Choline Foods: A Practical Guide

With our avoidance of foods like egg yolks and organ meat, choline is one of the hardest nutrients to obtain in adequate quantities in our modern food system.  

While high intakes of fat, fructose and alcohol can all contribute to fatty liver disease, the primary culprit seems to be choline deficiency due to our reduction of choline-rich foods.  

What does choline do in your body?

Choline plays an integral part in many processes in your body.

  • Choline is needed to make fats that support the structural integrity of cell membranes.
  • Choline is involved in the production of compounds that act as cell messengers.
  • Inadequate choline may result in fat and cholesterol buildup in your liver.
  • Choline and other vitamins, such as B12 and folate, help with a process that’s important for DNA synthesis.
  • Choline is required to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s involved in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other essential functions.

What are the health benefits of choline in your body?   

Choline is essential for lipid and cholesterol transport, metabolism of methyl groups and is critical for cognitive function and memory. 

Choline also plays a vital role in detoxification of chemicals, coordination, regulation of fatty acids and cholesterol. 

While your body can use B12 and folate to create choline, it’s much more efficient to get it from food.  Choline was only recognised as an essential nutrient in 1998 due to the fact it is so hard for us to make it.  

You may require more choline if you: 

  • drink high levels of alcohol or coffee, 
  • experience liver issues, 
  • consume a low protein diet, or 
  • struggle with poor memory.  

Choline deficiency conditions 

Choline, along with B12 and folate, helps with a process that’s important for DNA synthesis. 

Choline is required to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s involved in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other critical functions.  

The most common symptoms of choline deficiency are fatty liver and hemorrhagic kidney necrosis.  

Minimum choline intake

The Adequate Intake for choline is 550 mg/day for men and 425/day mg for women, with increased levels if you are pregnant (450 mg/day) or breastfeeding (550 mg/day).   

Note:  There is insufficient quantitative evidence to establish a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Daily Recommended Intake (RDI).   

While there is no Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) or toxicity level established, people supplementing with very high doses (10,000 to 16,000 mg/day) of choline have experienced the side effects of a fishy body odour, vomiting, increased salivation and increased sweating.

Highest food sources of choline 

The richest natural food sources of choline tend to be egg yolks and liver, though choline is also relatively high in the following popular foods:

Vegetables 

  • cauliflower 
  • asparagus 
  • cabbage
  • lettuce
  • broccoli 
  • zucchini
  • sauerkraut

Animal 

  • whole egg
  • milk  
  • cottage cheese 
  • ground beef  
  • brie
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • egg white

Seafood 

  • shrimp
  • salmon

Nutrient profile 

The nutrient fingerprint shows the availability of nutrients in the foods that contain the most choline.   Choline is typically the hardest to achieve in adequate quantities. Hence, it is vital to prioritise foods that contain more choline.   This is generally not a problem for someone on an omnivorous diet that includes eggs or liver, but adequate choline intake may be more of a challenge if you are vegan, have an egg allergy or do not like liver.  

Nutritious foods and meals to boost your choline

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low choline or are concerned that your current choline intake is low (e.g. due to a heavily grain-based processed diet with less protein), then you may be interested in our lists of choline-rich foods and meals. 

What you will get:

  • Our Nutritional Optimisation Kickstart Guide. 
  • A list of the most popular 50 foods that contain more choline.
  • A longer list of 100 popular foods that contain choline. 
  • A still longer list of 150 common foods that contain choline to allow you to expand your nutrient-dense repertoire further, and 
  • An index of 150 nutrient-dense recipes that provide more choline.  
Marty Kendall
 

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