Can you get enough choline on a vegan diet? Choline was discovered relatively recently; it was acknowledged as a required nutrient in 1998 by the Institute of Medicine.
Should people who follow a plant-based diet be concerned about getting enough? What even is choline? And what foods is it in? To answer all of your burning questions, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide.
What is Choline?
Our livers make small amounts of choline, but predominantly, we get it from our diet. According to Healthline, it’s neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It’s similar to the vitamin B complex, but it’s technically a water-soluble compound.
Choline helps with brain development. It’s also important for liver function, metabolism, and maintaining a healthy nervous system. Healthline says, “[choline] is required to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s involved in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other basic functions.”
Although deemed an essential nutrient, research into choline seems to be fairly limited. There isn’t a recommended daily intake for the compound, due to a lack of available evidence. However, the Institute of Medicine has set a guide.
The institute notes that breastfeeding women and adult men should consume the most, at 450 milligrams a day. Pregnant women should aim to consume around 450 milligrams a day and non-pregnant adult women should look to consume 425 milligrams a day. For children and teenagers, the recommended amount varies. Babies aged zero to six months only need 125 milligrams a day, for example.
Research suggests that consuming enough choline can provide health benefits. Studies have shown that it can boost brain function and improve memory. One study — conducted at Massachusetts Institue of Technology — revealed that choline supplementation improved short and long-term verbal memory in adults aged 50 to 85. Researchers gave participants 1,000 milligrams of the compound a day.
It could potentially also help with keeping you feeling alert. According to the Journal of Aging Research and Clinical Practice, low choline intake is associated with feelings of sleepiness.
Choline could also potentially help to treat people suffering from mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder — but there are limited studies on this topic. One study — conducted back in 1996 — found that choline therapy improved symptoms of mania in bipolar patients.
Consuming adequate amounts of choline could also reduce the risk of breast cancer and the risk of neural tube defects in babies. However, research into these areas is limited.
Do You Need to Supplement Choline?
Some nutritionists believe that people following a plant-based diet should consider opting for supplements to boost their intake of choline.
Nutritionist Emma Derbyshire said in a BMJ Journal, “if people are eating a plant-based diet, particularly if they are women of childbearing age, they should look at supplements.” But this isn’t the view of everyone.
Bahee Van de Bor — a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association — disagrees with Derbyshire. She said, “you absolutely can meet the requirements with a vegan or plant-based diet. But you have to have a plan. Foods can be vegan but not provide the necessary nutrients.”
The Vegan Society agrees with Van de Bor. Heather Russell — a registered dietician working for the organization — said in a statement, “choline requirements and intakes in different dietary groups are poorly defined at present. This nutrient is widely distributed in plant foods because it’s present in cell membranes. Soya products, quinoa, and broccoli are some of the best plant-based sources.”
She added, “you do not need to take a choline supplement when you switch to totally plant-based nutrition if you eat a balanced and varied diet containing plenty of minimally processed plant foods. The evidence base shows that this way of eating can support excellent health.”
Studies have linked plant-based diets with reducing the risk of major diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — made up of around 12,000 physicians — believes that a number of chronic illnesses can be either prevented or treated through a plant-based diet.
Vegan Foods Rich in Choline
As suggested by both Van de Bor and Russell, Choline can be found in a number of plant-based foods. Chances are, you already include these in your diet, but if you’re not sure, here are six foods you could consider adding to your next vegan meal.
Tofu and other soy-based products, including soy milk, contain choline. According to Vegan Health, one cup of soy milk contains around 57 milligrams of the compound. Half a cup of tofu contains around 35 milligrams.
The BBC notes that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussel sprouts are also good plant-based sources of choline. Vegan Health notes that half a cup of chopped broccoli contains around 31 milligrams of choline.
3. Peanut Butter
If you’re a fan of peanut butter on toast, then you may be pleased to hear that the spread is a good choline source. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain around 11 milligrams of choline. Almonds and walnuts are also sources, containing more than seven milligrams and more than three milligrams respectively.
According to Vegan Health, pinto beans are a particularly good source of choline. One cup contains around 30 milligrams.
As well as being a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins, mushrooms also contain choline. National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that one serving (about half a cup) of shiitake mushrooms contains around 58 milligrams.
Quinoa — a versatile ingredient which forms the basis of a number of vegan meals, including curries and salads — is rich in choline. One cup of cooked quinoa contains about 43 milligrams, notes NIH.