Recently there have been countless questions pertaining to the vitamin-like compound, Choline, especially amongst pregnant women. Choline is a chemical like the B-vitamins, and is frequently lumped in with them, despite the fact that it’s not officially a B-vitamin.
The importance of choline was noted in the prevention of fatty liver going back 70 years ago. However, it wasn’t until 1998 that the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommended a daily intake level of 425 and 550 mg a day for women and men respectively. The requirement increases during pregnancy and lactation, daily intake levels at 450 and 550 mg. It’s been reported that a significant number of women of childbearing age in the United States are not receiving the daily requirements for choline.
Because fetuses and infants develop rapidly, they have a great need for choline. Choline is specifically high in human milk. Choline is an important nutrient that helps brain cells develop normally. Adequate choline during pregnancy has long-term effects on the child’s learning abilities and memory, and may provide resistance to mental illness. Some scientists have also pointed out getting enough choline during pregnancy can help protect a baby against neural tube defects, similar to what folic acid does.
Mothers who receive adequate amounts of choline have a reduced risk of breast cancer and lower levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid, a building block of protein, but too much homocysteine is connected with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline.
A choline deficiency may result in fatty accumulation in the liver and liver damage. A deficiency can also cause elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood. Markers of choline deficiency also include muscle deterioration.
The body produces some choline on its own, but not the amount the body needs. So we need to get choline from the foods we eat.
Identifying choline-rich foods is crucial, especially during breastfeeding as the choline the mother takes in through her diet will ensure she and baby receive the adequate amount of choline needed for appropriate health and development.
Some research shows that this compound may help decrease inflammation in the body and therefore, decrease the risk of heart disease . People who have a choline-deficient diet, for as short as a month, have been found to have a significant increase in DNA damage as well as an increased risk of cancer.
Many people believe the only source of choline comes from eggs. However, this is not true.
Although eggs do contain a high amount of choline, there are numerous plant foods that are more beneficial sources, including some nuts and seeds containing a high percentage of choline as well. It’s best to avoid the saturated fat and cholesterol of eggs, and the cruelty of farming eggs.
Legumes such as garbanzo beans, lima beans and lentils have about 70 mgs of choline per cup, while sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds have around 60 mgs of choline per cup. Flax seeds and pistachio nuts have 70 to 80 mg per 3-oz serving. Nuts and legumes, even if sprouted, should be consumed in moderation however, as they do contain amounts of anti-nutrients. Nuts and seeds are also high in fat. There are some good vegetable sources of choline.
Some excellent vegetables that contain choline include: cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy and broccoli. These vegetables boast around 65 mg of choline per cup. Others involve collard greens at 14.2% and swiss chard at 11.8% of your daily value. Spinach and asparagus are also very high in choline. Other foods containing choline include green peas, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes. Dried celery flakes, sun-dried tomatoes, mustard seed, coriander leaf, dried parsley, and dried coriander leaf add choline to dishes along with flavor.
Even one banana has 11.6 mg of choline, and one orange has 15.5 mg of choline.
Choline is found in a wide range of plant foods in small amounts. Keeping to a well-balanced plant-based diet focused on whole foods will ensure enough choline. Quinoa and broccoli are particularly rich sources.
by Karen Ranzi, M.A.
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