Did you know that eating fat can sometimes have health benefits? There’s a compound present in fatty foods that plays a role in many important processes within the body. Just remember that the type and quantity of fat you’re consuming matters.
What is Choline?
This macronutrient helps with liver function, nerve function, brain development, muscle movement, maintaining a healthy metabolism and supporting positive energy levels. Choline is present in a compound called phosphatidycholine, which makes up the structural component of fat.
Phosphatidycholine is found in various foods that naturally contain specific types of fats.
Choline isn’t actually a mineral or vitamin, but it is related to vitamins like folate and B complex vitamins. It plays a similar role to B vitamins in that it supports energy, metabolism and brain function.
Because there it isn’t technically a vitamin or mineral, there is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) established by the USDA. Still, it is possible to become deficient in this important macronutrient.
Health Benefits of Choline
Choline is involved in an important process within the body called methylation. Methylation is used to create DNA, help signal nerves and detoxify the body. Choline also aids acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps nerves tell muscles to move among other things.
Below are some of the key benefits of Choline:
- Mood Enhancer
More research must be done, but many believe that choline helps enhance your mood by increasing levels of acetylcholine, which stimulates various functions related to mood.
Choline may also be the answer to your anxiety, according to a 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. Researchers tested the choline levels of nearly 6,000 people and monitored levels of anxiety and depression.
They found that anxiety levels went down as blood choline levels went up. They didn’t find the same with depression, but this is still a clear indication that choline may help you beat anxiety.
- Weight Loss Aid
Even though you’ll get choline by eating fat in food, it may help you lose body fat. This is because choline is a lipotropic compound. This means that it helps the body break down fat during metabolism. One study on professional female martial artists found that choline supplements reduced body mass without any side effects. Participants were split into weight categories and divided into experimental (choline-taking) and control groups. Those who took choline lost an average of 10% of their body fat after a week of supplementing.
- Improves Cognitive Function
Choline helps your brain function. Without enough choline, you will most certainly see a decline. Choline plays a large role in improving memory and aiding in the learning process. One study found that a diet without adequate choline may leave you more susceptible to cognitive decline in your senior years.
Choline, and its role in supporting acetylcholine, is crucial for learning because it helps electrical signals transmit properly and allows for faster cognitive processing.
- Liver Detoxifier
Choline is also instrumental in aiding the liver. The liver uses choline for many functions, including staving off non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Choline helps transport specific triglycerides to help improve liver function.
Signs of Choline Deficiency
Many people who exhibit signs of choline deficiency may have genetic factors that create a greater need for choline. This may account for half of the population, according to an article published in the journal Nutrition Reviews. These people’s genes create an increase in methyl requirements, for which choline is a source. If you happen to be among those who naturally need more choline, it is easy to become deficient.
The difficult part about determining general guidelines for choline is that individual needs tend to vary greatly. If you suspect you may have a choline deficiency, look for the following symptoms.
Symptoms of a choline deficiency may include:
- Low energy or fatigue
- Cognitive decline
- Memory loss
- Mood changes or disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Nerve damage
- Muscle aches
Also, if you have been diagnosed with a fatty liver, you are more likely to be deficient in choline. If you are experiencing symptoms, it may be time to increase your intake of choline-rich foods.
Many sources of choline are animal products, so if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may be more prone to a deficiency. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should consume animal products, but you should try to increase the number of choline-rich foods you consume.
Keep in mind that the symptoms of choline deficiency are similar to symptoms of other medical conditions and deficiencies. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned. In the meantime, it cannot hurt to eat a varied diet. This is the best way to ensure you’re getting good levels of choline daily.
Food sources of Choline
According to a national survey, most people aren’t getting enough choline from their diets. A 14-year prospective study of more than 14,000 middle-aged people found that choline intakes were only between 294 mg and 332 mg among men and women. The recommended Adequate Intake (AI) determined by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences is 550 milligrams for men and 425 milligrams for women.
The following foods are considered good food sources of choline:
- Pasteurized eggs – Just one egg yolk contains 115mg of choline
- Beef liver – 5oz of raw beef liver contains 423mg of choline
- Nuts and legumes – Garbanzo beans, lentils, and lima beans have about 70mgs per cup. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds contain about 60mg of choline per cup.
- Cruciferous vegetables – Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and bok choy contain about 65mg of choline per cooked cup
If you consume a vegetarian or vegan diet, be sure to load up on the cruciferous veggies, nuts, and legumes on this list to ensure you’re getting enough choline in your diet. Otherwise, if you focus on eating a varied diet with lean meat, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, you should reach the recommended 425mg or 550mg of choline daily.
If you are concerned that you cannot get enough choline from your diet, supplementing may be a good option. If you choose to go this route, look for a supplement that is of high quality and made from whole food sources.