Choline in Foods

Choline, choline esters, and betaine can be found in significant amounts in many foods consumed by humans (see Figure 1 and Figure 2); some of the choline and betaine is added during processing (especially in the preparation of infant formula).

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Figure 1 Total choline content of some common foods. Foods, which had been prepared as normally eaten, were analyzed for choline, phosphocholine, glycerophosphocholine, phosphatidyl-choline, and sphingomyelin content using an HPLC mass spectrometry method. (Modified from Zeisel SH, Mar M-H, Howe JC, and Holden JM (2003) Concentrations of choline-containing compounds and betaine in common foods. Journal of Nutrition 133: 1302-1307.)

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Figure 2 Total choline plus betaine content of some common foods. For methyl donation choline must be converted to betaine, thus the methyl donor capacity is best expressed as total choline and betaine content, assayed as in Figure 1. Several vegetable and grain products contain significant amounts of betaine (Modified from Zeisel SH, Mar M-H, Howe JC, and Holden JM (2003) Concentrations of choline-containing compounds and betaine in common foods. Journal of Nutrition 133: 1302-1307.)

Though the different esters of choline have different bioavailability, it is likely that choline in all forms is fungible; therefore, total choline content is probably the best indicator of food choline content. Betaine should also be considered, as it spares the use of choline for methyl donation.

A number of epidemiologic studies have examined the relationship between dietary folic acid and cancer or heart disease. It may be helpful to also consider choline intake as a confounding factor because folate and choline methyl donation can be interchangeable.

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