Eggs, Choline… and National Egg Salad Week!

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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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