Choline on a Vegan Diet – Sources, Requirements, Day on a Plate
March 26, 2022
Choline is an essential nutrient that hasn’t received much attention until recently, yet it plays a vital role in keeping our body happy and healthy. It is predominantly found in meat, dairy and eggs. Therefore, those aiming to get enough choline on a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet need to plan carefully to avoid deficiency.
What is choline?
Choline is a vitamin-like compound that plays many important roles in the body. It is used for brain function, cell membrane health and metabolism of fat from the food we eat (1).
This nutrient is essential in making acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine helps regulate our nervous system, muscle contractions and cognitive function (7).
Why is choline important?
Choline is important for many different reasons, including:
Cognitive (brain) health:
- This nutrient assists with the production of an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Acetylcholine assists with sleep regulation and mood (7)
- Studies have found a link between higher cognitive performance in adults and choline intake (5, 7)
- Those with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of the enzyme that converts choline into acetylcholine (2)
- This nutrient also plays a role in making DNA which is important for brain development
- Choline is important for producing a compound that assists with transporting cholesterol from your liver. Deficiency in this compound has links with developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) from the build-up of cholesterol (3)
- Choline is essential in the development of neural tubes in foetuses. Deficiencies in this nutrient while pregnant may negatively impact the child (2)
- As acetylcholine plays a vital role in dilating blood vessels, this assists in lowering blood pressure (2). Higher intakes of choline have been linked with reducing the risk of heart disease (3)
Choline requirements on a vegan diet
While a small amount of choline is made in the liver, most must be obtained through dietary sources. The adequate intake as measured by the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand (1) is listed below.
It is important to note that requirements increase for women that are pregnant or lactating.
|Age Group||Choline Adequate Intake (AI) per day|
|Infants and Children |
The recommended upper level (UI) for daily intake of this nutrient is 1000mg for children and 3500mg for adults (1).
Sources of choline on a vegan diet
|Food||Serving size||Choline (mg)|
|Soybeans, roasted||½ cup||107|
|Wheatgerm, toasted||½ cup||101|
|Kidney beans, canned||1 cup||90|
|Chickpeas, cooked||1 cup||71|
|Lentils, cooked||1 cup||65|
|Edamame, cooked||½ cup||56|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||43|
|Brussel sprouts||½ cup||32|
|Shiitake mushrooms||½ cup||27|
|Protein powder, soy||30g||24|
|Peanuts, roasted||¼ cup||24|
|Peanut butter, smooth||2 tbsp||20|
|Sunflower seeds, roasted||¼ cup||19|
|Brown rice, cooked||1 cup||19|
|Cabbage, boiled||½ cup||15|
Note that wholegrains and legumes are the richest sources of this nutrient.
Vegan high choline day on a plate
To ensure you’re eating enough of this nutrient throughout the day, here is an example of how to incorporate choline-rich foods in every meal:
Porridge with wheatgerm (¼ cup) and oats (¼ cup) topped with 1 tbsp of peanut butter, 1 medium banana and blueberries
Mixed berry smoothie with vanilla protein powder (30g), 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 cup soy milk and a handful of ice cubes
Nourish bowl with 1 cup quinoa, ½ cup cauliflower, ½ cup soybeans, ¼ avocado, a handful of rocket and 1 tbsp tahini dressing
Mixed nuts (30g – e.g. peanuts, walnuts, almonds) with plant-based yoghurt and 1 orange cut in slices
Tofu fried rice with 1 cup brown rice, tofu (100g), peas (¼ cup), broccoli (½ cup), shiitake mushrooms (½ cup) and edamame (½ cup)
Total: approx. 547mg
Signs of choline deficiency
Deficiency in this nutrient can affect health in these main areas:
- Long term choline deficiency can result in muscle and liver damage. Research shows that deficiency can cause abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver resulting in a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (3).
- A third of those who develop NAFLD may progress to a more extreme liver condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. This condition indicates there is significant inflammation and damage to liver cells.
- Women who are pregnant or lactating have higher requirements for this nutrient and by not consuming enough, birth defects may occur in the infant. Studies found that pregnant women that were deficient in choline had a much greater risk of their unborn babies developing neural tube defects (2, 3).
- Feelings of restlessness, fatigue and anxiety can be signs of deficiency. As stated above, those with Alzheimer’s disease are found to have lower levels of the enzyme that helps convert choline into acetylcholine (2). Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, confusion and mood swings.
Does following a vegan diet affect your risk of choline deficiency?
In Australia, there is little concern for deficiency within the general population.
As many choline-rich foods stem from animal origin, vegans and vegetarians with a diet high in refined and processed foods can be at risk of developing a choline deficiency (1).
However, with careful planning and a diet high in whole foods, it is possible to meet dietary requirements to avoid deficiency.
If required, supplements for this nutrient can be found in many forms. For example, lecithin can be used as a food additive or is available as a choline supplement. Other names for these supplements are:
- CDP choline
- Alpha GPC
- Choline chloride
If required, supplements range from 200mg to 2000mg dosages. However, it is important that some people may experience negative side effects from consuming doses that are too high (6).
Side effects from excessively high choline levels include (2):
- Fishy body odour
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to speak to your GP.
Should you supplement choline on a vegan diet?
With planning and including a variety of whole foods, meeting daily choline needs are attainable with a food-first approach.
However, as deficiency during pregnancy can cause birth defects, pregnant women that struggle with eating enough of this nutrient may look to include a supplement.
As requirements for males are higher than women, some vegan or vegetarian men may find it difficult to consume enough of this nutrient on a day-to-day basis.
Before starting any supplementation program, it is important to talk to your doctor and/or dietitian.
Choline is an important nutrient for the brain, heart and liver. It is usually found in foods with animal origins, so vegans and vegetarians should take care to ensure deficiency is avoided. A diet high in legumes and vegetables can assist with increasing intake of this nutrient.
Our dietitians at Plant Nutrition and Wellness are experts in plant-based and vegan nutrition. If you have concerns about meeting your choline requirements, book a consultation to discuss how we can help.
This article was co-written by student dietitian Leanna Fyffe and PNW dietitian Megan Boswell.