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9 Choline-Rich Foods To Protect Your Brain, Says Science

February 27, 2023

More than 90% of Americans are deficient in choline, an essential nutrient found naturally in dozens of foods. So why are we not eating enough choline-rich foods? What does choline do for our bodies and how much do we need to have each day?

Choline is a nutrient that is required for your central nervous system to work properly. It is needed to help produce important neurotransmitters that are needed to regulate mood and memory. It’s involved in many different functions in the body including metabolism and muscle control. Your body makes a small amount of choline in the liver, but the majority of it needs to come from food.

The science behind this brain-boosting nutrient

Choline deficiency has long been associated with negative health effects on the heart, liver, and brain, among other organs. A 2023 animal study out of Arizona State University published last month in the scholarly journal Aging Cell pointed to a connection between choline and Alzheimer’s disease. The mice, deprived of sufficient choline, showed neurological alterations typical of Alzheimer’s disease. These included the buildup of abnormal proteins called amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain — both classic indications of Alzheimer’s disease. The choline-deficient mice performed poorly on tests involving motor skills and spatial memory.

The good news is that choline is found in many different types of foods. Getting enough brain-boosting choline in your diet is all about eating a wide variety of choline-rich foods.

“Choline is needed to produce acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other key brain functions,” says Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND. “Because choline isn’t routinely measured in labs you will want to make sure you are eating a variety of foods rich in choline.”

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Choline-rich foods to include in your diet

The recommended daily intake of choline increases as you get older. People who are pregnant or lactating need even more. The average adult needs between 425 to 550 milligrams of choline per day. Here are some choline-rich foods to add to your diet to support your brain health.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. They are one of the top choline-rich foods available, with one serving providing 147 milligrams. In addition to choline, eggs are wonderful sources of folate, iron, protein, and vitamins A, B2, D, and E. Eggs are also easy and quick to cook.

2. Beef

Red meat gets a bad rap these days, so sometimes we forget how much of a nutritional punch beef gives us. Just three ounces of ground beef contains 72 milligrams of choline. Grass-fed beef also contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve heart health and lower triglycerides. In addition, beef is a great source of protein and heme iron, the type of iron your body can easily absorb.

3. Fish

Fish is often praised for its health-promoting benefits and one of those is its high levels of choline. A 3-ounce serving of Atlantic cod contains 71 milligrams of choline. Fish is also packed with protein, potassium, and vitamins B6, C, and D. Here are some easy ways to include more fish in your diet.

4. Red potatoes

Cutting carbs may be all the rage, but let’s not totally banish potatoes from our daily meals. Just one baked potato contains 57 milligrams of choline, vitamins B6 and C, and more potassium than a banana. Potatoes are inexpensive and last a long time on a pantry shelf.

5. Kidney beans

Just a half-cup of kidney beans contains 45 milligrams of choline. They’re so easy to add to a salad, a warm burrito bowl, or even a taco. In addition to being a choline-rich food, kidney beans provide potassium, fiber, magnesium, and iron. If you don’t have time to cook them from scratch, here’s The Easiest Way to Make Canned Beans Taste So Much Better.

6. Quinoa

Quinoa had a considerable rise in popularity a few years ago and there’s good reason. This South American grain is a great one to keep as a staple. One cup provides 43 milligrams of choline plus fiber, iron, folate, and copper. Quinoa is the only grain that contains all eight amino acids, making it a complete protein. Try this recipe for a quick quinoa pilaf for dinner tonight.

7. Shiitake mushrooms

A half-cup serving of shiitake mushrooms provides 27 milligrams of choline. Mushrooms are also high in potassium, fiber, and magnesium. This veggie is so versatile and can be added to many different types of recipes. Get those creative juices flowing with these 14 Healthy Mushroom Recipes That Make Fantastic Dinners.

8. Brown rice

One cup of brown rice provides 19 milligrams of choline. It also provides fiber, manganese, selenium, and several B vitamins. Recent research even shows its high antioxidant levels can help you reduce stress.

9. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is having a heyday right now. It’s used in place of rice and pasta, and even pizza crust. In addition to its dazzling versatility, it’s a choline-rich food: just a half-cup of cooked cauliflower contains 24 milligrams. It’s also a good source of vitamin K, folate, potassium, and magnesium. Try cooking with cauliflower tonight with these 5 Quick & Easy Ideas To Turn Cauliflower Rice Into Dinner.

Read next: The 7 Best Foods for Your Brain Health, Say Dietitians

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