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How folate, a micronutrient in ImpossibleTM Burger, is important for a healthy pregnancy

By Will Koh, MPH, MEM - Scientist, Nutrition, Health & Food Safety

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Delicious, nutritious, sustainable

Choosing plant-based proteins over red meat can impart a number of health benefits, like lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality (Song et al., 2016; Pan et al., 2012). Reducing red meat consumption is a clear way to promote long-term health and contribute to an environmentally sustainable future (Clark et al., 2019(opens in a new tab); Willett et al., 2019(opens in a new tab)).

Impossible Foods was founded on the idea that it’s easier to reduce red meat consumption when you have access to nutritious, delicious, and affordable alternatives(opens in a new tab). Our products can be part of a healthy and sustainable diet for individuals at all life stages — including children, pregnant/lactating women, and the elderly. 

Impossible Burger and Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants are rich in a diverse set of macro- and micronutrients(opens in a new tab), including folate. Unlike ground beef or pork, our products contribute to folate requirements necessary for healthy pregnancies. The folate content of Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage represents a significant nutritional benefit over these animal meat alternatives, which contain minimal folate. 

What is folate?

Folate is a B-vitamin (also known as vitamin B9) that is naturally present in some foods and added to others — like cereals and grains — in a synthetic form (folic acid) to make them more nutritious. It is a key nutrient for generating healthy cells and tissues (NIH, 2021(opens in a new tab)). It can’t be synthesized by the body and must be replenished frequently through diet — making it all the more important to find good sources in the food you eat.

During pregnancy, folate is crucial for normal fetal development, preventing major birth defects that impact the growing fetus’s brain and spine. Plus, folate and vitamin B12 contribute nutritionally towards preventing a serious form of anemia (more on this below).  

What does folate do for the body?

Folate plays a vital role in maintaining health and promoting cell growth. Specifically, folate contributes to the synthesis of DNA and protein metabolism (NIH, 2021(opens in a new tab)), and is closely linked with vitamin B12 in these functions. Without adequate amounts of folate, the body is unable to develop or function properly and numerous health issues can emerge. Folate deficiency occurs when there is insufficient folate in the body to meet biological needs. Folate deficiency is tied primarily to inadequate intake, which can lead to serious consequences. One example is megaloblastic anemia(opens in a new tab), a condition that causes decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and can result in symptoms of fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath (Bailey et al., 2015). The leading causes of megaloblastic anemia are deficiencies of either folate or vitamin B12 because both vitamins are required for normal DNA synthesis and cell division (Socha et al., 2020(opens in a new tab)). Additionally, folate works with vitamin B12 in the metabolism of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with cardiovascular disease and the development of dementia with elevated blood levels (Ganguly & Alam, 2015; Kumar et al., 2017).

What foods are high in folate?

Foods high in folate include dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and mustard greens), animal liver (e.g. beef liver), legumes (e.g. soybeans), nuts, and other vegetables (e.g asparagus, brussels sprouts) (FDA, 2021(opens in a new tab)). Major food sources of synthetic folic acid include fortified breads, cereals, and grains (e.g. rice, pasta, etc.). These foods are labeled “enriched” and folic acid is added during the manufacturing process. (opens in a new tab)For most Americans, enriched products contribute the largest source of folic acid per day in the diet (Stephenson & Schiff, 2015). Vitamin supplements, like multivitamins or prenatal vitamins, can also contain folic acid (NIH, 2021). 

Some foods (and forms of folate) are better at delivering folate to the body. Overall, folic acid is more easily digested, absorbed, and metabolized than naturally-occuring forms of folate. In other words, folic acid is more bioavailable than natural folate. Consequently, the Nutrition Facts Panel measures folate in micrograms of dietary folate equivalents (mcg DFE) to account for the differences between the various folate forms (Bailey & Caudill, 2012; FDA, 2021).

How much folate do you need?

Adults — both men and women — are advised to have 400 mcg DFE per day(opens in a new tab). Nutrition experts recommend eating a healthy diet of foods rich in naturally-occuring folates, and consuming folic acid daily from either fortified foods, dietary supplements, or a combination of the two (FDA, 2021). While the majority of Americans consume enough folate, certain populations are at greater risk of inadequate intake and have higher recommendations. Specifically, pregnant women are advised to consume greater quantities: 600mcg DFE per day. 

Why is folate important for pregnancy?

Pregnant women need more folate than other adults because growing embryos require additional DNA synthesis and cell growth. Without enough folate, there can be serious complications during fetal development, including greater risk of neural tube defects (NTD). The most common forms of NTD are malformations of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly). Such malformations of the central nervous system range in severity and can result in serious physical impairments, mental disabilities, and potentially premature death (NINDS, 2021). Concerns about the health of pregnant women led to research showing that folic acid could address the threat of NTD. In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service first recommended that “all women of childbearing age in the United States who are capable of becoming pregnant should consume 0.4 mg (400 ug) of folic acid per day for the purpose of reducing their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other NTDs” (Houk et al., 1992). In 1998(opens in a new tab), mandatory folic acid fortification began in the United States. This federal requirement resulted in “all cereal grain products labeled as ‘enriched’ (i.e., bread, pasta, flour, breakfast cereal, and rice) and mixed food items containing these grains” be fortified with folic acid (Bailey & Caudill, 2012).(opens in a new tab) Estimates have suggested that such strategies have successfully reduced rates of NTD by as much as 28% (Williams et al., 2015).

