Two important nutrients for brain health and cognition are found in eggs: choline and lutein. Choline plays a role in early brain development during pregnancy and infancy, particularly in areas of the brain that are used for memory and learning. Lutein has long been associated with eye health but research has discovered lutein’s role in cognition as well. For example:
Researchers at the University of Illinois published two studies looking at the relationship between brain lutein, as measured using a non-invasive eye test called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD), and cognition in children. They found that MPOD concentration was positively associated with academic performance.
The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive development of the offspring.
There is evidence that infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the third trimester have improved information processing speed during the first year of life, an indicator of cognition and intelligence.
Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning that we must consume adequate amounts in the diet to achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, most people do not consume enough choline. In fact, more than 90% of Americans (including approximately 90% of pregnant women) fail to meet the adequate intake.1 The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has classified choline as a nutrient that poses special challenges for Americans due to underconsumption and encouraged eggs for pregnant women, as a complementary food for babies and toddlers, and for pre-teens and adolescents.2 Many foods offer choline in small amounts, however, only a few foods are significant choline sources. Furthermore, most multivitamin supplements contain little, if any, choline. Fortunately, eggs are convenient, affordable, accessible, and an excellent source of choline.
Beginning in fetal development, Choline is critical to good
health and remains essential throughout the lifespan. This nutrient is
important in many ways.
During pregnancy, choline helps the baby’s brain
and spinal cord develop properly and supports brain health throughout life.
Infants and young children need choline for
continued brain development and health.
is part of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is important for
muscle control, memory and mood.3
Choline is also important for the support of membranes
that surround your cells, the transportation of fats throughout the body and
for liver health.
New research is exploring how choline throughout
life may have lasting effects on cognition and prevention of cognitive decline.4
HOW MUCH CHOLINE DO
The amount of choline an individual needs depends on many things, including age, gender and stage of life. Table 1 lists the current Adequate Intakes (AIs) for choline.3
WHAT FOODS HAVE CHOLINE?
People of all ages need adequate choline for good health, but very few consume enough through food and supplements. While many foods contain some choline, only a handful of foods are considered good or excellent sources. Fortunately, two large eggs (about 300mg of choline) contain more than half of the recommended intake for pregnant women and can help them meet their needs. The table below lists food sources of choline.2
CHOLINE & COGNITION
a role in early brain development during pregnancy and infancy. There
is evidence that
infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the
third trimester have improved information processing speed, an indicator of cognitive
function,4,5 during the first year of life.
Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of
choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive
development of the offspring.6 This recommendation from AMA
highlights the increased recognition of choline as a nutrient of concern. The
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) also list choline as a
nutrient under consumed by most Americans. The DGAs recommend individuals shift
to healthier eating patterns to help meet nutrient needs, including choline.7
Wallace TC, Fulgoni VL III. Assessment of
total choline intakes in the United States. J Am Coll Nutr 2016, 35(2),
National Institutes of Health. Fact Sheet for
Health Professionals: Choline. Version current 26 September 2018. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/Accessed
June 22, 2020.
Wallace TC. A comprehensive review of eggs,
choline, and lutein on cognition across the life-span. J Am Coll Nutr 2018,
Caudill MA, et al. Maternal choline
supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant
information processing speed: a randomized, double-blind, controlled feeding
study. FASEB J. 2018;32:2172-2180.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of
Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.
December 2015. Available at
The Egg Nutrition Center partnered with Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN to write this blog post.
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to consider the importance of brain health. With increased concern about brain diseases, researchers in the growing field of neuronutrition are examining how foods affect the health of our brains and scientists working on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are evaluating how nutrition impacts neurocognitive health throughout the lifespan. Eggs are a key part of this research because they contain choline and lutein, two nutrients that are important for brain development, memory and learning.
Choline plays a critical role in brain development and health during fetal development and throughout the lifespan. In utero, choline helps the baby’s brain and spinal cord develop properly. Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning that our bodies can’t produce it in sufficient amounts so we have to get it in our diets.
Featured article in the Spring 2019 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Maggie Moon, MS, RD
Health is not just the absence of disease, but the presence of optimal wellness. Though nutritional guidance historically focused on preventing deficiency and toxicity from nutrients, today there is a growing interest in leveraging nutrients to improve the “healthspan,” or years of life in good health.
Time is of the essence to apply this to neuronutrition. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia is expected to more than double by 2050 from today’s 5.7 million to nearly 14 million.1 Worldwide, today’s 50 million people with dementia will more than triple by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.2
Lutein and choline are among the most underconsumed and underappreciated nutrients emerging into the spotlight for brain health and cognition. Recent research highlights their potential
for preventing and improving cognitive decline.
Higher intake of carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruits has been consistently identified as a characteristic of healthy eating patterns. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids (lipid-soluble pigments) found abundantly in various vegetables such as spinach, kale, squash, peas, and are also present in egg yolks. These yellow carotenoids are selectively taken up by macular tissue of the retina and new research links these pigments to eye health as well as cognition1.
“Choline has been shown to be ranked last among common nutrients as a nutrient to recommend for a healthy diet, and only about 10% of health professionals indicate moderate familiarity with choline.”1 With growing research indicating that this under-consumed nutrient is critical for neurocognitive development and health throughout the lifespan, health professionals should be aware of foods that provide choline and ways to incorporate them into the diet.