Choline for plant-based diets. What is choline and where do you find it? Here’s why choline matters and best plant-based sources of choline.
We’re big proponents that a well-planned plant-based diet can provide all of the nutrients you need, a position also kept by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That’s one reason we like to spotlight individual nutrients – so you can understand why they matter and where to find them.
Today we’re covering a micronutrient that you may not be very familiar with, but turns out that it’s pretty important both during pregnancy and beyond.
Around 90-95% of pregnant women don’t consume enough choline, regardless of what diet they follow.
What is Choline?
Choline is a key micronutrient for liver health, memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system function.
And when it comes to pregnancy, choline plays a major role in brain development for baby.
One 2012 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that getting enough choline, vitamin B12, and folate during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy increased memory and learning scores in 7-year-old kids by 1.4 points after adjusting for other maternal characteristics.
Proper choline intake may also help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. The two most common include spina bifida and anencephaly.
Choline is made in small amounts in our liver, but it’s unfortunately not enough to avoid deficiency.
This means we need to get it from our diet, too.
How Much Choline Do I Need?
The RDA of choline for women is 425 mg per day.
This jumps to 450 mg per day during pregnancy, and 550 mg per day while breastfeeding.
Children between ages 1-3 years old need between 200-375 mg of choline per day.
To meet these needs, we recommend including 2-3 servings of choline-rich foods per day.
Sources of Choline
Choline is found in small amounts of most plant foods, which is good news for a predominantly plant-based diet.
Some of the best plant-based sources of choline include:
- Soybeans = 100 mg per 1/2 cup
- Wheat germ = 50 mg per 1 oz
- Kidney beans = 45 mg per 1/2 cup
If you follow a vegetarian diet, eggs are another rich source, offering around 150 mg of choline each.
If you aren’t sure whether you’re meeting your choline needs through diet, it’s easy to supplement.
We recommend plant-based mamas-to-be and breastfeeding mamas supplement with around half of the RDA for choline – just to be safe.
Choline supplements are not recommended for children, however.
Simply prioritize choline-rich foods in your child’s diet to meet their needs.
Can You Get Too Much Choline?
Excess choline is mainly a concern with high-dose supplements, so don’t exceed the RDAs outlined above.
However, there is also a concern that eating a lot of choline can lead to an increased production of a compound associated with heart disease called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO.
The good news is that it appears people who follow a plant-based diet may have a reduced capacity to produce TMAO compared to omnivores, which is pretty cool in our opinion.
Regardless, during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early childhood, the benefits of optimal choline intake clearly outweigh any potential risk.
So, make sure you get enough of this nutrient from foods and/or supplementation to support you and your babe!
We hope this helps shed light on why choline matters and some of the best plant-based sources of choline. If you know someone who would benefit from better understanding choline for plant-based diets, share this post!
For more prenatal nutrition advice, be sure to check out our Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide.
Chime In: Were you already familiar with choline before reading this post? What are some good sources of choline in your diet?
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