Choline is a nutrient essential to many bodily functions. Our bodies produce this vitamin-like compound in our liver, but not at sufficient levels. We need to get the rest of our body's requirements from food.
The richest dietary sources of choline are meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain choline as well, so there are plenty of options for people on vegetarian or plant-based diets.
Choline is also available as a supplement, either on its own or in combination with B-complex vitamins and multivitamins. There are no studies to confirm its effectiveness from supplements over dietary sources, however.
Why You Need Choline
The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that men and women get 500 milligrams and 425 milligrams of choline per day, respectively. Women who are pregnant should increase their intake by about 25 milligrams and breastfeeding women by 175 milligrams.
Our bodies make a small amount of choline, but we need to get most of our daily total from dietary sources. While most people don’t get enough in their diet, deficiencies are rare. At very low levels, a lack of choline can lead to muscle or liver damage.
Research shows choline helps maintain the health of several bodily functions, including:
Nervous System Function
Our bodies need choline to produce acetylcholine. Research shows this compound is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in functions like memory, muscle movement, maintaining your heartbeat, and even your mood.
While research is ongoing, choline is being studied for its potential to boost long-term cognitive health, including reducing the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Metabolism refers to our bodies' chemical reactions that change food into energy and break down nutrients to support healthy functions.
Choline is a vital nutrient for normal metabolic processes, like breaking down fats that maintain good cell membrane structure and carrying nutrients around your body.
Foods With Choline
Many foods are a great source of protein, particularly meat, dairy, and fish — but this puts people on a plant-based diet at a higher risk for choline deficiency. However, plenty of green vegetables and other vegetarian-friendly foods contain choline, just in lower amounts per serving.
To make sure you’re getting enough in your diet, consider these nine choline-rich options:
At over 414 milligrams per 100-gram serving, pan-fried beef liver is one of the richest choline sources. Chicken liver contains slightly less choline content with 200 milligrams for the same serving, which is still about half of your daily amount required.
2. Egg Yolks
Just one large egg contains almost 140 milligrams of choline in its yellow yolk — there's not any choline in the egg whites. Eggs are high in cholesterol, however.
Cooked beef is high in choline, with levels varying based on the cut. For example, a cup of ground beef contains 100 milligrams and a skirt steak has 51 milligrams per four-ounce serving. Because some cuts of meat can be high in saturated fats, choose a lean variety for its nutritional benefits without adding too much fat to your diet.
4. Chicken Breast
A serving of lean chicken breast contains about 15% of your choline content for the day. Depending on your taste, turkey products have comparable choline levels to chicken, including turkey drumsticks, bacon, and both light and dark meats.
Fish are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including choline. Caviar lovers can get 139 milligrams from a one-ounce serving, while fish roe used in dishes like sushi has 95 milligrams of choline per ounce.
Other fish varieties also contain high choline levels as well, like 100 grams of cod at 291 milligrams, and salmon, haddock, and most white fish at 95 milligrams.
Choline is present in most green vegetables but most heavily concentrated in broccoli. One cup of cooked broccoli has more than 60 milligrams of choline, which makes it an excellent source for people who avoid meat and dairy products.
Raw soybeans contain 216 milligrams of choline per cup, adding soy products to the list of choline sources for those on a plant-based diet. How the soybeans are processed can affect this choline content, however.
Choline is available in a wide range of dairy products. A cup of 2% fat milk contains 40 milligrams of choline, and depending on the product, most cheeses have between 36 and 65 milligrams per 100 grams. While you should limit your overall sugar intake, you can even get 20 milligrams of choline from a milk chocolate bar.
A cup of cauliflower adds about 47 milligrams of choline to your meal. You can either cook the cauliflower to get its choline — plus the rest of its health-boosting nutrients — or eat it raw, like grating it into cauliflower rice or a salad.