We have previously reported the importance of ensuring that vegan parents ensure that their children are getting all the required nutrients to develop healthily. But now it has been revealed that there is a little-known brain nutrient that all vegans have to make sure we are getting through our plant-based diet.
Nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire has highlighted that plant-based and vegan diets could have an unintended consequence for a little-known nutrient essential for brain health – Choline. This essential dietary nutrient is crucial, especially during foetal development, and also influences liver function.
Dr Derbyshire, writing this week on the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, stated that “Choline is presently excluded from UK food composition databases, major dietary surveys and dietary guidelines. The mounting evidence of choline’s importance makes it essential that it does not continue to be overlooked in the UK”.
Choline can be found in traditional sources at sufficient levels such as beef, eggs, dairy products, fish and chicken – all strictly off-limits to vegans. But the good news is that it is also present in nuts, beans, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts, as well as baked beans, mushrooms and quinoa. These staples of a vegan diet should ensure, if eaten in sufficient quantities, should ensure the correct levels of choline intake. Dr Derbyshire argued that the “adequate intake levels” should be 425mg per day for women and 550mg for men. Research suggests that pregnant and breastfeeding women in particular should ensure they had enough choline in their diets, because of the benefits for foetal brain development.
“I’m looking in the first instance to raise awareness. But I also think if people are eating a plant-based diet, particularly if they are women of childbearing age, they should look at supplements,” Dr Derbyshire continued.
A spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association said, “You absolutely can meet the requirements with a vegan or plant-based diet. But you have to have a plan – foods can be vegan but not provide the necessary nutrients. Just like iron, B12, omega-3 and calcium, people on plant-based diets need to ensure they are getting enough choline in their diets. And if you don’t like those foods, you might need to consider supplementation”.
Given the previous lack of information about this brain nutrient, it is something all vegans should consider and research, and take the necessary steps to remedy should they feel they are not eating sufficient quantities of the recommended foods as described above. Just something else we have to be aware of….!