Eating More Choline During Pregnancy Might Boost Your Baby'S Brainpower
If you are expecting, one nutrient you might want to make sure you’re getting enough of is choline. According to a new study led by a researcher at Cornell University, eating more choline during pregnancy may boost your baby’s brainpower.
What Is Choline?
Choline is an important nutrient for humans. It is crucial for the health of cells in the body, but is also needed to produce acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions in the brain and the nervous system. It is also crucial for early brain development.
The body can produce small amounts of choline in the liver, but not enough to meet its needs; that’s why we need to get choline from the foods we eat. Some foods that are rich in choline include egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and cruciferous vegetables. Choline is also found in breast milk and is added to most infant formulas.
What the Study Found—and What It Means for Expectant Moms
In the Cornell study, researchers randomly divided 26 women into two groups and had them all consume the exact same diet. Half the women received 480 mg/day of choline while the other half received 930 mg/day. (According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 450 mg/day is recommended for pregnant women and 550 mg/day is recommended for lactating moms.)
After the babies were born, the researchers tested the infants’ cognitive skills, specifically, their information processing speed and visuospatial memory, at 4, 7, 10 and 13 months of age. Here’s what they did: They showed the babies a computer screen, and timed how long each infant took to look toward an image that was on the periphery of the screen—a measure of how long it takes for a cue to lead to a motor response. (This test has been shown to be associated with IQ in kids.)
The result: The information processing speeds of babies whose moms consumed 930 mg/day of choline were significantly faster than those whose moms had 480 mg/day of choline.
In the Cornell University press release about the study, the authors note that this study supports what scientists have noted in research with rodents. “In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function,” said Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and the study’s lead author. “Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.”
Research has also shown that most expectant moms are not getting enough of this important nutrient. According to research cited by the NIH, approximately 90 to 95 percent of pregnant women consume less choline than the recommended amount.
How to Get More Choline into Your Diet
It goes without saying that it’s important to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and as this research shows, keeping an eye on your choline intake might benefit your baby’s developing brain. To make sure you’re getting enough, check out the NIH’s fact sheet on choline, which features a helpful list of foods that are loaded with this important baby brain-boosting nutrient. Some of the top items on the list include beef liver, eggs, beef, soybeans, chicken, cod, mushrooms, potatoes, wheat germ and beans, to name just a few.
While this study was done on a small sample of expectant moms, it’s nevertheless a good guideline for boosting your choline intake. The researchers note that the current choline guidelines were based on studies done on men that were looking at choline amounts needed to prevent liver dysfunction. Now, in light of this study on pregnant women, we can begin to see what levels might be good for babies’ brains.
And of course, as with anything, just because something is shown to be beneficial, it doesn’t mean you should overdo it. Talk with your doctor about what foods—including choline-rich choices—are right for you and enjoy delicious, healthy nibbles knowing that you’re doing your part to increase your baby’s brainpower.
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