Is Choline a concern for vegans? Clearing up the confusion

Yvonne O'Halloran

There have been recent media reports suggesting a vegan lifestyle is unhealthy due to the lack of choline, particularly for children. This is simply not true. The recent article was written by an author named Emma Derbyshire who is a Nutritionist with egg and meat industry ties- She is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel, an interest group that promotes the consumption of meat. She also consults and advises the British Egg Information Service and the written article is an opinion piece in the BMJ journal.

Choline derived from animal products leads to a by-product called TMAO which has been found to increase the risk for heart attack, stroke and death. One such study published in Circulation found that participants who followed a vegan or vegetarian diet were actually protected against the harmful effects of choline.

What exactly is Choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning that although it’s synthesised endogenously in the liver, mostly as phosphatidylcholine, the amount that the body naturally synthesizes is not sufficient to meet human needs so we must obtain choline from our food. Choline is essential for memory, mood, muscle control and other brain and nervous system functions. It is particularly important during pregnancy and lactation when demand is particularly high.

There has been limited research done on choline, and we don’t really know how much humans require through diet. Currently, we only have an AI (adequate intake) rather than the RDI (recommended dietary intake). The AI for choline is 550 mg/day for adult men and 425mg/day for adult women. This initial recommendation came from a small single study in 1991 that looked at 16 subjects which compared intakes of 500 mg/day to 50mg/day- no amount in between was examined! The study found that those who had 50 mg/day had decreased choline stores and liver damage so the 500mg/day was set as the ‘safe level’. It seems that requirements vary depending on the individual.

What foods to include:

Foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans contains small, but adequate quantities of choline. The National Institutes of Health states that certain vegetables and beans are rich sources of choline. Grains, nuts, and seeds are found to be reliable sources in general.

Along with the above recommendations, include foods such as soy products, shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, wheatgerm, kidney beans, quinoa, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower as they contain good amounts of choline.

There is no need to supplement with choline when you go plant-based once you are eating a well balanced and varied diet with minimal processed foods. It takes a little planning and awareness of the foods you are including but is totally achievable. Pregnant and lactating women should pay particular attention to their choline intake. There is definitely no need to panic over your choline intake or to go back to eating animals.

If you need further guidance on foods to eat please see the link here about choline for those who are vegetarian or vegan.

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