There are some nutrients you know need to be a priority. Fiber, protein, omega-3s… they’re so frequently talked about by registered dietitians and other health experts that you can likely rattle off a list of foods that contain ’em in your sleep. But there are other nutrients that, while important, don’t generate the same type of buzz. Choline is one of those nutrients. It’s so under-the-radar that you might not have ever heard of it.
Nutrition expert Sonya Angelone, RD, says there is a good reason why a lot of people haven’t heard of choline. “[Health experts] have only been discovering nutrients the past 100 years or so and choline didn’t come into the conversation until 1998, which is when it was officially recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine,” she says. When you consider how long food has been around (um, forever), that’s relatively recent; choline entered our lexicon the same year Furby did.
“Choline is what’s considered an essential nutrient, which means that although your body produces some of it, you have to eat foods that contain it to get enough,” Angelone says. She explains that while it isn’t a vitamin per se, choline is considered part of the vitamin B family.
Despite it not being talked about that frequently, Angelone says there are several reasons why it’s important foods with choline are a regular part of everyone’s diet. Here, she explains the benefits of the nutrient and lists the best food sources. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
5 key choline benefits
1. It contributes to cell membrane health.
Angelone says that one reason why choline is important is because it contributes to the health of every cell in the body. “Choline is really important for cell membrane integrity,” she says. Cell membrane integrity is critical for cells survival and protecting the body against diseases.
2. Choline helps protect the brain from cognitive decline.
“Choline is a critical nutrient for brain function,” Angelone says. In fact, it is especially important to get enough during pregnancy, as choline is directly linked to developing the brain in the womb. Scientific research shows that consuming choline-rich foods is linked to better cognitive performance. It’s also important for people who have experienced a traumatic brain injury. The reason why choline is so important for brain health in these ways is because it plays a critical role in neurotransmitter function; without it, neurotransmitters don’t communicate to each other as well.
3. It contributes to having a strong memory.
One specific way choline is beneficial for brain health is that it supports a strong memory. Scientific research shows that consuming choline-rich foods regularly can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline. This is because choline is a component and precursor of acetylcholine, a crucial neurotransmitter for memory-related brain functions.
4. It supports a healthy liver.
Choline isn’t just important for brain health. Angelone says it supports the liver, too. “Choline helps metabolize fat, which goes on in the liver,” she says. “In fact, one reason why many people develop fatty liver disease is because they aren’t getting enough choline.”
5. Choline is good for your heart.
Another organ choline directly benefits: your heart. “Research is showing that choline consumption is directly related to lowering the risk of heart disease,” Angelone says. While the link has been established, more research needs to be done pinpointing exactly how choline is benefitting the heart.
With a resume like this, you’re probably wondering what to fill your grocery cart with to ensure you’re getting enough of this brain-boosting, multitasking nutrient, right? Angelone says that while there is no official set amount of exactly how much choline we need to consume a day, it’s generally recommended that adults get between 400 and 550 milligrams a day. Next up, find out what the best foods with choline are, so you can meet this recommended daily amount.
The 10 top choline foods
Eggs are an excellent source of choline, with 147 milligrams per serving. That’s about a quarter of what’s recommended for the entire day.
Meat is one of the main sources of choline, with beef and chicken being particularly high in the nutrient. One serving of beef has 117 milligrams of choline while a serving of chicken has 72 milligrams.
3. Beef liver
If you really want to get your choline fill, liver is the best source you can go for. A serving of beef liver has more than half of the recommended daily value with 356 milligrams per serving. It makes sense: after all, choline is good for the liver.
Fish is notoriously good for brain health and it isn’t just because of all the omega-3s; it’s a good source of choline, too. The National Institutes of Health specifically calls out cod as being high in the nutrient, with 71 milligrams per serving.
If you don’t eat meat or consume animal products, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to miss out on this important nutrient. Soybeans also contain choline, so consuming foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all choline-containing foods you can work into your meals.
Choline is also found in some vegetables, most notably potatoes. One serving has about 57 milligrams. It’s just another reason why the tuber is so nutrient-rich.
7. Brussels sprouts
Another veggie full of choline is Brussels sprouts. A serving has about 32 milligrams of the nutrient which isn’t a ton, but every drop in the bucket counts–especially if you eat primarily vegan or plant-based.
If you’re getting choline primarily through plants, peas is another veggie to add to your shopping list. Like Brussel sprouts, it doesn’t contain a whole lot, but working several different choline-filled veggies like these makes a big difference when combined all together.
Beans really are a nutrient powerhouse. Choline is just one brain- and heart-healthy nutrient you’ll find in them. As if you needed another reason to make sure your pantry is stocked with them at all times, right?
If you’re all about cauliflower pizza, cauli-rice, and cauli-mashed potatoes, great! It means you’re already working choline into your meals. One serving has 24 milligrams of the nutrient. Again, it’s not a heck of a lot, but when combined with some of the other foods on this list, it definitely makes a difference.
As you can see, there’s certainly no shortage of ways to eat your choline. Even if you were unaware of the nutrient, chances are that at least a few choline-rich foods are already a mainstay in your diet. If you consume animal products, you’re likely getting enough choline without even thinking about it. If you are vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based, it’s still 100 percent possible to get enough choline–it just might take more attention. It’s certainly worth the effort, especially if brain health is one of your health goals. Choline does the entire body a whole lot of good; don’t miss out.
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.