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How to Get Choline on a Vegan and Vegetarian Diet

Sharon Palmer

Choline may not be on your radar, but it should be. This essential nutrient has been highlighted recently because Americans aren’t getting enough of it. According to a recent study, only about 11% meet their daily needs, and 65% don’t even know what it is!  Yet, this nutrient is critical for your health, particularly in maintaining a healthy liver system and brain. While everyone needs choline, it seems to be even more important early in life while the brain is developing, and later in life to prevent cognitive decline. That’s why the FDA recently established a RDI (Reference Dietary Intake) of 550 milligrams (mg) for choline for adults and children 4 and above, and a Daily Value (DV, the daily requirement abased on 2,000 calories per day), which you will soon see listed on the Nutrition Facts labels of foods—indicating what percentage of the Daily Value a portion of food provides.

Here are the Adequate Intakes established for choline. 

Adequate Intakes for Choline

 
Table 1: Adequate Intakes (AIs) for Choline 
AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
Birth to 6 months125 mg/day125 mg/day  
7–12 months150 mg/day150 mg/day  
1–3 years200 mg/day200 mg/day  
4–8 years250 mg/day250 mg/day  
9–13 years375 mg/day375 mg/day  
14–18 years550 mg/day400 mg/day450 mg/day550 mg/day
19+ years550 mg/day425 mg/day450 mg/day550 mg/day

 Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.

This Instant Pot Banana Brown Rice Pudding provides choline, compliments of the bananas and brown rice.

So, where can you get choline in your diet? The top sources include beef liver, eggs, beef, scallops, salmon, chicken, and cod. But where are you going to get choline if you’re a vegetarian or vegan? Vegetarians can get some choline in eggs and milk products. And there are several plant-based sources of choline (see chart below), including legumes, tofu, green vegetables, potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains, and fruit—all of which contain some amounts of choline. However, plant sources are fairly low in choline, making it even more difficult to reach that RDI of 550 mg/day if you’re vegan. Keep in mind that the average intake for choline in the U.S. is 402 mg in men and 278 mg in women.

This recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chickpea Bars is rich in choline, compliments of chickpeas and peanuts.

We don’t have a great deal of data on choline intakes among plant-based eaters. But here’s a sample menu for a vegetarian eating pattern providing 2000 calories per day:

  • Breakfast: Avocado Toast with Hard Boiled Egg
  • AM Snack: Apple & Cheddar Cheese Stick
  • Lunch: Loaded Sweet Potato with Brown Rice, Black Beans, Guacamole, Cotija Cheese & Sour Cream
  • PM Snack: Non-Fat Latte and Dried Dates
  • Dinner: Asian Tempeh Bowl

The estimated daily choline intake of this sample menu is 187 mg (37% DV).

However, keep in mind that I analyzed my version of a recommended healthy, well-planned vegan diet, as follows:

Breakfast
1 cup oats
1 banana
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons flax seeds
8 ounces soy milk

Lunch
Salad:
3 ounces extra firm tofu
2 cups kale
1/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons tahini
1 slice whole grain bread + 1/2 avocado

Dinner
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup masala sauce
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked brussels sprouts
1 apple

The estimated choline intake from this vegan menu (2452 calories) is 255 mg choline.

This recipe for Asparagus Dill Tofu Quiche is a good source of choline, compliments tofu, tomatoes, and flax seeds.

So, what should you do? First off, my recommendation for all vegans and vegetarians is to eat a diet rich in whole, minimally processed plant foods, including portions from all the major food groups at each meal: pulses (beans, lentils, peas) or soyfoods, nuts or seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (green vegetables daily). This will help supply a source of important essential vitamins and minerals to your diet, including calcium, iron, zinc, and choline. If you aim for a diet filled with whole plant foods, you may come pretty close to meeting your choline needs, as evidenced in my sample meal plan. Adult women should aim for 425 mg per day, and men for 550 mg per day. 

Orangesicle Popsicles contain choline, compliments of oranges, bananas, and soymilk.

My second recommendation for plant-based eaters (particularly for vegans) is to supplement smartly. It is important to supplement a few key nutrients. One is vitamin B12, which is found primarily in animal foods. In addition, I recommend that you consume fortified sources of calcium and vitamin D (for example, in plant-based milk) and evaluate whether you need to take an additional supplement to meet your needs. Other nutrients that may be worth supplementing include long chain omega-3s (algae DHA and EPA) and iodine. And, considering the recent news on choline, it seems that you might want to take a closer look at this nutrient in your diet.

If you eat a diet filled with whole plant foods, you may come pretty close to meeting your needs. However, if your intake is lower than 2000 calories per day for women, or 3000 calories per day for men, you may fall short of choline. So, you may want to supplement your diet a few times per week with choline. However, keep in mind that new research has linked high choline intake and blood levels with increased mortality. That’s because high choline intake has been linked with increased production of TMAO, which has been associated with significantly higher risk of heart attacks and strokes compared with lower levels. So, it may not be a good ideas to over supplement with choline. As with all dietary supplements, you should discuss them with your health care professional before taking them. It may be beneficial to take small doses of choline (about 250 mg) a few times per week to balance out low intake, but it’s not a case of more is better! Here is a really good article on this topic of choline intake and heart risks written by one of my colleagues, Carrie Dennett.

This recipe for Gado Gado is a good source of choline, due to broccoli, tempeh, peanut butter, and potatoes.

I prefer to approach supplementation from the perspective that you should supplement your diet with the nutrients you fall short on, not the whole kitchen sink in one pill. For example, plant-based eaters typically get higher levels of vitamins E, A and C, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate than omnivores. So, why supplement all of these nutrients, which may come along for the ride in a multi? And multivitamins may not contain those nutrients you are looking for, such as calcium and choline. A supplement should be just that—a supplement to your diet, covering the shortfall. You may need to only take half the recommended level to meet your diet half way. And remember that overdoing supplements is never a good thing. I recommend sticking as close to the recommended daily level as possible, factoring in that you gain some of these nutrients in your diet, too.

