By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Choline during pregnancy can help you have the perfect pregnancy diet. Learn about choline foods and choline benefits. What is choline? Find out while you eat foods high in choline!
When it comes to the perfect pregnancy diet, you hear so much conflicting information about a diet plan during pregnancy. So what are the best foods to eat and nutrients to get for pregnancy? Why should you get choline during pregnancy?
There are so many that are important for your prenatal diet. One in particular is choline, a prenatal nutrient that's super beneficial. Read on for natural sources of choline and more.
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? You're in luck, because good meals for pregnancy do exist. 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.
Let's Talk About Choline
As a vegetarian, eggs are one of my go-to foods. While it's common knowledge that they supply protein, they're also a fabulous source of a nutrient you may not know much about.
This nutrient is choline, necessary to help keep your body in tip-top working order. Because close to 90% of Americans don't get enough of the nutrient, I'm bringing you info about what choline is and the foods you can get it from.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know a good amount about choline. But I was blown away with all the new information and science I was presented with, especially the connection between choline and prenatal health.
Despite its importance, a lot of people don’t know about choline. It's likely a nutrient that you're already getting at least small amounts of, but you should know more about it.
So I’ll give you the quickie overview now. Choline is a nutrient that helps your body function optimally—it’s important for heart health, brain health, memory, prenatal health, and more. It's really so amazing that choline helps brain development and cognitive functioning!
Although prenatal vitamins are of course important, choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. And choline isn't typically found in your pregnancy vitamins.
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
Let's talk about choline for prenatal health and beyond. 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 that's specifically focused on the prenatal benefits of choline, especially regarding choline and brain health. In the study, 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? I would definitely recommend including it in your perfect pregnancy diet! Learn more about what to eat while pregnant, including how to have a healthy plant-based pregnancy.
Choline Benefits Mom, Too
Just about 9% 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. So yes, getting enough choline during your pregnant lady diet is super important for many reasons!
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.
Foods High in Choline
Want to know about the best sources of 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 choline cocktail, 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. See, there are lots of ways to increase your intake of choline.
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.
Some of these choline foods are meals, and some (like the scrumptious chia pudding) are healthy snacks for pregnant women. Eat these foods that contain a high choline concentration, such as the ones below!
And of course, you can also take a choline supplement during pregnancy. Choline tablets come in a variety of options, including vegan choline supplements. If you'd like to buy choline, here are a few options:
Also use the infographic below to learn even more about how choline helps your health and where you can get it.
- Marie Caudill
- National Academies of Medicine and the Food and Nutrition Board
- Maternal Choline Supplementation During the Third Trimester of Pregnancy Improves Infant Information Processing Speed: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Feeding Study, FASEB Journal
- Usual Choline Intakes Are Associated with Egg and Protein Food Consumption in the United States, Nutrients
- A Higher Maternal Choline Intake Among Third-Trimester Pregnant Women Lowers Placental and Circulating Concentrations of the Antiangiogenic Factor FMS-Like Tyrosine kinase-1 (sFLT1), FASEB Journal
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I'd love to hear from you! Is prenatal choline included in your perfect pregnancy diet? What natural sources of choline do you enjoy eating? What other medical advice do you think is important during pregnancy? Are you at increased risk for any pregnancy-related health conditions?
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