28/06/2016 7:47 AM AEST | Updated 16/12/2016 9:55 AM AEDT

How Adding Folic Acid To Bread Made Australia's Babies Healthier

A toast to the best thing since sliced bread.

Bread includes ingredients that stop birth defects.

In 2009, the Federal Government made it mandatory to add folic acid and iodine to all bread except organic brands.

The drastic step was taken to combat two health issues -- severe birth defects like spina bifida caused by a lack of folic acid and a re-emergence of iodine deficiency.

Now nine years later, an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Tuesday declared the long-term project a success, reducing neural tube defects by 14.4 percent yet among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the rate of these defects reduced by 74 percent.

Pregnant women need more folate.

Institute head of population health Ann Hunt said the Indigenous statistics were significant.

"Aboriginal women were twice as likely to have a baby with neural tubes defects which is quite serious, it means the spinal cord doesn't close properly," Hunt told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Bread was chosen becasue we needed something that was eaten by all ethnic and socioeconomic groups."

Why does folic acid need to be added to a healthy diet?

Folic acid is crucial in the first weeks of pregnancy, drawing from what's already in the body.

More than 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, which is why the Dietitians Association of Australia recommends all women of childbearing age have 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.

This is upped to 600 micrograms for pregnant women.

Foods naturally high in folate include green leafy vegetables, asparagus, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, oranges, bananas, strawberries and liver.

To meet the requirement without enriched bread or a supplement, you'd need to eat nine cups of lettuce, or four and half cups of brussels sprouts or 26 spears of asparagus.

The mandatory additions are in all bread flour, so it covers people who make bread at home, but they were not added to organic flours and Hunt said women of childbearing age should check they were getting enough folate from their diet.