Please note that it is important to discuss any dietary supplement regimen with your healthcare practitioner. In addition, you should discuss your own personalized diet plan and nutrient needs with a trained, plant-based health care practitioner, such as a registered dietitian or physician knowledgable in this area.

Boost choline in your diet with chickpeas in this recipe for Chickpea Curry with Sorghum.

Vegan and Vegetarian Food Sources of Choline

The following plant foods offer sources of choline.

VeganServingCholine (mg)
Almonds, dry roasted1 ounce7
Apples, raw, with skin1 large8
Bananas, raw1 medium12
Bread, whole wheat1 slice15
Broccoli, cooked1 cup, chopped63
Brussels sprouts, cooked1 cup63
Brown rice, cooked1 cup18
Chickpeas, cooked1 cup70
Dates, medjool110
Flaxseed, ground2 tablespoons11
Lentils, cooked1 cup65
Oats, instant, fortified, plain1 cup17
Oranges, raw1 large16
Peanut butter, smooth2 tablespoons20
Peanuts1 ounce15
Potatoes, boiled, in skin½ cup11
Quinoa, uncooked¼ cup30
Soymilk, original and vanilla, unfortified1 cup57
Sunflower seeds, dried1 ounce15
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched1 cup13
Squash, summer, cooked1 cup9
Tofu, firm½ cup35
Tomato sauce1 cup15
Wheat germ, toasted2 tablespoons25
Vegetarian  
Egg1 large147
Milk, skim1 cup38
Yogurt, low-fat, plain1 cup37

Source: USDA

Brussels sprouts are a good source of choline. Try this recipe for Maple Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

Image: This Harvest Grain Bowl, which is rich in choline, is featured in my new book California Vegan, coming out in 2021.

Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on January 30, 2017; updated on August 6, 2020.

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10 thoughts on “How to Get Choline on a Vegan and Vegetarian Diet

  1. A seriously deficient level of choline can affect the brain and other organs, I have read, how do we as vegans get more choline without us eating every hour of the day?

    • Yes, it’s true that for some it is difficult to get enough choline to meet your needs. I think that a small supplement might be helpful for many individuals. However, the research seems to show that getting more than you need might be a problem too. So, just adding a small supplement to a diet already filled with choline-rich foods might be beneficial. It’s important to discuss this issue with a trained health care professional too.

  2. You give a Vegan Menu Sample that seems like a common meal plan for many, and it’s 2400 calories supplying only 37% of needed Choline.

    Then you say that if you’re a man getting 3000 calories on a vegan diet, you’re probably getting enough choline.

    And that most vegans eating a variety of plant foods are “coming close” to meeting their need for choline.

    But 37% isn’t close! and 50% isn’t either.

    If we really do need 400 – 550 mg of choline daily, then it appears that we can either consume 6000 calories lol or reach for supplements.

    Show me if I’m wrong.

    • Thanks for your comments. This is very complicated stuff! If you base your choline intake at 255 mg and compare it to a goal of 425 mg per day for women, then that would mean you’re meeting 60% of your estimated needs. It’s important to note that excess choline intake has been linked with increased production of TMAO, which may increase risk of mortality. People with higher levels of TMAO in their blood have more than twice the risk of heart attacks, and stroke, compared to those with lower levels. So, I think you have to be careful about over supplementing. Please note that, as with all dietary supplements, you should discuss this with your health care professional. It may be beneficial to take small doses of choline (250 mg) a few times per week to balance out intake. Here is a really good article on this topic.

      • Sharon, that paper you cite says that the amount of TMAO in some sources of choline is lower in plant-based foods especially compared to fish. It says “Some research studies that have found associations between TMAO levels and CVD have gone so far as to recommend limiting or avoiding choline-rich foods and dietary supplements containing choline. Caudill says this isn’t only premature, but it’s concerning, because following that advice may have unintended consequences. “The demand for choline is so high,” she says, adding that there’s evidence that going above the AI may be beneficial in certain populations, while other populations may need to be cautious about supplementing with both choline and folic acid, which can increase cell division.”

        Everything in moderation, but I think if one is vegetarian or vegan it would be wise to supplement with several teaspoons of lecithin a week. At my calorie intake and eating a healthy vegetarian diet similar to your meal plan, I would not be getting enough choline to be really healthy and this may have contributed to my current health issue. I started consuming sunflower lecithin, and even though it was a bit distasteful the first time, my body started to crave it for several days, so I think I was a bit deficient. Always best to listen to one’s body.

        • Hi, thanks for making these points. I agree with you—it might be hard to meet the needs for choline on a plant-based diet, even while considering the impact of TMAO. The overall goal is to get enough without getting too much. So, it seems appropriate that supplementing with a small amount of choline might be beneficial for those not meeting their needs. I love your suggestion of lecithin, as it does contain choline.

          • Thankful for this useful info on choline Sharon.I need to pay more attention to what I’m consuming to ensure I get enough.I will definitely up my intake of broccoli and chickpeas! Thanks

  3. Hi Sharon, thank you for this sound and balanced advice. I have read that nutritional yeast is a good source of choline but it’s hard to find out for the different brands (we tend to use Engevita in the UK). Does choline naturally occur in nutritional yeast without the manufacturer specifically adding it?

    • Most nutritional yeasts do not report on choline content, however some products do report good sources of choline. I would look at the label of the product, which is not available for me to review. Many nutritional yeasts are fortified, so it would be indicated on the label.

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