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Are vegans choline deficient?


Are vegans choline deficient?

The US National Institute of Health estimates that 90% of the American population are choline-deficient [1] so why is the spotlight on those who follow a vegan diet? The British Medical Journal published concerns over the choline density within a vegan diet based on the nutritional profile of plant-based foods [2], but you will be happy to hear that it is possible to meet needs through vegan sources of choline.

Why is choline important?

Choline performs important functions in the liver, brain and body cells starting from pregnancy and infancy up until old age. It is a precursor to your brain chemical called acetylcholine which is responsible for your working memory, attention, and learning [9].  A study on mild cognitive impairment showed that 71% of 2044 patients that consumed a daily dose of a choline supplement called Alpha GPC corresponded to “no cognitive decline” or “forgetfulness” [10]. Another study showed that increased levels of acetylcholine appeared to boost attention in sustained attention performance tasks [11].

What is the evidence for choline deficiency among vegans?

The current absence of clinical and longitudinal study data on vegans represents a challenge. Popular veganism is a relatively new phenomenon and over 60% of all global studies conducted into the impact of a vegan diet have been commissioned in the recent years. More studies are needed to check if low choline levels are attributed to vegan brain fog. The body of data is growing, and there will be more evidence in the future.

Can you test for choline deficiency?

Traditional test methods to assess choline deficiency symptoms include blood tests and identifying biomarkers in urine samples [4] [5] [6]. These are only indicative of a small snapshot in time and provide inadequate insight into brain health. Novel testing techniques are in the pipeline.

The best way to avoid deficiency is to ensure adequate intake of choline. The important question to ask is, “how can I obtain adequate choline on a vegan diet?"

What is the recommended intake for choline?

European Food Safety Authority Dietary Reference Value (DRV) for choline



15+ years


Pregnant women


Lactating women



United States Daily Adequate Intakes (AI) for choline


Male (mg/day)

Female (mg/day)

14 – 18 years



19+ years









The richest sources of choline are found in animal [3] protein (per 100g) such as beef liver (426mg), fried egg (273mg), smoked salmon (224mg). In theory, this may make obtaining choline from a vegan diet more challenging.

Obtaining choline from a vegan diet

The great news is if you follow a vegan diet, you can obtain your daily adequate intake (AI) of choline from plant-based sources. You need to be mindful to ensure including a variety of vegan choline rich foods in your daily diet.

Foods (per 100g)

 Choline per serving (mg) [7]

Wheat germ, toasted


Soybeans, roasted


Mushroom shiitake, cooked


Brussel sprouts, boiled


Kidney beans, canned


Peanuts, dry roasted


Cauliflower, pieces, boiled


Green peas, boiled


Quinoa, cooked


Potatoes, red, baked, flesh and skin


 Which is the best form of choline?

Food-derived choline and other forms of choline such as choline bitartrate require complex mechanisms of action to enter the brain [16]. Those with low intake of choline rich foods can benefit from supplementation. Alpha GPC and Citicoline can freely enter the brain and get converted into acetylcholine. Alpha GPC is 40% choline by weight which is over double the amount contained in Citicoline (18.5%). If you're considering a vegan choline supplement brain feed’s 500mg Choline (alpha GPC) supplement is the world’s first 99% 500mg alpha GPC [17]. Read more about it here.

[1] Wallace et al. (2018) Choline: The Underconsumed and Underappreciated Essential Nutrient. Nutrition Today. [2] Derbyshire, E. (2019) Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? British Medical Journal Nutrition, Prevention and Health. [3] Ziesel et al. (2003) Concentrations of Choline-Containing Com-pounds and Betaine in Common Foods. The Journal of Nutrition. [4] Wallace et al. (2011). Choline supplementation and measures of choline and betaine status: a randomised, controlled trial in postmenopausal women. British Journal of Nutrition.[5] Wiedeman et al. (2015) Variability in Plasma Free Choline and its Relation with Diet and Potential Plasma Biomarkers. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal. [6] Kirsch et al. (2010) Quantification of acetylcholine, choline, betaine, and dimethylglycine in human plasma and urine using stable-isotope dilution ultra-performance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography B. [7] Physics Comitte for Responsible Medicine (2019) Clearing Up Choline Confusion. [8] All Recipes (2020) Amazing Mexican Quinoa Salad Recipe. [9] Zeisel et al. (1991) Choline, an essential nutrient for humans. The Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal. [10] Sangiorgi et al. (1994) α-Glycerophosphocholine in the Mental Recovery of Cerebral Ischemic Attacks. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. [11] Himmelhebar (2000) Increase in corticol acteylcholine release during sustained attention perfomance in rats. [12] Zeisel, S.H. (2006) The fetal origins of memory: The role of dietary choline in optimal brain development. The Journal of Pediatrics. [13] Edwards et al. (2019). Dietary choline is related to neural efficiency during a selective attention task among middle-aged adults with overweight and obesity. Nutritional Neuroscience. [14] Wiedeman et al. (2018) Dietary Choline Intake: Current State of Knowledge Across the Life Cycle. Nutrients. [16] National Institutes of Health (2020) Choline. [15] European Food Safety Authority (2016) Choline. [17] Wallace et al. (2018) Choline: The Underconsumed and Underappreciated Essential Nutrient. Nutrition Today. [18] Brain feed (2018) Choline: Alpha GPC.

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