Choline is rarely talked about as a must-have nutrient. With its ability to benefit the brain, nervous system and liver, making sure you get choline-packed foods into your diet is crucial for keeping your health in tip-top shape.
What Is Choline?
Choline is considered a water-soluble, organic compound — not a mineral or a vitamin. While it's not considered a vitamin, it is often grouped with other B complex vitamins due to its similarities and effects on vital body functions.
While the body can produce some choline on its own, it's not enough to meet your daily choline requirements. Because of this, choline was recognized by the Institute of Medicine as an essential nutrient in 1998, according to a November 2009 article in Nutrition Reviews.
The Adequate Intake (AI) for adults is 550 milligrams per day for men and 425 milligrams per day for women. While there is no recommended amount of choline in supplement form, the recommenced Tolerable Upper Intake Level is set at 3.5 grams per day for adults.
Health Benefits of Choline
Choline is essential for many bodily functions and it's been linked with several health benefits. "Choline basically helps to keep your cells and organs operating correctly," Anthony DiMarino, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The nutrient helps facilitate several cell and organ functions including lipid transport, neurotransmitter signaling and cell-membrane functions."
Choline plays an important role in many of the body's functions and processes including:
- Nervous system: Choline is required to make the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is involved in muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and formulating memories, to name a few.
- Cell integrity: Choline is needed to make the necessary fats that give the cell membranes their structure, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Cell communication: Choline takes a role in the production of compounds, called cell messengers, that aide in cell communication.
Choline and Brain Health
Choline has shown promising results for brain health and the nervous system. In a small April 2015 study, 24 healthy volunteers got a single dose of choline prior to cognition testing. When compared to a placebo, choline supplementation improved processing speed, working memory, verbal learning, verbal memory and executive function, per the Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior study.
Read more: The 9 Best Foods for Your Brain
What's more, choline and B vitamins are associated with promoting recovery after a stroke in mice, a study published in July 2017 in Neurobiology of Disease found. Additionally, choline was observed to promote neuroplasticity and increased antioxidant activity, which may benefit the central nervous system after a stroke. However, additional research needs to be conducted to confirm these results in humans.
Choline and Liver Health
Studies have also shown a link between choline intake and liver health. A study of more than 56,000 participants found that weight women with the highest intake of choline were observed to have a lower risk of liver disease when compared to those with the lowest intake, research published in December 2014 in The Journal of Nutrition found. While the study showed no association for men or overweight women, some people may benefit from higher levels of choline.
Another study published in April 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that lower intakes of choline were associated with an increase in disease severity in people with non-alcoholic liver disease.
10 Foods High in Choline
The following are the top ten foods richest in choline, according to the UDSA:
Lean Chicken Breast
A 6-ounce piece of chicken breast contains 198.9 milligrams of choline or 36 percent DV (Daily Value). The same serving of chicken breast also provides a lean source of protein, coming in at 54 grams. Try this recipe for Baked Chicken Nuggets, which nixes the oil and opts for gluten-free breading.
A 6-ounce filet contains 191.4 milligrams of choline or 35 percent DV. Salmon also provides a healthy dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which is also important for brain health. Try this Baked Salmon recipe that's super easy to make and a true crowd-pleaser thanks to its honey-soy-sauce marinade.
Lean Pork Chops
A 6-ounce pork chop contains 152.8 milligrams of choline or 28 percent DV. Lean pork chops also provide 32 percent DV of zinc and 45 percent DV of vitamin B12. Try these delicious Honey Mustard Pork Chops for a new twist on an old favorite.
When cooking protein-rich foods high in choline, DiMarino recommends grilling, roasting and baking for maximum nutritional benefit. These cooking methods don't require oil, so you can avoid adding extra fat to your meal.
One large egg contains 146.9 milligrams of choline or 27 percent DV. Eggs also provide 8 percent DV of vitamin A and 23 percent DV of vitamin B12. However, an egg-white omelet won't help you reap the benefits of choline since the nutrient is only present in the yolks. For a low-carb breakfast idea, try Cloud Eggs, which keep the yolk runny and toast-friendly.
Beef (Skirt Steak)
A 6-ounce steak contains 132.3 milligrams of choline or 24 percent DV. Beef also provides 52 percent DV of iron and 114 percent DV of zinc. Try this Paleo Charred Lemon Skirt Steak Salad for an excellent addition to any weekly meal plan.
Read more: 5 Healthy Red Meat Recipes That Satisfy
Three ounces or about 12 large shrimp contain 115.1 milligrams of choline or 21 percent DV. Shrimp is also an excellent source of lean protein, packing in 19.4 grams for the same serving size. These Grilled Shrimp Kebabs will add protein and major flavor to your meal.
One cup contains 81.4 milligrams of choline or 15 percent DV. As a plant-based source of choline, navy beans also provide almost a full day's worth of digestion-aiding fiber, with a whopping 19.1 grams per one-cup serving. This White Bean and Veggie Soup is a great option for a chilly, fall day.
One 16-ounce glass of 2-percent milk contains 80 milligrams of choline or 15 percent DV. Low-fat milk is also an excellent source of calcium, providing 45 percent DV. Whip up this Triple Berry Smoothie, which combines dates and flax seeds, for a vitamin-rich snack during the day. Like milk, buttermilk, yogurt and ricotta also contain choline.
One cup of cooked broccoli contains 62.6 milligrams of choline or 11 percent DV. Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse and the same serving will provide 112 percent DV of vitamin C and 183 percent DV of vitamin K. Try these Broccoli Cheese Bites as an appetizer for your next get-together.
One cup of cooked green peas contains 47.5 milligrams of choline or 9 percent DV. Peas are also a low-calorie source of plant-based protein and fiber (8.6 grams and 8.8 grams, respectively). Try the Hulk Avocado Toast With Peas for an extra-nutritious twist on a brunch favorite.
- Nutrition Reviews: "Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health"
- National Academies: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline"
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Higher Dietary Choline Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver in Normal-Weight Chinese Women"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Choline Intake in a Large Cohort of Patients With Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- USDA My Food Data: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Choline"
- Neurobiology of Disease: "B-Vitamin and Choline Supplementation Increases Neuroplasticity and Recovery After Stroke"
- Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior: "Neurocognitive Effects of Acute Choline Supplementation in Low, Medium and High Performer Healthy Volunteers"
- National Institutes of Health: "Choline"