Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Easter has come and gone, and we’re in the midst of Passover as well. If you find yourself with an abundance of eggs left over from dinner or from those Easter egg hunts, you might be scratching your head and wondering what to do with them all.

Now, a while back, I blogged about eggs, people with diabetes, and the risk for heart disease (see “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket…Or On One Plate!”). However, there’s no evidence that people who have diabetes shouldn’t eat eggs. Perhaps you don’t need to eat them every day, but eggs are highly nutritious and can be part of anyone’s eating plan (provided you don’t have an egg allergy or aren’t a vegan, for example).

Calling on Choline
I bring up eggs because they contain a lesser-known nutrient called choline. Choline is an essential nutrient that’s needed for our cells to function properly, particularly cells involved with liver function, brain and nerve function, and transporting nutrients throughout the body. The body can make some choline, but it also must be consumed in the diet.

There’s some evidence, however, that we don’t get enough choline in our diets. Adult men need 550 milligrams (mg) per day, and adult women need 425 mg per day (pregnant women need 450 mg daily). According to Iowa State University, choline intake is way below the Adequate Intake (AI) levels for older children, women, pregnant women, and men. In fact, only 10% of less of these populations are consuming close to the recommended amounts. It also appears that as we get older, our choline intake decreases.

Consequences of Too Little Choline
Chances are you aren’t too familiar with choline and may be wondering what the big deal is. Despite the lack of attention this nutrient receives, it plays a key role in many aspects of normal physiology and functioning. Lack of choline can lead to some potential problems, just as a lack of any nutrient would.

  • Healthy babies. Choline is important for healthy infant development. Babies whose mothers didn’t get enough choline during pregnancy are more likely to have neural tube defects, including spina bifida. Babies also need choline for brain development, especially memory and learning.
  • Heart disease. Choline is necessary to break down homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid, and high levels are linked with heart disease and stroke by increasing the risk of blood clots and possibly boosting LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
  • Cancer. In rats, a lack of choline is linked with liver cancer. It’s too soon to say, though, whether this finding is true for humans.
  • Inflammation. People who consume foods rich in choline tend to have low levels of certain “markers” of inflammation, including c-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. Remember that inflammation can lead to a whole host of problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.

A mild choline deficiency may cause fatigue, insomnia, and memory problems. A more severe deficiency can trigger more serious problems, including liver dysfunction, heart disease, kidney failure, high blood pressure, and anemia.

Food Sources of Choline
So how do you get choline into your diet? Well, as the title of this post implies, a key source is…eggs! One egg provides about 126 mg of choline. Keep in mind that the choline is found in the egg yolk, so if you only eat egg whites, you’ll need to get your choline from another source. Other food sources of choline include liver, wheat germ, soybeans, cod, salmon, and peanut butter. If you like liver, more power to you. To me, munching on an egg sounds a lot more appealing.

Choline is also available, in several forms, as a supplement. However, if you eat a variety of foods, you should be able to meet your choline requirements through food sources without having to pop a supplement.

By the way, if you think you have too many eggs on your hands, make egg salad! In fact, the week after Easter is called National Egg Salad Week. Chop up hard-boiled eggs and mix with some light mayo, low-fat yogurt, or a reduced-fat salad dressing. Stir in carrots, olives, tomatoes, or avocado. Spread your egg salad on toast or a tortilla, or stuff it into a hollowed-out tomato. Enjoy!

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Comments
  1. Dear Amy.

    Must be maddening to be a Dietician and have to give your patients the simple answers that they need. Now what to yoke or not to yoke?

    Would it be reasonable to eat 2 egg yokes per day? How much peanut butter do you have to eat to get 500 mg of choline?

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  2. Hi CalgaryDiabetic,

    Well, dietitians are usually up for the challenge! And it keeps us on our toes! As far as eating 2 egg yolks every day, I think that would depend on your history, such as your LDL cholesterol level and any history of heart disease. In all likelihood, it would be fine, but you might want to cut back to a few egg yolks per week if your cholesterol is high. However, you could certainly eat egg whites every day. As far as your peanut butter question, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 20 mg of choline, so to get a full 550 mg of choline from peanut butter alone, you’d need to eat almost 3 1/2 cups! However, you don’t have to get all your choline from just one food. In addition to eggs, choline is also found in Atlantic cod (3 oz = 71 mg) and broccoli (1 cup = 62 mg).

    Posted by acampbell |
  3. I eat EggBeaters almost every day to get some breakfast protein without raising cholesterol. Do you know if EggBeaters contain choline?

    Posted by EricF |
  4. Hi Eric,

    No, Egg Beaters do not contain choline (I called the company to verify).

    Posted by acampbell |
  5. Dear Amy.

    Thanks for the prompt reply. Bad new about peanut butter, 3 1/2 cups per day and my cholesterol would go to the moon along with my body weight.

    The Alantic Cod are nearing extinction thanks to Brigitte Bardot et all. Cure furry seals with beautiful big eyes versus ugly looking slimy fish I can see why the seals thrive and the cod go extinct. Wonder what the seal will eat next, maybe my salty and sugary pickled herring will be extinct. Even farm raised salmon wipe out the natural fish by shedding sea lice onto the natural smolt as they swim by to go to sea.

    Yes the LDL is high 2.8 versus 2.0 or less this is in canadian units dont know how to convert. the only thing I agreed with G.B. was his hate of broccoli (this is spelt differently in both of Canada’s official languages so I have no idea which is the English spelling).

    So it looks like eggs yokes combined with a statin.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  6. Thank you for this valuable information on choline. I am a borderline diabetic. aic=7.3 and I also have a higher than desirable homocystien level. My doctor told me that Folic acid supplementation would help, but never mentioned choline. I am also researching diabetes and its treatment. I discovered a potentially life threatening situation and that is the vast oversupply of testing material,especially test strips to those with insurance, they get scheduled shipments whether they need them or not, while at the same time diabetics without insurance cannot afford them and can sicken and even die without access to regular test results. Perhaps you would like to help. Read my blog for more info if you would like to know more. Can you spare excess testing material?

    Posted by Bill |
  7. Egg hint: PICKLE THEM! I take hard boiled eggs and peel them, then put them in the juice after I eat all the pickles in a jar. Leave them in the fridge for about a week before you eat them to give them time to absorb the pickling. They make great additions to salads and I use the pickled eggs in my tuna salad. A regular hard-boiled egg in the fridge is only good for a week. I’ve never had the pickled ones go bad on me, so I have no idea how long they will stay edible!

    Posted by Ephrenia |

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