We all know the super-nutrients of pregnancy are folic acid, iron and calcium. But recent research has discovered a new nutrient which needs adding to the list: choline. It’s a member of the B vitamin complex and is absolutely vital for cell growth, brain development and memory function - both for you and your developing child. The worrying news is that most pregnant women have inadequate choline in their diets, despite the fact that the nutrient is easily ingested by simply selecting the right everyday foods.
So what can be done to ensure you’re getting enough choline? Let’s look at the facts.
Why is choline so important?
Choline plays a powerful role in a variety of body functions, and its importance is magnified during pregnancy and breastfeeding when the needs of your growing child have to be met.
- Cell formation - As your baby grows in utero, new cells are constantly being formed. Choline is required to make phosphatidylcholine which is a key component of all cell membranes
- Brain power - Choline is also an essential building block for a memory-forming chemical called acetylcholine and is crucial for healthy brain development. Research has shown that if choline is inadequate during critical phases of neonatal development, particularly during the later stages of pregnancy, your child’s memory and learning ability could be affected for the long term. And it’s not only your child who needs the choline - so do you! It’s not uncommon to feel woolly headed and absent-minded during pregnancy when your choline reserves are dipping. By simply eating choline-rich foods, you can boost your own cognitive function as well as assisting your child’s brain development.
- Stress-busting - Choline has been shown to reduce babies’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy. This is believed to lower the chances of a child developing mental health conditions together with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Prevention of Neural Tube Defects - Research has shown that pregnant women with low choline intake have four times greater risk of giving birth to a child with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida, compared with women with high choline intake.
How much choline do I need?
To ensure the healthy development of your child, expectant moms require 450 mg of choline a day. If you choose to breastfeed, you’ll need to increase your intake to 550 mg a day.
So how can I get my choline?
It's easy! Prenatal supplements are widely available, but if you'd rather go down the natural route, let's look at the full variety of choline-rich foods...
- Eggs - 126mg/egg. This versatile food offers a highly rich source of choline. By eating just one egg a day, you’ll be making a huge difference to you and your baby.
- Tofu - 100 mg/3 ounces. Use tofu as an alternative to meat to boost your choline intake.
- Lean beef - 67mg/3 ounces. Beef liver in particular is very rich in choline.
- Cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage - 65mg/per cup when cooked.
- And, what luck! Chocolate contains small amounts of choline, too.
A super-nutrient for a super mom!
By carefully selecting a variety of choline-rich foods, or simply by taking prenatal supplements, you can rest assured it’s easy for expectant moms to hit their daily choline target. And don’t forget to keep up with the choline once your little one has arrived. Not only will you require increased choline if you choose to breastfeed, but you’ll also need it to boost your brainpower to combat the fog of sleep deprivation. This super-nutrient truly has the power to turn you into super mom!