Are Vegans Getting Dumber?

Lack of choline affects brain and liver

Redhead in kitchen

Redhead in kitchen

Beyond beef may sound healthy for the planet but it could also be dumbing down the whole vegan race.

The momentum behind a move to plant-based and vegan diets for the good of the planet risks worsening an already national epidemic of low intake of choline, an essential nutrient involved in brain health, warns nutritionist Dr. Emma Derbyshire of Nutritional Insight, a consultancy specializing in nutrition and biomedical science, in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

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Choline is an essential dietary nutrient, but the amount produced by the liver is not enough to meet the requirements of the human body. Fetal brain development is highly dependent upon adequate choline. It also influences liver function, with shortfalls linked to irregularities in blood fat metabolism, as well as excess free radical cellular damage.

The primary sources of dietary choline are found in beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken, with much lower levels found in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli.

In 1998, recognizing the importance of choline, the US Institute of Medicine recommended minimum daily intakes ranging from 425 mg/day for women to 550 mg/day for men, and 450 mg/day and 550 mg/day for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively, because of the critical role the nutrient has in fetal development.

Read: Vegan? Know Your Deficiencies

In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published similar daily requirements. Yet, national dietary surveys in North America, Australia, and Europe show that habitual choline intake, on average, falls short of these recommendations.

“This is.... concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets,” says Dr. Derbyshire, referring to restricted intakes of whole milk, eggs, and animal protein could affect choline intake.

“More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet,” she writes. “If choline is not obtained in the levels needed from dietary sources per se then supplementation strategies will be required, especially in relation to key stages of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, when choline intakes are critical to infant development.”

ReferenceEmma Derbyshire. Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2019; bmjnph-2019-000037 DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037
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