Plant-based diets risk choline deficiency - Animal foods such as eggs vital to ensure adequate intake

A new research paper published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health highlights the importance of including choline in the diet, noting eggs as one of the easiest and most effective sources, and urges UK officials to stop overlooking this vital nutrient at a time when plant-based diets are on the rise.

Similar to omega-3 fatty acids, choline is an essential nutrient that cannot be produced by the body in amounts needed for human requirements. It is however important for neurocognition, lipid metabolism, liver function and homocysteine regulation, and shortfalls are particularly concerning during pregnancy and lactation.

Author Dr Emma Derbyshire says, “The mounting evidence of choline’s importance makes it essential that it does not continue to be overlooked in the UK. Government bodies and organisations should look to extend datasets to include this essential nutrient.”

“Eggs, milk and meat appear to be major dietary providers and further movements away from consumption of these could have unintended consequences for choline intake / status.”

While the United States Institute of Medicine and European Food Safety Authority recognise the significant role choline plays, the essential nutrient is not included in food composition databases, main nutrition surveys or official recommendations in the UK.

It is widely accepted that animal food including eggs, milk and meat contain more protein per weight than plant sources and, Dr Derbyshire references multiple studies which have shown that the US Institute of Medicine’s Adequate Intake (AI) for choline is hard to meet without consuming them.

One study using US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data found that egg consumers had almost twice the usual choline intake than non-consumers. A Canadian study also found that just 23% of pregnant women and 10% of lactating mothers met the AI for choline, with those consuming at least one egg a day being eight times as likely to meet the choline intake recommendation than those who weren’t consuming eggs.