Renowned nutritionist says vegan diet doesn't have enough choline, an essential nutrient the body cannot do without

Choline is necessary for the production of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter which helps in regulating various brain functions like memory, mood and intelligence.

Myupchar September 05, 2019 12:07:15 IST
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Renowned nutritionist says vegan diet doesn't have enough choline, an essential nutrient the body cannot do without
  • Choline is necessary for the production of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating various brain functions like memory, mood and intelligence

  • Though our liver produces choline, it does not make enough to meet the needs of the body

  • If you are a 35-year-old man, you would need to eat about 11 cups of cauliflower or two-and-a-half chicken livers to get the daily recommended amount of choline

To be vegan or not to be vegan - the quandary came back to haunt fitness enthusiasts again in late August when nutritionist Emma Derbyshire of Nutritional Insights, UK, asked a simple question: does the non-dairy, non-meat diet have enough choline?

Dr Derbyshire's answer: a big fat no.

Renowned nutritionist says vegan diet doesnt have enough choline an essential nutrient the body cannot do without

Representative image. Image by silviarita from Pixabay

Choline is essential for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. Our brain depends on choline to control our moods, memory and muscles. Choline is also crucial for maintaining healthy cell membranes - the walls of each of the 30-40 trillion cells in our body. Studies show that choline is essential for normal metabolism, and a deficiency of choline can lead to muscle damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver disorder.

How much choline do you need?

The amount of choline you need differs based on your gender, age and stage in life. Here's a quick list:

  • From birth to six months: 125 mg per day
  • Infants of seven months to one year: 150 mg
  • Children aged one-three years: 200 mg
  • Children aged four-eight years: 250mg
  • Children aged 9-13 years: 375 mg
  • Boys aged 14-18 years: 550 mg
  • Girls aged 14-18 years: 400 mg
  • Men over 19 years:  550 mg
  • Women over 19 years: 425 mg
  • Pregnant women: 450 mg
  • Breastfeeding women: 550 mg

Though our liver produces choline, it does not make enough to meet the needs of the body. That’s why it’s important to get it from our food. Choline is found in foods like eggs, meat and dairy products, and to some extent in spinach, beetroot and wheat. Here's a quick veg versus non-veg tally of choline content:

  • 68 grams of chicken liver contains 222 mg of choline
  • One boiled egg contains 113 mg of choline
  • 85 grams of fresh cod contains 248 mg of choline
  • 110 grams of salmon contains 62.7 mg of choline
  • Half a cup of cauliflower contains 24.2 mg of choline
  • Half a cup of broccoli contains 31.3 mg of choline
  • 1 tablespoon of soybean oil contains 47.3 mg of choline

To put this context, if you are a 35-year-old man, you would need to eat about 11 cups of cauliflower or two-and-a-half chicken livers to get the daily recommended amount of choline.

Choline and health

Choline is necessary for the production of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating various brain functions like memory, mood and intelligence. It also plays an important role in DNA synthesis, which is crucial for brain function and development. Studies show that taking choline supplements may be beneficial for people who have had a stroke. Choline supplements for pregnant women have also been found to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies.

In the early 1970s, the American Heart Association recommended we remove eggs from the diet to control cholesterol levels. Though scientists have since revised their opinion of the health effects of eggs and meat, the humble egg still has a bad reputation in many quarters.

Here’s how the record stands now: Meat and eggs are no longer associated with high cholesterol levels. And, low levels of choline have been linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disorder.

Of course, veganism is not a new trend. It has, however, picked up again in recent times with more food choices for vegans in restaurants and supermarkets and vegan cosmetics for people who want to take their no-meat, no-dairy stance beyond food.

Yet nutritionists have been formulating and debunking diets for decades. And they’ll probably continue to do that for as long as food science is alive and evolving. For now, Dr Derbyshire has weighted the scales in favour of dairy and eggs.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/nutritional-deficiency

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