What is choline?
That was a question that accompanied many a confused grimace as I searched far and wide for this essential nutrient throughout my pregnancy. While it is considered an essential nutrient - meaning our bodies don't make enough of it on their own to sustain normal functions - choline is not exactly a vitamin or a mineral. Rather it's a vitamin-like compound that is produced by the body in small amounts. Among its many roles, choline acts as a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in nervous system functions like memory, mood, and muscle contractions. It is also part of the structure of cell membranes, lipid transport, and gene expression. Because of its numerous roles, choline is essential throughout the entire life span. Its role in cellular division makes it particularly important during pregnancy, also lending to the prevention of neural tube defects. Studies have suggested cognitive benefits in children of mothers supplemented with choline during pregnancy, including memory function and information processing. Adequate intake of choline has also been associated with improved cardiovascular health such as lower levels of inflammation markers.
Adequate intakes of choline vary depending on your life stage. Adult males require 550mg/day, and females 425mg/day. Pregnant adult females require 450mg/day and lactating females even more - 550mg/day - suggesting how important choline is for the developing infant.
Choline in the Diet & Supplementation
While choline is not found in too many foods, the best dietary sources are animal-based foods like eggs, meat, liver, and dairy. 1 large hard-boiled egg contains 147 mg of Choline. Some plant-based sources include soy beans, quinoa, potatoes, and broccoli. Though research continues to point to the importance of this nutrient in the prenatal phase of life, most prenatal supplements do not contain choline. And even for those that are not pregnant or nursing, choline has been identified as an under-consumed nutrient in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.