Nutritionist Warns Vegan Diet Could Cause 'Deficiency' In Key Brain Nutrient
Choline is an important nutrient that helps transfer signals between nerve cells. While it is present in some plant-based foods, it is highest in dairy foods and meat.
Dr Emma Derbyshire, who has a degree in Nutritional Biochemistry and PhD in Human Nutrition, is warning that people who eat solely plant-based foods may not be getting sufficient choline.
Writing for a BMJ journal, Derbyshire claimed there has been research suggesting pregnant and breastfeeding women in particular had to ensure they were getting enough choline, as there are thought to be benefits for foetal brain development.
She said: "The mounting evidence of choline's importance makes it essential that it does not continue to be overlooked in the UK [...] The train is moving so fast, and more people are ditching meat and eggs. But it could leave many women of childbearing age deficient in this key nutrient."
Derbyshire, a public health nutritionist who runs a London-based health consultancy called the Nutritional Insight Limited, continued: "Given the important physiological roles of choline and authorisation of certain health claims, it is questionable why choline has been overlooked for so long in the UK.
"Choline is presently excluded from UK food composition databases, major dietary surveys, and dietary guidelines.
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"If choline is not obtained in the levels needed from dietary sources per se then supplementation strategies will be required, especially in relation to key stages of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, when choline intakes are critical to infant development."
However, while eggs, milk and beef are all prime sources of choline - which is also linked to liver function - according to the BBC it is present in plant-based foods including roasted soya nuts, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, baked beans, mushrooms, quinoa and peanuts.
The British Dietetic Association has said, with planning, it is possible to obtain enough from a vegan diet.
Bahee Van de Bor, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, said: "You absolutely can meet the requirements with a vegan or plant-based diet.
"But you have to have a plan. Foods can be vegan but not provide the necessary nutrients."
Van de Bor also said that the suggestion that pregnant and breastfeeding women could require higher levels of choline was 'interesting', and that more research into that area was needed.
A spokesman for the British Nutrition Foundation added: "It's likely that a healthy and varied vegetarian or vegan diet would provide some dietary choline.
"It's also important to make sure plant-based diets are well balanced to ensure enough of nutrients like iron, zinc calcium and vitamin B12 are consumed.
"Having said this, we know that there can be many health benefits of following a more plant-based diet, although this doesn't necessarily mean that animal products have to be excluded completely."
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