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If you haven’t heard of choline before, don’t worry. This B-like vitamin has been making waves in the media over the last decade because research has found 90% of most Americans are deficient in this nutrient. Even the latest 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans found choline to be an under-consumed nutrient in the American diet.
While you may be eating some choline-containing foods right now in your diet, it’s likely not enough to fulfill your daily recommended needs. That’s where I come in as a registered dietitian nutritionist. After this, you’ll not only understand why choline is so important in the body, but also (and most importantly) know how to incorporate choline rich foods in your daily diet. Let’s dive in.
What is choline and why is it important?
Choline is a nutrient that’s involved in a cascade of metabolic reactions within the body, in addition to playing an important role in muscle function, mood, memory, and cognition. Choline is technically not a vitamin but is essential, meaning your body needs it in order to function at its prime.
While choline may be a somewhat “new” nutrient that physicians are beginning to discuss, registered dietitian nutritionists have had it on their radar for some time. And for good reason.
According to registered dietitian nutritionist, Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, author and creator of Safe & Simple Baby-Led Feeding, “Choline plays a key role in fat transport and metabolism, and helps remove cholesterol from the liver. Too little choline in the diet can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) due to a subsequent build-up of fat and cholesterol in the liver.”
NAFLD is the most common chronic liver condition found amongst adults in the United States, with 25% of the adult population being affected. It’s crucial that healthcare professionals address diet with their patients to ensure they’re meeting their choline needs, or supplementing with an appropriate form.
While research is evolving in this area, further studies have continued to support maternal choline intakes and the tremendous role it plays in cognitive development of their infants throughout the school-aged years. Given this important role, more prenatal companies are beginning to add choline to their supplements.
These foods are rich in choline
While supplemental choline is becoming more popular in vitamins and special fortified food products, choline is actually readily found in a variety of whole food sources, like animal proteins and dairy foods.
Here are foods that contain some of the most concentrated sources of choline:
- 3 oz beef liver, 356 mg
- 1 large hard boiled egg, 147 mg
- 3 oz beef, 117 mg
- ½ cup soybeans, 107 mg
- 3 oz chicken breast, 72 mg
- 3 oz fish, 72 mg
- 1 large potato, 57 mg
- ½ cup beans, 46 mg
- 1 cup quinoa, 43 mg
- 1 cup yogurt, 38 mg
While some foods like beef liver may not be a regular part of your diet, there are ways you can easily incorporate other choline containing foods in your daily meal plan. For instance, consider tossing some quinoa and beans on top of your chicken salad for extra texture (and added choline!). Or, make a loaded stuffed potato with a chicken or beef chili! This nutrient-dense meal will fill you up while providing two sources of choline.
Now, when it comes to the incredible, edible egg, research has found people who consumed eggs had double the choline intakes in comparison to non-egg consumers. Before you toss that yolk to “save calories”, think again! The egg yolks contain a majority of the egg’s choline and other important nutrients, like vitamin D, so it’s best to use the whole thing in your scrambles!
Malkani also suggests branching outside of the breakfast meal with eggs. She says, “We often think of eggs as a breakfast food (i.e., scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, etc.) but I love incorporating eggs into my family’s lunch and dinner meals by serving egg-stuffed burritos, herbed pancakes, frittatas and savory egg muffins.”
For those who follow a vegan diet, you can consider adding more soy based products in your diet, like soybeans and soy milk. While soymilk has a smaller amount of choline in comparison to the whole soybean, like edamame, it’s still possible to meet your daily needs in a well-balanced (and planned) diet.
How much choline do you need?
Choline is like other nutrients, such as iron, in that daily recommendations will fluctuate depending on the life stage you’re in. Here are the daily recommended intakes of choline needed based on different stages:
- Birth to 6 months: 125 mg
- Infants 7–12 months: 150 mg
- Children 1–3 years: 200 mg
- Children 4–8 years: 250 mg
- Children 9–13 years: 375 mg
- Teen boys 14–18 years: 550 mg
- Teen girls 14–18 years: 400 mg
- Men 19+ years: 550 mg
- Women 19+ years: 425 mg
- Pregnant teens and women: 450 mg
- Breastfeeding teens and women: 550 mg
You’ll see that during pivotal periods of growth and development, such as pregnancy and lactation, your choline needs increase to help provide the growing fetus the choline it needs to aid proper brain development.
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