Nutrient in the Spotlight: Choline

There are several nutrients that the average American doesn’t consume enough of: potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamin D rank high on that list.

A nutrient that also belongs on that list, but isn’t as well-known, is choline. Only about eight percent of Americans consume adequate amounts of choline (according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), and the past two editions of the Dietary Guidelines identified it as a potential nutrient of deficiency in most Americans.

Why do you need choline?

Choline is important throughout the development of a fetus, especially for the brain and spinal cord. Outside of that, it plays lifelong roles in muscle control, memory, mood, and the stabilization of DNA. In other words, it’s important from the first stages of life onward.

How much do you need?

Infants need around 125 milligrams daily, while adults need between 400-600 milligrams daily depending on gender, age, and pregnancy/lactation status. As mentioned above, most people don’t reach these amounts.

Which foods contain choline?

Good sources include:

  • Beef liver

  • Eggs (especially the yolk)

  • Beef

  • Soybeans

  • Cod

  • Mushrooms

  • Potatoes

  • Peanuts

  • Milk

Is anyone at particular risk for choline deficiency?

Due to its role in brain and spinal cord development in a fetus or infant, pregnant and lactating women need to pay special attention to choline intake. Many prenatal vitamins don’t contain much choline – usually 0-55 milligrams – although the American Medical Association has made official recommendations that manufacturers of these supplements increase choline levels to 450 milligrams per day.

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