Author: Belinda Martin, Accredited Practising Dietitian|PREGNANCY NUTRITION
What is it?
Choline is an essential nutrient, which just means that our body can’t make enough of it and we must consume it (eat it!)
What does it do?
Choline is a substance needed for a lot of things that happen in our body. It helps maintain the structure of our body cells, it helps our brain send and receive messages, helps our memory and learning capacity, it’s needed for liver and kidney function and for lipid and cholesterol transport.
It also works with folate to make the spinal cord and brain stem when a baby is developing early in pregnancy. In fact, one study looking at 180,000 pregnant women in California from 2003-2005 found that even when folate levels where adequate, mothers with lower levels of choline had a higher risk of having a baby with neural tube defects. This study was published in 2009 and it seems like Australia is just catching on 10 years later!
More recent research published in 2018 found that children who received additional choline in utero showed increased attention span, memory, and problem solving at age seven.
Are we getting enough?
The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand recommend 440 mg/day of choline for pregnancy and 550 mg/day for breastfeeding. It’s estimated that 95% pregnant women in America are not getting enough Choline! We don’t have any available data in Australia regarding Choline intakes however we are probably not that different to America so I’m guessing our rates would be similar.
What can you eat to get more?
Foods high in choline are animal products and include meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and egg yolk. For those who are vegetarian, soy beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, chickpeas, potatoes and kidney beans are also rich in choline. Other dietary sources of choline include nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
In 2017 the American Medical Association called for all prenatal vitamins to contain adequate levels of choline, but they did not recommend an amount. There are currently no recommendations in Australia regarding Choline supplementation in prenatal vitamins.
What can you do now?
Try to include more choline in your diet, especially if you are pregnant. Eat a varied diet that regularly includes the foods listed above. If you would like more detailed individualised information of what to eat and what not to eat when planning a pregnancy or during pregnancy, then book into see us and we can work with you to tailor a plan to meet your pregnancy nutrition needs.
About the Author
Belinda Martin is a Perth Dietitian specialising in pregnancy nutrition, infant nutrition and paediatric nutrition. She is the co-founder of Advanced Dietitians Group and loves working with people and families. She has been a dietitian for 20 years. She has worked as a Senior Dietitian and Paediatric Dietitian in various teaching hospitals in Western Australia and the United Kingdom. When she is not working, she is trying to tame a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old (and a 40+ year old) at home.
About Advanced Dietitians Group
Advanced Dietitians Group was founded in 2014 by Belinda Martin and Ingrid Roche, Perth dietitians with a combination of over 40 years’ experience in the industry. Both dietitians have a range of experience across the lifespan but specialise in paediatric nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, infant nutrition and allergies. They provide up to date evidence-based nutrition advice. This coupled with their wealth of experience in dietetics ensures you get the best possible nutrition service. They get a buzz out of helping their clients and their families.