There is so much talk about super-nutrients and super-foods, it can keep your head spinning. These include Vitamin D, DHA and cod liver oil for starters. However, there is one nutrient – not a vitamin and not a mineral – that is not mentioned enough.
Choline is a water soluble nutrient that is usually grouped with the B vitamin complex. While the human body does make some choline, it is not enough to sustain health. In fact, in 1998 the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine declared choline to be an essential nutrient – one that we have to get from food.
Along with this designation came the daily dietary recommendations for choline. Currently, it is 425 mg for women and 550 mg for men, per day, as well as 450 mg in pregnancy and 550 mg while lactating. Sadly, most Americans are not getting these levels of choline, which are merely the minimum needed to prevent liver disease.
Choline deficiency is a by-product of the low fat, low cholesterol craze, because, although it is a water soluble nutrient, it is found in most of the same foods that contain cholesterol and saturated fat which have been so wrongly maligned.
Role of Choline in Fetal Development
It is critical for pregnant and breastfeeding women to get plenty of choline. In China, pregnant women eat up to 10 eggs a day to ensure a healthy baby. Choline is critical for proper development of the brain and nervous system and deficiency has been associated with learning and memory problems in children.
Choline is present in breast milk which clearly indicates the need in a growing child. The levels of choline in the breast milk is entirely dependent upon the mother’s dietary intake. Commercial baby formulas do not have appropriate levels (and are contraindicated due to other critical problems).
For complete instructions on how to make a baby formula that does have all the important nutrients, see the Nourishing Traditions Homemade Baby Formula. You can get all the ingredients for homemade baby formula here.
Find out the key foods for nourishing a growing baby.
Role of Choline in Cell Membranes, Nerves and Brain
Choline is one of the building blocks for important phospholipids such as,
Additionally, choline is essential for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This molecule is important to neural functions such as memory, circadian rhythm, muscle control and the release of other neurotransmitters made from tyrosine such as noradrenaline, adrenaline and dopamine.
In studies of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it has been reported that there is a deficit of acetylcholine and abnormal phospholipid metabolism in the brain. Can we prevent these diseases if we protect our brain with appropriate nutrition? Hopefully we will see more studies targeting prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Role of Choline in Liver Health
Cholesterol is packaged in the liver for transport to other tissues. This assembly line is fueled by phosphatidylcholine. If there is a deficiency of phosphatidylcholine the fat accumulates in the liver and can develop into fatty liver.
Currently there is an epidemic of children (and adults) emerging with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A combination of a high sugar/low fat diet seems to encourage this.
Food Sources of Choline
The best source of choline is in organ meats. Beef liver has a whopping 356 mg of choline per every 3 ounces. That’s almost the RDA.
Wheat germ also has a lot – at 202 mg per 1 cup. The next best source is, of course, egg yolks, at 147 mg per 1 large egg. I would encourage you to source pasture raised eggs for the deep nutrition they have in the yolks. (source)
The next best sources are animal products, such as, beef, seafood and dairy as well as nuts and seeds.
Supplements of Choline
I recommend getting all your choline from food sources, because this also provides you with the cofactors that work synergistically together. If you feel you need to take a supplement you can use lecithin or phosphatidylcholine. However, I would avoid soy lecithin as it is probably made from GMO soybeans (which have other pressing problems as well).
You could also use phosphatidylcholine supplements from a reputable manufacturer, but here again is the issue of the source.
Once again we see the urgent need for eating foods from well sourced animals. Make delicious chicken liver pate that your kids will ask for! Offer plenty of eggs and bake with them!
Are you diligent in sourcing your animal products from pasture raised farms? Leave a comment a let me know!