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Choline—An Essential Nutrient You're Probably Not Getting Enough Of

Choline, a vitamin-like nutrient, is required for a number of vital functions in your body, but most people don't know what it is or how to include more in their diet.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) officially declared choline (a vitamin-like nutrient) an essential nutrient for human health. However, across the board, choline intake among all groups (men, women, children, pregnant women) falls well short of the Adequate Intake (AI) that the IOM established. Because choline is critically important in a host of functions in your body and the majority of people do not get enough of it, let us take a look at how you can include more choline-rich foods in your diet.

What Does Choline Do?

You need to obtain choline from your diet because choline helps maintain the structure and signaling functions of all of your cell membranes. Choline has a host of vital roles in metabolism, the transport of lipid structures, methylation reactions, and the formation of neurotransmitters. Studies have demonstrated that choline is imperative for optimal brain and memory development and healthy cognitive functioning throughout adulthood, particularly as you age.

How Much Choline Do I Need?

While your genetic makeup and environmental factors affect how much choline you need in your diet, there is an established level that is recommended. For women, the AI is set at 425 mg/day. For men, the AI is 550 mg/day. And although the majority of people are not at risk of getting too much choline, there is a tolerable upper intake level (UL) for all adults set at 3,500 mg/day.

Choline deficiency has been shown to cause muscle damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as impairments to the functioning of your white blood cells.

Which Foods Contain Choline?

What is the most concentrated, commonly-consumed source of choline in our diet? Eggs yolks. Yes, beef liver is technically first and then wheat germ, but people rarely—if ever—consume beef liver, and even if you do eat wheat germ, you’re likely not eating an entire cup of the stuff. Here is a list of foods that contribute choline to your diet:

Beef liver (3 ounces cooked) — 356 mg choline

Wheat germ (1 cup toasted) — 202 mg choline

Egg (1 large) — 147 mg choline

Beef, trim cut (3 ounces cooked) — 97 mg choline

Scallops (3 ounces cooked) — 94 mg choline

Salmon, pink (3 ounces canned) — 75 mg choline

Chicken breast (3 ounces cooked) — 73 mg choline

Atlantic cod (3 ounces cooked) — 71 mg choline

Shrimp (3 ounces cooked) — 69 mg choline

Brussels sprouts (1 cup boiled) — 63 mg choline

Broccoli, chopped (1 cup cooked) — 63 mg choline

Soymilk (1 cup) — 57 mg

Tofu, firm, prepared w/calcium sulfate & magnesium chloride (1/2 cup) — 35 mg choline

Skim milk (1 cup) — 38 mg choline

Easy Ways to Increase Your Choline Intake

*Enjoy a veggie-filled omelet for breakfast. To keep it light but still get the beneficial choline from the yolk, use one whole egg and three egg whites. Then, add tons of colorful veggies, some reduced-fat cheese, and voila! You have a jumpstart on your day’s requirement of brain-benefiting choline.

*Grill up some heart- and brain-healthy salmon patties. Simply mix a 6-ounce can of salmon (drained), 1/2 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs, one egg, 2 scallions (diced), and your favorite herbs and spices. Grill about 5 minutes on each side. Not only are you getting a healthy dose of choline, but you’ll be getting anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats as well.

*Make a quick seafood stir-fry with scallops, shrimp, and garlic and your favorite mix of crisp vegetables. For a tasty sauce, whisk together 1/4 cup light soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, and 1 teaspoon ginger. Add the sauce to the skillet until it thickens and then serve (alone or over brown rice).

*Enjoy some grilled cod with a side of oven-roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts, both of which contain choline.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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