A new study by researchers from three of America's top universities suggests U.S. women aren't getting adequate amounts of a nutrient thought to promote normal fetal brain development.
Sponsored by the National Institute of Health, researchers found the average American consumes just 314 milligrams of choline each day -- much less than the 425 milligrams (women) and 550 milligrams (men) recommended by government health officials.
Choline is a nutrient essential for human brain development, normal memory function and fertility, and is thought to be particularly important during pregnancy. Foods rich in choline include soy lecithin, beef liver and egg yolks, although soy lecithin delivers one of the most bioactive and natural sources of the nutrient without cholesterol or saturated fat.
Accurately estimating per capita choline intake has been difficult because a food composition database was only recently made available to the research community. In this analysis, researchers studied the diets of some 2,000 subjects by comparing data from a food frequency questionnaire against a new U.S. Department of Agriculture choline database.
"Our research suggests the typical American diet is lower in choline than recommended," said Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., one of the study's researchers. "When corrected for energy intake, daily choline levels were significantly below the recommended daily intake for both men and women. Although we cannot be sure from this study, Americans may not understand the importance of choline in their diets, or may not know which foods are rich in the nutrient."
- New Poll Finds a Public Confused about Choline -
Most Americans can't say how much choline they consume each day and don't understand its role in the human diet, according to an August poll of U.S. adults.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents don't understand or don't know if they understand what function choline plays in a person's diet, and only 14 percent said they knew how much of the nutrient they consume in a day. Respondents over the age of 65 and between the ages of 25 and 34 were least able to estimate their daily intake.
Nutritionist Greg Paul, Ph.D., thinks choline consumption would improve if more food manufacturers used a recent Food and Drug Administration ruling to advertise "Good" or "Excellent" sources of choline on package labels.
"The small amount of choline found in most of today's processed foods makes it difficult for the average consumer to meet the nutrient's recommended daily intake," Paul said. "In 2001, the FDA ruled that food manufacturers could make certain claims about choline on product packages. Increasing the amount of choline in processed foods and better promoting those products that are good or excellent sources of choline are positive steps to help address this public health issue."
Paul said one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to boost choline levels in processed foods is to add extra amounts of soybean lecithin, a naturally occurring emulsifier long used as a functional food ingredient.
The study, "Choline Awareness in America," was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation's CARAVAN(R) among a nationally representative sample of 1,020 adults 18 years of age and older between August 24 and 27, 2006. Findings have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.