Choline: What Is It and How to Get Enough

September 7, 2017

Find out how to get enough choline and why everyone needs it in the diet, especially moms and moms to be.

Find out how to get enough choline and why everyone needs it in the diet, especially moms and moms to be. @jlevinsonrd

This post was sponsored by Balchem, a nutritional ingredient supplier. I only work with brands and organizations that I believe in and as always all opinions are my own.

When I was thinking about having children and finally pregnant with my girls, the main nutrient I was focused on making sure I had enough of was folic acid. If you’re a mom or mom to be, surely you’ve heard about the importance of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and promote proper development of the growing baby. But did you know that there’s another nutrient of concern for women of childbearing age?

Choline is an essential nutrient we all – men and women alike – need throughout life1, and it is especially important during pregnancy. Like folic acid, choline protects against neural tube defects and is important for early brain development. As we get older, choline is an important nutrient for mental health, metabolism, and memory.

Despite the importance of this essential nutrient, a recent study in the journal Nutrients found that only about 8 percent of adults and about 8.5 percent of pregnant women are getting enough choline.2 Clearly there’s a need for some education about choline and how to get it in our diets.

Trying to get enough choline? Make sure to eat a diet of choline-rich foods. Here are the top 8.

How Much Choline Do We Need & Where to Get It

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, adults and children over the age of four years old and pregnant and lactating women need 550 mg of choline per day.3 The foods richest in choline include whole eggs, salmon, beef and poultry, Brussels sprouts, wheat germ, collards, lima beans and edamame, and beef liver. However, the researchers of the study in Nutrients found that while people who consumed eggs and other protein-rich foods increased their choline intakes, they still frequently fell short of the recommendations.2

Since choline is especially important during pregnancy, one would think prenatal vitamins would have the recommended amount of the nutrient. However, most prenatal vitamins on the market have at most 55 mg of choline, which helps explain why such a small percentage of pregnant women are getting the amount they need.

The authors of the recent study concluded that it is “extremely difficult to achieve the AI (adequate intake) for choline unless individuals are consuming two eggs daily or taking a dietary supplement.”2

The egg on top of this Savory Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl is one way to get choline.
The egg on top of this Savory Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl is an excellent source of choline.

How To Get Enough Choline

As of June 2017 the American Medical Association has updated their recommendations for the inclusion of evidence-based amounts of choline in prenatal vitamins.4 Education and encouragement by OBGYNs and registered dietitian nutritionists will be especially important to ensure pregnant and lactating women get enough choline by taking supplements with appropriate amounts of choline and add choline-rich foods to their diets.

As you can see from the limited sources of dietary choline, it’s not so easy to get enough choline from the food we eat. One of the best tools to use to ensure you are eating choline-rich foods is meal planning. As you know from my Menu Plan Monday series and my Top 10 Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families e-book, I am a big advocate for meal planning in general, but especially when you need to make sure you are getting enough or not too much of certain nutrients in your diet.

Whether you’re pregnant or just looking to add more choline-rich foods to your diet here is a sample meal plan to get you started. As you see from this meal plan, even when you include the top sources of choline at every meal you can still fall short of your total choline needs for the day. This is especially true for vegetarians and vegans who don’t eat eggs, beef, and poultry. To be sure you get enough of this essential nutrient in your diet, speak to a registered dietitian nutritionist or your healthcare provider about adding a supplement – and look for one that has a significant amount of choline. You’ll find some great options here.

Want to get enough choline in your diet? Meal plan to ensure you eat choline-rich foods throughout the day.

1. Sanders LM, Zeisel SH. Choline: Dietary Requirements and Role in Brain Development. Nutrition Today. 2007;42(4):181-186.
2. Wallace TA and Fulgoni VL. Usual Choline Intakes Are Associated with Egg and Protein Food Consumption in the United States. Nutrients. 2017; 9(8):839-849.
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels. 21 CFR §101. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-05-27/pdf/2016-11867.pdf. Revised May 27, 2016. Effective July 26, 2016. Accessed May 25, 2017.
4. American Medical Association House of Delegates. Report of Reference Committee E. https://www.ama-assn.org/sites/default/files/media-browser/public/hod/ a17-refcomme-annotated-updated.pdf. Submitted June 11, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017.

Had you heard of choline before?

Do you eat choline-rich foods?

Share your experience with me in the comments below!

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  1. Interesting! So many things to consider..I have no problems taking a few supplements to fill the holes. Will have to look into it! Thanks.

    1. I’m not one to push supplements – I have a strong “food first” philosophy, but as you can see from the sample meal plan and limited sources of food that are rich in choline, it’s just not that easy to get what you need from food.

    1. Thanks so much Rebecca! Salmon and edamame are actually pretty common ingredients in our house, but collards and wheat germ need a boost. Oh and beef liver, but I’m not so sure I’ll go there 😉

  2. You don’t hear a lot of talk about choline, but looking at all the benefits, I think you should. Thanks for the info!

  3. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have not given much thought to to the amount of choline I take in, even though I know how important it is!

  4. I didn’t know this! It’s funny for how healthy we eat we can still be deficient in certain nutrients!Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

  5. I really did not know about choline at all thanks for sharing this. I need to get on it!

  6. I admit I didn’t know what Choline was until this post, so thank you! I do eat a good amount of eggs, so hopefully that is enough!

  7. I’m so glad to see choline getting attention and even more happy that my family consumes choline rich foods frequently 🙂

  8. Great post and so good you are bringing awareness to this nutrient! Amazing that the number of people getting enough choline is so low-I had no idea. I eat all of the foods you listed, except liver-not my thing 🙂

    1. Thanks EA. If you look at the sample meal plan, you can see that even when you include choline-rich foods it can be very hard to meet the recommended amount. I’m not one to push supplements, but for nutrients like this there really is no better way to ensure you’re getting what you need. And I’m with you – liver isn’t my thing 😉