What is choline and why is it essential?

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If you haven’t heard of choline, you’re not alone. Although not technically a vitamin, choline is grouped in with the vitamin B complex, along with riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and others. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine listed choline as an essential nutrient. Despite this classification, you won’t find choline nutrition facts on the backs of products you buy. In fact, nearly 90% of all Americans aren’t getting the recommended amount of choline each day. Luckily, choline is common and getting enough is just a matter of eating the right foods.

Why should I care about choline?

Choline isn’t essential “just because;” it helps the metabolic function of your body in numerous ways. Choline improves the creation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with long-term memory, muscle control and more. The facilitation of neurological function and development makes the high choline content of human breast milk entirely logical. Choline also:

  • Helps protect against fatty liver disease
  • Can reverse damage done to the liver
  • Improve brain function
  • Keeps homocysteine from building up (high levels of homocysteine have been associated with heart disease and other cardiovascular problems)

How much choline do I need?

According to the United States Institute of Medicine, men older than 19 need at least 550 mg every day. Women 19 and older need 425 mg daily.

Because choline is still one of the “newer” essential nutrients, not as much study has been conducted on its effects later in life. While choline can improve neurological function, studies have not yet shown if the elderly need more choline than other ages.

What foods contain choline?

In order to keep from getting choline deficient, which can result in fatty liver disease and other issues, you just need to make sure you get enough in your diet. This is not as hard as it may seem. According to the National Institute of Health, eggs are the best source of choline for most people. You can get choline from numerous foods you probably already eat:

  • Beef
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Chicken
  • Eggs (especially the yolk)
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Pork
  • Salmon

Some foods may be higher in choline than others. However, because eggs and milk tend to be so common in our diets, they are often the easiest ways to make sure you get enough choline in your diet. For their size, eggs contain one of the best ratios of mass to choline content available.

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