A vegan diet can increase the risk of brain malnutrition and damage due to lack of essential nutrients, new research finds.
While a plant-based diet is an effective way to combat heart disease and cancer and it supports environmental sustainability, there are dangers.
Choline is mainly found in meat and, like omega-3 fatty acids, is an essential nutrient that has to be obtained from food.
This vitamin-like essential nutrient is also produced by the liver, but the amount is too small to fulfill the body’s requirements.
Choline is part of lecithin which is known for its effect in treating memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Egg yolk, beef, fish, chicken, wheat germ, soy beans, dairy products, peanuts, almonds are good source of this nutrient and smaller amounts are found in broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and baked beans.
For example, 100g of cooked beef liver provides 431mg of choline, one boiled egg provides nearly 150mg of choline, and 100g cod fish provides 84mg of choline.
Whereas, 100g of broccoli contains 40mg of choline, 100g of baked beans contains 31mg, and a 100g of spinach contains 25mg of choline.
Promoting healthy plant-based foods to protect the environment is important, but restricting eggs, animal protein, and dairy can reduce choline and other essential nutrients.
According to the US Institute of Medicine the minimum daily intake of choline for men is 550mg and 425mg for women.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women require at least 450mg and 550mg choline per day respectively, due to the crucial role of this nutrient in infant development.
Despite these daily requirements, national dietary surveys show that choline intake on average is low in the US, Europe and Australia.
Choline is not only essential for brain health but also influences liver function as shortfalls in this nutrient can cause cell damage and irregularities in fat metabolism.
These insights come from a study authored by Dr Emma Derbyshire who said:
“This is….concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets.”
Currently, choline is excluded from UK dietary guidelines, food composition databases and dietary surveys.
Dr Derbyshire said:
“Given the important physiological roles of choline and authorisation of certain health claims, it is questionable why choline has been overlooked for so long in the UK.
More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet, and how to achieve this.
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.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health (Derbyshire, 2019).