Nutrition 101: Choline

Written By: Carolyn Berry, RD

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

Choline is an essential nutrient. The majority of the body’s choline is found in specialized fat molecules known as phospholipids, the most common of which is called phosphatidylcholine or lecithin.

Recomme​nded Intakes

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for choline are shown below:

Age Group Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per Day Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) per Day
19 years and up 550 mg men425 mg women 3.5 g
Kids and Youth
1 to 3 years 200 mg 1 g
4 to 8 years 250 mg 1 g
9 to 13 years 375 mg 2 g
14 to 18 years 550 mg boys400 mg girls 3 g
Special Considerations
Pregnant women 14 to 18 years 450 mg 3 g
Pregnant women 19 years and up 450 mg 3.5 g
Lactating women 14 to 18 years 550 mg 3 g
Lactating women 19 years and up 550 mg 3.5 g

Because choline is water soluble, excessive intake of choline-containing foods has not been shown to be toxic to humans.

What Does Choline Do?

Choline plays a critical role in the structural integrity of cell membranes. It is necessary for the synthesis of phospholipids and other fat-containing structures in cell membranes. Choline also plays an important role in the transport and metabolism of fats. Choline is a component of a type of phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine, which is a necessary component of the fat particles that transport fat and cholesterol. Without adequate phosphatidylcholine, fat and cholesterol accumulate in the liver.

Choline is a major source of methyl groups. Chemically, choline comprises three methyl groups, making its role in methyl group metabolism highly important. Many crucial chemical events in the body rely on the transfer of methyl groups from one place to another. For example, studies have shown that choline may lessen chronic inflammation in the body through the process of methylation. Choline and its metabolite betaine work together to remove homocysteine and turn off the promoter regions of genes involved in inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide range of conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes.

Choline plays an important role in supporting nervous system activity. Choline is a key component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the nervous system that carries messages to and from nerves. Because of its role in nerve-muscle function, choline supplements have been used experimentally to help improve neuromuscular function in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Choline deficiency is uncommon; however, there are some factors that can contribute to choline deficiency, including very poor intake, liver problems such as cirrhosis, total parenteral nutrition (TPN), gastric bypass surgery, and kidney transplant.

Top Choline-Rich Foods

Choline is widespread in foods, especially milk, liver, eggs, and peanuts.

Food Choline per serving
Liver (beef), cooked, 3 oz 383.4 mg
Liver (chicken), cooked, 3 oz 261 mg
Egg, hard-boiled, 1 large 146.9 mg
Egg, yolk, raw, 1 large 139.4 mg
Wheat germ, 1/4 cup 50.5 mg
Cauliflower, raw, chopped, 1 cup 47.1 mg
Milk, 2%, 1 cup 40 mg
Pork, various cuts, 3 oz 39.1 mg
Collard greens, boiled, 1/2 cup 36.5 mg
Swiss chard, boiled, 1/2 cup 25.1 mg
Peanuts, shelled, raw, 1/4 cup 19.2 mg

Nutrition Facts Label and t​he % Daily Value

In the United States and Canada, there is no daily value established for choline.

Nutrient Interactions

Niacin: Niacin is necessary for the synthesis of choline.

Folate: Folate is necessary for the synthesis of choline.

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