Wish there was a magic nutrient to help increase both the chances of a healthy pregnancy, as well as the health of your baby—potentially for life? Here you go!
Thanks to the folks at VitaCholine for sponsoring this blog post. All opinions, as always, are my own.
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to hang out for an evening with nutrition researcher Marie Caudill and a handful of my dietitian colleagues in New York City. We gathered to learn all about choline, an essential nutrient for all ages and stages of life.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know a good amount about this nutrient. But I was blown away with all the new information and science I was presented with!
Despite its importance, a lot of people don’t know about choline. So I’ll give you the quickie overview. Choline is a nutrient that helps your body function optimally—it’s important for heart health, brain health, memory, prenatal health, and more.
Women should aim for at least 425 milligrams (mg) of choline daily, and pregnant and lactating women need a little more (450 mg), according to the adequate intake (AI) levels set forth by the National Academies of Medicine and the Food and Nutrition Board. If you’re pregnant, planning on getting pregnant one day, or know anyone who is planning a family, you must read the info that I’m about to share!
Choline for Prenatal Health
During Marie’s presentation, I learned about how choline is so important during pregnancy and infancy. This info is so fascinating, and I’ll definitely be referencing it one day when I want to have my own family!
Marie shared research she’s worked on, in which pregnant women were given higher amounts of choline (930 mg daily), versus a control group receiving a “normal” daily amount of 480 mg. The babies born to moms getting more choline were chiller, less stressed babies—and they had lower levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone.
Scientists have found that these lower cortisol levels could lead to a decreased risk of disease—including depression, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure—as the babies grow up. The lower cortisol levels could also help with the babies’ attention, learning, and memory. In fact, studies shows that the babies of the moms who took in higher amounts of choline were able to process information more quickly. So why wouldn’t you want to take in extra choline as a mom to be?
Benefits for Mom, Too
Just about 9 percent of pregnant women in the United States are meeting the 450 mg AI level for choline, shows current research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. But there’s good reason to focus on taking in enough!
As if the health benefits for babies aren’t cool enough, Marie also shared research about how extra choline intake during pregnancy provides health benefits for the mom to be, too. Such higher intake levels of choline resulted in lower risk of preeclampsia, a condition during pregnancy that results in risky complications such as high blood pressure.
Getting enough choline also lowers risk of neural tube defects for the baby. In one study, moms who took in 290 mg to 498 mg of choline daily had a lower risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, versus the moms consuming less than 290 mg of choline daily.
Ideas for Eating Your Choline
Lucky me got to sample choline-containing hors d’oeuvres at the event, including hardboiled eggs and lima bean hummus. There were also teriyaki beef-wrapped asparagus (beef offers choline), whitefish cream puffs, and canned salmon pate. I got to drink my choline, too, although you wouldn't want to do this if you were pregnant: I was served a “Cholini,” a martini featuring the choline-offering ingredient, lemon juice.
Other ways to eat your choline include foods like milk, chicken breast, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. And for all you moms to be out there, check out this pregnancy-focused choline meal plan, along with some ideas below for cooking with choline-offering ingredients:
What are your thoughts on this topic? What are your favorite choline-containing foods? How will you increase your choline intake?
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