What is choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient in our foods. When we use the term essential, it basically means that the body is unable to produce something by itself and we therefore need to source it from our diet or by supplementation.

Choline is required to help maintain and build healthy cell walls and is crucial for memory, emotions and mood, muscle control, and other nervous system functions, as well as brain development.

It was only first recognised as an essential nutrient In 1998, when the Institute of Medicine established dietary recommendations in the form of adequate intakes.

The choline adequate intake (AI) level is 425 mg choline/day for women of reproductive age with upward adjustments to 450 mg choline/day during pregnancy and 550 mg choline per day during lactation.

Choline is absent from many prenatal vitamins

Although widely distributed in the diet, choline is absent from most prenatal vitamins currently on the market, and less than ten percent of pregnant women achieve target intake levels.

There has been a lot of bad press surrounding Choline and plant based diets over the past few years. We’ve had the whole protein debacle, followed by B12 and now Choline has been added to the long list of nutrients that us plant based “luvvies are missing out on.

Do I need to supplement Choline when pregnant & plant based?

Whilst I’d ordinarily be the first to defend a plant based lifestyle in relation to adequate nutritional intake. The truth is, that although widely distributed in the diet, choline is alarmingly absent from most prenatal vitamins that are currently on the market.

With an even more alarming statistic being that less than ten percent of pregnant women are getting a sufficient amount.

You’ll also find me advocating that as long as you’re following a plant based lifestyle and eating a varied range of healthy whole foods, that the chances are you should be hitting your quota for the day.

However, pregnancy is no time to just be “chancing it”

The importance of choline in human development is supported by observations that our unborn baby receives a large supply of choline during gestation. The development of the central nervous system is particularly sensitive to choline availability with evidence of effects on neural tube closure and cognition.

Existing data shows that the majority of pregnant and lactating women are not achieving the target intake levels and that certain common genetic variants may increase requirements for choline beyond current recommendations.

Because choline is not found in most varieties of prenatal vitamins or even that of regular multi-vitamins, we need to ensure an increase in choline rich foods to meet the high pre and postnatal demands.

Source: Pre- and postnatal health: evidence of increased choline needs

Planning is key

The key with eating plant based or vegan is that planning is crucial to ensure you’re achieving your intake of essential vitamins across the entire range, including Choline.

I shared the below graphic on Instagram this week which is an amazing example of Natural Sources of Vitamins.

When we decide to have a baby it’s a huge decision and our nutritional status from before we conceive right through our pregnancy and beyond will impact on our health and well-being as well as that of our baby,

Despite wanting to believe that our unborn baby will take what it needs from us nutritionally. The truth is that neither us nor our baby will thrive if we don’t include the vital nutrients in pregnancy that we need.

Do I need to supplement Choline when pregnant & plant based?

Plant-based Sources of Choline

Some of the best sources include broccoli and green leafy vegetables such as sprouts and kale. Soya products such as soy beans and tofu, as well as chickpeas and other beans and pulses.

FoodCholine
(mg)
Soymilk, original and vanilla, unfortified, 1 cup57.3
Roasted soynuts, ¼ cup53
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup45
Quinoa, cooked, 1 cup43
Navy beans, cooked, boiled, ½ cup40.7
Collards, cooked, boiled, ½ cup36.5
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride (nigari), ½ cup35.4
Chickpeas, cooked, boiled, ½ cup35.1
Lentils, cooked, boiled, ½ cup32.4
Brussels sprouts, boiled, ½ cup32
Broccoli, boiled, ½ cup31.3
Pinto beans, cooked, ½ cup30.2
Black beans, cooked, boiled, ½ cup28.1
Shiitake mushrooms, cooked, ½ cup26.7
Wheat germ, 2 tbsp25.3
Soy protein powder, 1 oz24
Peanuts, dry roasted, ¼ cup24
Cauliflower, boiled, ½ cup24
Peas, boiled, ½ cup24
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tbsp20
Orange, 1 large15.5
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz15
Tomato sauce, ½ cup12.2
Carrot juice, canned, ½ cup11.7
Banana, raw, 1 medium11.6
Oatmeal, instant, fortified, plain, prepared with water, 1 cup11
Walnuts, English, 1 oz11
Potatoes, boiled, with skin, ½ cup10.5
Dates, medjool, 49.5
Bread, whole-wheat, commercially prepared, 1 slice8.7
Zucchini, boiled, ½ cup8.5
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, 1 cup8
Apples, raw, with skin, 1 large7.6
Tahini, 2 tbsp7.6
Lettuce, cos or romaine, 1 ½ cups7
Avocado, ¼ cup cubes5.4
Table 2. Food Sources of CholineU.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019
Do I need to supplement Choline when pregnant & plant based?

Choline in a 2,000-Calorie Vegan Menu

BreakfastCholine (mg)Calories
1 cup oatmeal, cooked in water17.3166
2 tablespoons chopped English walnuts5.896
1 tablespoon wheat germ25.354
1 banana11.6105
1 cup soy milk57104
Total117525
Snack
1 navel orange11.869
1/4 cup dry-roasted almonds18206
Total29.8275
Lunch
2 corn tortillas6.4104
1 cup pinto beans60.4245
1/2 cup cooked sliced portobello mushrooms19.918
1/4 cup sliced avocado5.259
1/4 cup sliced tomatoes38
Total94.9434
Snack
1/2 cup raw sliced carrots5.3525
1/2 cup raw cauliflower florets23.713
1/4 cup hummus17.1109
Total46.15147
Dinner
1 cup cooked quinoa42.6222
1 cup cooked broccoli62.655
1 cup tofu71.4188
1/4 cup peanut sauce (includes 2 tablespoons peanut butter)20.2191
Total196.8656
Daily Total4852,037
Table 3. Choline in a 2,000-Calorie Vegan MenuU.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019

Disclaimer

I am not a doctor or a dietician.  The information I provide is based on my personal experience, studies of Vegan Nutrition and an Advanced Diploma in Diet and Nutrition.

Any recommendations I may make about nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you in person or on this website should be discussed between you and your doctor or Midwife.

The information you receive in our emails, programs, services and products do not take the place of professional medical advice.

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