Can you have too much folate?

Overall, it is hard to consume too much folate. Excess folic acid in the blood can be a concern because of its potential to “mask” a vitamin B12 deficiency. Such “masking” refers to the fact that large amounts of folate can address megaloblastic anemia and its symptoms but not otherwise address an existing vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to neurological damage. This is a concern for populations such as elderly individuals (Cuskelly et al., 2007), who may also be more likely to suffer from conditions like pernicious anemia(opens in a new tab), which prevents normal vitamin B12 absorption. As such, the tolerable upper intake level is set at 1000 mcg  per day and is based on intake from folic acid enriched foods and vitamin supplements.(opens in a new tab) Consuming excess folate is more likely if you take folic acid supplements rather than eat foods high in naturally-occuring folate because folic acid is up to twice as bioavailable as folate from unenriched food.

While folic acid remains the preferred form of folate to prevent NTD because of its greater bioavailability, recent research suggests that naturally-occuring food folates play a strong role in NTD-reduction (Marchetta et al., 2015(opens in a new tab)). 

Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage are good sources of naturally-occurring folate

The folate content of Impossible Burger and the Impossible Sausage represent a significant nutritional benefit over animal muscle meat, which contains minimal amounts of folate. 

  • Based on nutritional testing of our products, we expect there to be approximately 79 mcg DFE per 4 oz of uncooked product

  • While numerous studies have documented that folate can be destroyed by heat, oxidation, ultraviolet light, and food processing, our lab tests of cooked Impossible™ products have shown that folate is present in significant amounts after cooking. 

The folate in the Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage come from two main ingredients(opens in a new tab): soy protein concentrate and yeast extract. Given that the folate in our products is naturally-occuring, our consumers are at low risk for excess folate consumption.

Impossible Foods is proud to contribute to this important aspect of maternal health, in addition to our broader focus on public and planetary health(opens in a new tab). Our ability to develop novel formulas allows us to consistently improve our products on taste, nutrition, and sustainability. Reducing meat consumption is incredibly important for our personal health and the future of the environment. 


REFERENCES

  1. Song, M., Fung, T. T., Hu, F. B., Willett, W. C., Longo, V. D., Chan, A. T., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Association of animal and plant protein intake with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. JAMA internal medicine, 176(10), 1453-1463.

  2. Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C. & Hu, F.B. (2012). Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of internal medicine, 172(7), pp.555-563.

  3. Clark, M. A., Springmann, M., Hill, J., & Tilman, D. (2019). Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(46), 23357-23362

  4. Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., Garnett, T., Tilman, D., DeClerck, F., Wood, A. & Jonell, M. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393(10170), pp.447-492.

  5. National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2021). Folate: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/(opens in a new tab)

  6. Bailey, L.B., Stover, P.J., McNulty, H., Fenech, M.F., Gregory III, J.F., Mills, J.L., Pfeiffer, C.M., Fazili, Z., Zhang, M., Ueland, P.M. & Molloy, A.M. (2015). Biomarkers of nutrition for development—folate review. The Journal of nutrition, 145(7), pp.1636S-1680S.

  7. Socha, D. S., DeSouza, S. I., Flagg, A., Sekeres, M., & Rogers, H. J. (2020). Severe megaloblastic anemia: Vitamin deficiency and other causes. Cleveland clinic journal of medicine, 87(3), 153-164.

  8. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2021). Folate and Folic Acid on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/folate-and-folic-acid-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels#:~:text=How%20will%20folate%20be%20listed,absorbing%20folic%20acid%20than%20folate(opens in a new tab).

  9. Bailey, L. B. & Caudill, M. A. (2012). Folate. Present knowledge in nutrition, 321-342.

  10. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). (2020). Spina Bifida Fact Sheet. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/DISORDERS/PATIENT-CAREGIVER-EDUCATION/FACT-SHEETS/SPINA-BIFIDA-FACT-SHEET#3258_6(opens in a new tab)

  11. Houk, V. N., Oakley, G. P., Erickson, J. D., Mulinare, J., & James, L. M. (1992). Recommendations for the use of folic acid to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

  12. Williams, J., Mai, C.T., Mulinare, J., Isenburg, J., Flood, T.J., Ethen, M., Frohnert, B. & Kirby, R.S. (2015). Updated estimates of neural tube defects prevented by mandatory folic acid fortification—United States, 1995–2011. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 64(1), p.1.

  13. Kumar, A., Palfrey, H. A., Pathak, R., Kadowitz, P. J., Gettys, T. W., & Murthy, S. N. (2017). The metabolism and significance of homocysteine in nutrition and health. Nutrition & metabolism, 14(1), 1-12.

  14. Ganguly, P., & Alam, S. F. (2015). Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease. Nutrition journal, 14(1), 1-10.

  15. Cuskelly, G. J., Mooney, K. M., & Young, I. S. (2007). Folate and vitamin B12: friendly or enemy nutrients for the elderly*: Symposium on ‘Micronutrients through the life cycle’. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 66(4), 548-558.

  16. Marchetta, C.M., Devine, O.J., Crider, K.S., Tsang, B.L., Cordero, A.M., Qi, Y.P., Guo, J., Berry, R.J., Rosenthal, J., Mulinare, J., Mersereau, P., & Hamner, H.C. (2015). Assessing the association between natural food folate intake and blood folate concentrations: a systematic review and Bayesian meta-analysis of trials and observational studies. Nutrients, 7(4), pp.2663-2686.