Photograph shows display of Mexican-themed food items including eggs wrapped in tortillas and smothered in salsa, refried beans, breads and pastries, papaya, and lime, 1970s. (Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
"Eat more tortillas" is an advice unheard of when it comes to pregnancy, but this is what a coalition of groups is pushing for Hispanic pregnant women.
Folic acid, which can be found in grain products like breakfast cereals, rice, pasta and breads, contains Vitamin B, which plays a vital role in stopping the development of severe brain and spinal cord defects during pregnancy.
Since the 1990s, U.S. born babies with neural tube defects have dropped to 1,300 babies because of mandatory fortification, according to the CDC.
However, Hispanic women haven't had much luck, which according to researchers is because of their staple food - tortillas.
Tortillas don't contain folic acid because current FDA rules have ruled that "tortillas, corn chips and other foods made with corn masa flour can't be fortified with folic acid."
A union of groups, which include the National Council of La Raza and the March of Dimes Foundation, want to change this. They have made a petition that the FDA should allow corn masa flour be fortified with folic acid.
The March of Dimes says that Hispanics are majority of the 3,000 pregnancies affected by neural tube defects in the U.S. each year. In fact, Latina women are 20 percent more likely to conceive babies with neural tube defects than white women.
According to the CDC, researchers are still unsure of the cause, but they suspect diet to be a factor.
"Part of the reason was that these groups just weren't consuming the same level of wheat flour products. Instead, they were consuming corn masa flour products because that was the staple grain in that diet," according to Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs at the March of Dimes, Cynthia Pellegrini.
However, there's a catch apparently. Folic acid is only effective if consumed during the pregnancy's early weeks.
"Most women, by the time they know they're pregnant, they've already passed that critical window," said Dean Appling, a biochemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "If they had a problem with folic acid, it would be too late at that point to prevent the birth defect."
If Hispanic women's staple diet of tortillas will be fortified with folic acid, there are greater chances of having healthier babies among Latinas.
According to NCBI, studies claim that if corn masa is allowed to be fortified with folic acid, 40 to 120 cases of babies of neural tube defects among Hispanics would be prevented each year.
Apparently, the FDA has banned the addition of folic acid into corn masa flour because of nixtamalization, which is the process th rough which corn kernels are softened via an alkaline solution.
According to the Texas Public Radio, the FDA is worried that the alkaline treatment might "affect the stability of added folic acid."
Petitioners have conducted a study to determine whether folic acid will stay stable in corn masa flour, and in October of 2015, Michael Dunn, the lead food scientist in Brigham Young University, said the results are "encouraging," The Seattle Times reported.
Hopefully, the petition would come to a close, so more pregnant Latina moms can have healthier and delicious tortillas in the future.