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Okay, that's not exactly true. Choline is not exactly a vitamin, and hardly anyone knows about it. But now that I have your attention...

Choline is an essential nutrient with a variety of important physiological functions. It is involved in cell signaling, nerve impulse transmission, and fat metabolism. Your body is able to synthesize small amounts of choline, but unless you take in enough in food, and few do, you run the risk of deficiency.

Signs and symptoms of not getting enough choline include nonspecific ones such as fatigue, insomnia, and the inability of the kidneys to concentrate urine. More serious consequences of choline deficiency include fatty liver, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is a neurological disease affecting an increasing number of people worldwide, and it is characterized by a deficiency in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine covers a wide array of important functions. It is largely responsible for making your heart beat, and your muscles contract. Because it is involved in bodywide nerve transmission, this includes your brain, and acetylcholine is also involved in memory and cognition, which explains the dementia seen in Alzheimer's. As the name suggests, acetylcholine is derived from choline.

And now to the sources. Meat eaters will be quick to announce that the best sources of choline, far and away, are animal products. Foods like egg yolk, beef liver, and seafood contain large amounts of the essential nutrient. For example, one large egg provides 126 mg choline, which is roughly 25 percent of the daily requirement of roughly 500 mg/day.

But choosing to eat animal foods, and the cholesterol, saturated fat, and harmful residues they contain, seems like a less than perfect way of increasing intake of one, albeit important, nutrient. Better to take a supplement, such as lecithin. Best option, however, since choline works synergistically and interacts with other vitamins and minerals present in whole foods, is to emphasize plant sources.

Plant sources of choline include: Brussels sprouts and Broccoli (each have 60 mg/cup), collard greens, Swiss chard, and cauliflower. Firm tofu and peanuts are additional sources.


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