Choline

Another day, another deficiency……….

We know we’re not going to die from protein deficiency and B12 deficiency is so last year, darling, so now there’s a new deficiency kid on the block. Choline.

You’ve got to hand it to them. Picking a nutrient that most of us have never heard of is actually a smart move because, if we’ve never heard of it, we’ve never been looking out for it and never consciously been trying to include it. So we actually COULD be choline deficient. Couldn’t we?

Well the truth is yes, we could. In fact, a recent study found that only approximately 10% of Americans achieved adequate choline intake through their diet.

Read that again! Only 10% of Americans achieved adequate choline intake!(1)

Now, last time I looked 90% of Americans weren’t following a plant based diet which means, yet again, we are being deficiency demonised when, in fact, people who follow a diet containing meat, dairy and eggs are also deficient! Sound familiar?!

So what are the facts about this mysterious little nutrient?

Choline is an essential nutrient which is required for normal bodily functions and human health. Our livers can make small amounts however we must obtain the majority through our diets.
It is neither a vitamin nor a mineral and is necessary for liver function, healthy brain development, muscle movement, nervous system and metabolism.
The importance of choline was a relatively recent discovery, only being recognised as an essential nutrient by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine since 1998.

So recent, in fact, that there isn’t actually enough date for a Reference Daily Intake (RDI) to be established, thus the Institute of Medicine has set a value for Adequate Intake (AI).

How much do we need?

The values, listed below, are intended to be sufficient for most healthy people but come with the following caveats:
• Requirements differ according to genetic make-up and gender(2)
• Determining choline intake is difficult because its presence in various foods is relatively unknown.

Values for Adequate Intake

• 0–6 months: 125 mg per day
• 7–12 months: 150 mg per day
• 1–3 years: 200 mg per day
• 4–8 years: 250 mg per day
• 9–13 years: 375 mg per day
• 14–19 years: 400 mg per day for women and 550 mg per day for men
• Adult women: 425 mg per day
• Adult men: 550 mg per day
• Breastfeeding women: 550 mg per day
• Pregnant women: 450 mg per day

Where can I get it?

In compiling a list of choline rich foods I managed to find 39 animal based foods which contain it.
The same quick search yielded 75 plant based foods!

The list below details mg of choline per 100g:

Tofu, fried 106.3
Tomatoes, sun-dried 104.6
Flax seeds 78.7
Wheat bran, raw 74.4
Pistachio nuts, roasted salt added 71.4
Beans, white raw 66.2
Spirulina, dried 66
Yeast extract spread 65.1
Pumpkin seeds 63
Cashews, dry roasted 61
Cashews, oil roasted 61
Pine nuts, dried 55.8
Sunflower seeds, dried 55.1
Peanuts 52.5
Almonds, dry roasted 52.1
Almonds, raw 52.1
Hazelnuts 45.6
Cauliflower, raw 45.2
Brussels sprouts, boiled 40.6
Pecan nuts 40.5
Broccoli, cooked 40.1
Walnuts 39.2
Cauliflower, boiled 39.1
Shiitake mushrooms, boiled 36.8
Dandelion greens, raw 35.3
Beans, white cooked 35.1
Oat bran 32.2
Rice bran 32.2
Peas, boiled 29.7
Brazil nuts 28.8
Ginger, raw 28.8
Peas, raw 28.4
Bread, whole-wheat 26.5
Asparagus, cooked 26.1
Sesame butter 25.8
Sesame seeds 25.6
Dandelion greens, boiled 25
Celery seeds 24.7
Garlic 23.2
Pears, dried 23
Coconut meat, dried 22.1
Cabbage, red cooked 21.4
Taro root, cooked 21.3
Cabbage, green boiled 20.3
Mushrooms, boiled 19.9
Spinach, boiled 19.7
Cress, raw 19.5
Brussels sprouts, raw 19.1
Broccoli, raw 18.7
Corn bran 18.1
Spinach, raw 18
Apples, dried 17.6
Cabbage, red raw 17.1
Beans, snap, green boiled 16.9
Asparagus, raw 16
Figs, dried 15.8
Beans, snap, green raw 15.3
Bread, wheat white 14.6
Oatmeal, 14.6
Potatoes, no skin, baked 14.5
Potatoes, with skin, baked 14.4
Avocado 14.2
Apricots, dried 13.9
Cress, boiled 13.8
Lettuce, raw 13.4
Molasses 13.3
Potatoes, no skin, boiled 13.2
Parsley, raw 12.8
Peaches, dried 12.7
Mulberries 12.3
Raspberries 12.3
Cabbage, Chinese, boiled 12.1
Coconut meat, raw 12.1
Cocoa 100% 12
Raisins 11.1

So as you can see, the definitive assumption that following a plant based diet will result in a hideous death, locked in a padded room in a strait jacket is already starting to unravel!

To summarise:

Yes, people could be eating less than the recommended (AI) but that deficiency is not limited to or even likely to occur in those following a well-balanced, plant based diet.

It is absurd to publicly state that those following a plant based diet are at risk of choline deficiency. It is also highly irresponsible, considering that excess choline intake is linked to various cancers and other diseases.

Saying we need to eat meat, dairy and eggs to acquire choline is akin to saying we will acquire oxygen by smoking cigarettes; there is a grain of truth in there but it really isn’t very clever!

Sources:

  1.  Moshfegh AJ. Choline intake in the US. Presented at: 2018 Choline Summit. February 21, 2018; Washington, DC.
  2.  Zeisel SH, Da Costa KA, Franklin PD, et al. Choline, an essential nutrient for humans. FASEB J. 1991;5:2093–2098.
  3. Schwarzenberg SJ, Georgieff MK. Committee on Nutrition. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics. 2018;141(2): e20173716

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