Folate, vitamin B12, zinc...all of these nutrients come to mind when we think of pregnancy, but have you ever considered your need for choline during this time of amazing growth? You may be thinking “what even is choline and why would I need it in pregnancy?”
Choline is an essential nutrient that acts like a vitamin; what makes choline essential is that we need to get it from our diet in order to have adequate levels. Choline is a key player in some major functions in our bodies like:
Fat and cholesterol metabolism (2)
Methylation + DNA creation (1,2)
Provides structure to our cells (2)
Helps to create neurotransmitters (2)
All of these functions become even more important during pregnancy. Choline is essential for fetal brain development, helps to prevent neural tube defects, and positively impacts the baby’s genetic expression. (1,3) Choline is also needed postpartum as mothers provide this essential nutrient through breast milk. (1) The recommended daily intake for choline for pregnancy is 450 mg, only slightly more than the 425 mg recommendation for non-pregnant women. (2) Unfortunately, many pregnant women do not meet the daily requirement for choline. (3)
Clearly choline is important! Does this mean you have to pop another supplement? Nope! Like many other vitamins and minerals we can find choline in a plethora of unprocessed whole foods.
Animal foods provide the most easily absorbable and readily available source of choline. The number one source of choline is actually beef liver which contains up to 356 mg per 3 ounce serving! (2) Liver alone, from chicken, beef, or lamb, will provide most of the daily recommended value, but if the idea of liver still freaks you out there are other options. Eggs are also high in choline. Two eggs contain 294 mg of choline, more than half of your daily value. (2) Skip the egg-white omelette though. Opt for the whole egg as the yolk is the most nutrient dense part (and contains the sought-after choline!). Seafood like scallops, salmon, and cod also contain choline in smaller amounts. (2)
Plant-based sources of choline include brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peanuts as well. (2) Keep in mind that while you can get choline from plant sources, it’s not as nutrient dense of a source. For example you’d have to eat 5 cups of broccoli to get the same amount of choline in two eggs. Check out this complete list from the Linus Pauling Institute for total choline per serving of common sources!
Need some inspiration?
Check out these Sprout Wellness recipes containing choline-rich foods:
Pregnancy and Lactation. Lpi.oregonstate.edu. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/life-stages/pregnancy-lactation#choline. Updated March 2016. Accessed April 12, 2018.
Choline. Lpi.oregonstate.edu. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline#neural-tube-defects-prevention. Updated January 2015. Accessed April 12, 2018.
Nichols L. Real food for pregnancy: the science and wisdom of optimal prenatal nutrition. San Bernardino, CA; 2018.
Edited by: Liz Winters, NTP