Essential Prenatal & Postnatal Nutrient Spotlight: Choline

Lindsay Watkins, RD, IBCLC

Choline, an essential nutrient during pregnancy and postpartum is often missed by so many supplement companies. This is likely due to its bulky nature (making it difficult to fit into a prenatal) and the fact that supplement companies are just not up to date on the latest research.  Most diets are lacking in adequate amounts of this essential nutrient (especially vegan and vegetarian diets).  

Choline is technically a B vitamin. However, its discovery occurred much later than the original B vitamins, which is why it doesn’t have the numeric name. Choline is important for infant brain, spinal cord development and memory. In addition, it assists with the immune function of both mother and baby, is important for placental function, and research suggests it may help prevent preeclampsia. The recommended amount for pregnancy is 450 mg daily and during lactation the needs jump to 550 mg daily.

One of the best food sources of choline is eggs – each yolk contains about 150 mg. If you have the stomach for it, beef liver is the most concentrated source of choline at 350 mg per 3 oz. Some people find they can tolerate liver blended and mixed in a small amount of ground beef. Regular beef, fish, and chicken have between 75 -115 mg per 3 oz. serving. Smaller amounts of choline are found in plant foods such as red potatoes, wheat germ, broccoli, kidney beans, milk and quinoa. Here’s a full list of choline containing foods.

By far, the best sources of choline are animal based, however; If you’re a vegetarian who eats eggs, try including 2-3 eggs each day for breakfast or add hardboiled eggs as a snack. Make sure to eat the yolk; that’s where all the choline is! If you are vegan, you’ll likely need a supplement as it is extremely difficult to get enough choline from plant foods alone. Talk to your doctor about including a choline supplement with your prenatal if you feel you’re coming up short.

Tips for increasing choline intake:

• Add hardboiled eggs to salads or sliced on avocado toast. Mix scrambled eggs into fried rice or stir fries or simply add a fried egg or 2 to your favorite grain bowl to up the choline content of every day foods.

• One of my favorite choline-rich breakfasts is a version of this Hormone Balancing Paleo Power Breakfast. Cook up a big batch of sweet potatoes and greens at the beginning of the week and you’ll have a relatively quick weekday breakfast. I always add hot sauce and avocado for some extra flavor and healthy fat!

• This Chicken Fried Quinoa gives you a huge dose of brain building choline with eggs, quinoa, and chicken. Add in some broccoli and cauliflower for bonus choline!