its history, this vitamin has gone by many different names, including Wills factor, anti-anemia factor, PGA, vitamin M, vitamin Bc, factor R, SLR factor, vitamin U, factor U, vitamin B9, vitamin B10 and vitamin B11.

The different names can be explained by the fact that various laboratories were doing research on the same substance at the same time, and many were working on related compounds. There was a level of competition to discover essential compounds, and very little information sharing. Scientific prestige and naming rights were a side benefit to the individual or lab whose findings stood the test of time.

"Folate" is a generic term referring to a family of related compounds, the simplest of which is folic acid. You can think of the folates as folic acid with a side-chain component attached. In nature, it is active in metabolic reactions, and often referred to as folate. When spoken about as a nutrient, or when listed on a product label, it is called folic acid.

Whatever you want to call it, folic acid is a key compound in human nutrition. An inadequate intake of this nutrient is associated with a number of different ailments, including heart disease and certain birth defects. But you don't need megadoses to avoid these problems; one can get all the folate they need from a healthy diet. Good sources include leafy greens, organ meats, legumes, orange juice, beets, avocado and broccoli.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Does pressure-cooking vegetables deplete their vitamins tremendously? -- E.R., San Jose, California

DEAR E.R.: All forms of cooking deplete nutrients to some degree. The actual nutrient losses during cooking depend on a number of factors, including temperature, cooking time, type of food, size of the food pieces and how much water is used (if any). With all these variables, the amount of loss will vary with the type of nutrient.

Cooking water, if discarded, will deplete some of the water-soluble vitamins. Heat, regardless of its source, can affect the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C and thiamin. The most stable of the nutrients are the minerals. Unless a large amount of water is used to cook a food that has a small particle size, and that water is then discarded, these nutrients will remain in the finished product.

Because cooking in a pressure-cooker typically uses less water and shortens cooking times, more of the nutrients will remain.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.