Choline: An essential nutrient for all ages and stages of life

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This post on choline was sponsored by Balchem, a nutritional ingredient supplier.

When the American Medical Association (AMA) makes a statement like this one reported in the AMA Wire regarding prenatal vitamins and choline, you know the news is a big deal.

The release stated that “Prenatal vitamins only contain 0–55 mg of choline, leaving the majority of pregnant and lactating women without enough dietary choline to protect the health and development of their babies…”

This news has placed the spotlight on choline, an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in growth and development, particularly during pregnancy. Much like folate, choline is needed to support spinal cord and brain development in developing babies. Low levels of choline intake during pregnancy may contribute to poor cognitive development and birth defects, explaining why the AMA recommended evidence-based amounts of choline be included in all prenatal vitamins. Choline’s benefits are not just limited to maternal and infant health, and research shows that choline plays a critical role in cell membrane signaling, helps to regulate metabolism, and promotes liver and cardiac health across the lifespan.1

You may be wondering, “just how much choline do I need?” The answer is that it varies between men, women, and different stages of life. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily intake of 200 mg for children, 550 mg for men, 425 mg for women, 450 mg during pregnancy, 550 mg during lactation, and 550 mg for men above the age of 70 years. Unfortunately, according to data from the 2007-2008 NHANES Evaluation, only about 10 percent of Americans are meeting the required intake levels of choline. Additionally, the data shows that only young children were reaching the recommended levels, likely because it’s just under half of what’s required for adults.
 Choline: An essential nutrient for all ages and stages of life

Found in many foods but in small amounts

And, many choline-rich foods aren’t popular everyday foods (think liver and lima beans), so it may be important to consider fortified foods and supplements to fill the gap. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, the below foods are among the highest:

  • Beef liver (~350mg per 3 ounces)
  • Chicken liver (~275mb per 3 ounces)
  • Whole eggs (~150mg per whole egg)
  • Beef, top round (~120mg per 3 ounces)
  • Beef, ground (~70mg per 3 ounces)
  • Cod (~70mg per 3 ounces)
  • Chicken, breast (~70mg per 3 ounces)
  • Beans, kidney, canned (~45mg per ½ cup)
  • Broccoli, cooked (~30mg per ½ cup)

A mixed diet rich in meats, whole eggs, and green vegetables can help people to incorporate choline into the diet.  With choline beginning to appear on Nutrition Facts labels, it is important to make an effort to incorporate choline-containing foods into meals and snacks whenever possible. If you are concerned you aren’t getting enough in your diet, be sure to speak with a healthcare professional about prenatal vitamins and/or supplements that may be appropriate.

For more information, and to learn how to incorporate choline into a variety of diets, be sure to check out the resources provided by the Choline Council.

 

  1. Sanders LM, Zeisel SH. Choline: Dietary Requirements and Role in Brain Development. Nutrition Today. 2007;42(4):181-186.
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