Pregnant women know to take their prenatal vitamins, including folic acid. However, expectant mothers might want to up their intake of one often-overlooked nutrient: choline.
Neither a vitamin nor a mineral, choline is a water-soluble nutrient that is essential for many of life’s most important functions. While our bodies are able to make very small amounts of choline in the liver, most of it must be obtained from food sources. It can be found in various foods including beef, salmon, chickpeas, split peas, cauliflower, and egg yolks.
Choline supports many functions in the body, including the central nervous system, the liver, and the heart, just to name a few. It’s particularly important during pregnancy as choline plays an important role in fetal brain development. Further, some studies have shown it to protect against neural tube defects.
A new study from Cornell University suggests that increasing choline intake during pregnancy may help to boost infant memory and brain processing, thus leading to a higher IQ.
In the study, 26 women entering their third trimester of pregnancy were randomly divided into two groups. All of the women ate nearly identical diets. However, 13 women consumed 480 mg of choline, while the other 13 doubled their intake to 930 mg of choline. Unlike most vitamins and minerals, there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for choline. However, adequate daily intake for women is considered to be approximately 425 mg.
Once the infants were born, their processing speed and visual memory were tested at four, seven, 10, and 13 months of age. The study found that mean reaction time, an indicator of IQ later in life, was significantly faster for infants born to mothers who consumed the higher amounts of choline. Even for those babies whose mothers consumed less choline, the longer that they were exposed to the nutrient in utero, the faster their processing speed. The study concluded that even modest increases of choline during pregnancy prove beneficial to the newborn brain.
Egg yolks are an excellent source of choline, although must be cooked well during pregnancy to avoid the risk of salmonella. The study comes on the heels of another study revealing that infants should begin consuming eggs at six months of age.