A recent article suggests that the growing trend towards plant based diets may put our brain health at risk. This is because choline, which is an essential nutrient, is largely missing from meat free eating plans.

raw meat and dairyShare on Pinterest
Meat, eggs, and dairy are excellent sources of choline.

An increasing number of studies are unraveling the benefits of plant based diets. Researchers are encouraging people to consume more and more fruits and vegetables, and more and more consumers are paying heed to this dietary advice.

For instance, just in the past couple of months, Medical News Today published articles suggesting that plant based diets can cut the risk of cardiovascular disease risk by 32% and diabetes by 23%. Another article indicated that merely adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet may lower cancer risk and lengthen lifespan.

Consumers also seem to respond to these studies by making dietary changes. Although surveys show that the number of people who consider themselves vegans or vegetarians in the United States has stayed the same in almost a decade, people’s interest in plant based foods is likely to have grown in recent years.

A summary of several Gallup surveys reports that “Sales of plant-based food grew 8.1% in 2017 alone and exceeded $3.1 billion last year, and plant-based alternatives to dairy products are soon expected to account for 40% of dairy beverage sales.”

“Based on the growth of the market and Gallup’s latest readings on vegetarianism and veganism, it appears Americans are eager to include alternatives to animal products in their diets,” the review concludes. However, it adds that people in the U.S. are not yet willing to give up animal products altogether.

In this context, a researcher has recently voiced concern over the growing trend towards plant based diets. Emma Derbyshire, Ph.D., a registered nutritionist and academic researcher, published an article in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health about this. In the article, she expresses worry that a deficiency in the essential brain nutrient choline may accompany the move towards plant based diets.

Choline is “essential” in the sense that just like omega-3 fatty acids, the human body does not produce not enough to meet its nutritional requirements. Therefore, getting choline from dietary sources is crucial.

Derbyshire is also the founder of Nutritional Insight, a nutrition consultancy firm in Surrey, United Kingdom.

Choline is vital for numerous aspects of good a metabolism, such as the synthesis of neurotransmitters, cell structure, and methylation.

Studies have linked choline deficiency with liver disease, impaired cognitive function in offspring, and even neurological disorders. The nutrient is key to the development of a healthy brain, particularly in the fetal stages.

Beef, eggs, dairy, fish, and chicken are the primary sources of this nutrient. Nuts, legumes, and vegetables, such as broccoli, contain the lowest amounts of choline.

In 1998, writes Derbyshire, the U.S. Institute of Medicine established the minimum intake of choline at 425 milligrams (mg) per day for women, 550 mg per day for men, 450 mg per day for pregnant women, and 550 mg per day for women who were breastfeeding.

However, the author continues, “The majority of Europeans, American, Canadian, and Australian populations are not meeting choline [Adequate Intake] recommendations.”

The author commends the latest report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health but is concerned about the low recommended intakes of choline.

“The recent 2019 EAT-Lancet publication has compiled a healthy reference diet, based on an adult dietary intake of 2500 kilocalories (kcal) [per] day,” writes Derbyshire.

“While this should be praised in that it is the first report to compile a healthy food plan based on promoting environmental sustainability, restricted intakes of whole milk, eggs, and animal protein could impact on choline intakes and status.”

“For example,” she continues, the report recommends just 7 grams (g) of beef and lamb, “13 g of egg and 250 g of whole milk or derivative equivalents, such as cheese.”

Given the acceleration of these dietary trends, their impact on choline intakes is a crucial area worthy of consideration and further study.”

Emma Derbyshire

“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,” adds Derbyshire.

“More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet and how to achieve this.”