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. 
 
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.

We don’t have a great deal of data on choline intakes among plant-based eaters. But here’s a model menu for a vegetarian eating pattern providing 2,000 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 model menu is 187 mg (37% DV).

I calculated choline levels on my version of a 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 Tomato Basil Steel Cut Oats provides a good source of tofu, compliments of tofu, oats, and tomatoes.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on January 30, 2017; updated on October 8, 2019.

 

 

One thought on “How to Get Choline on a Vegan and Vegetarian Diet

  1. 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?

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