Why Does Choline Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s choline needs

  • Learn why choline is critical for your health

  • How much choline is needed by age

  • Which foods are good sources of choline

What does choline do?

Choline is a water-soluble nutrient necessary for healthy cell membranes and metabolism.1 It’s part of acetylcholine, a key chemical involved in memory, mood, and muscle function.1 It’s also important for infant brain development, specifically in memory and learning functions, as well as overall growth and development.2,3

How much choline is needed?

There isn’t enough data to establish official “Recommended Daily Amounts” (RDAs) for choline because it was only recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998, and research is still emerging.4

We do, however, have “Adequate Intakes” (AIs) by age, gender, and life stage. These AIs provide guidance to help people get a level of choline that is nutritionally adequate.1

  • Babies 0 – 6 months require 125 mg

  • Infants 7 – 12 months require 150 mg

  • Children 1 – 3 years require 200 mg

  • Children 4 – 8 years require 250 mg

  • Children 9 – 13 years require 375 mg

  • Boys 14 – 18 years require 550 mg

  • Girls 14 – 18 years require 400 mg

  • Adult men 19 – 70+ years require 550 mg

  • Adult women 19 – 70+ years require 425 mg

  • Pregnancy 14 – 50 years require 450 mg

  • Lactation 14 – 50 years require 550 mg1

Food sources of choline

The good things is that many foods contain choline. Particularly rich in choline are beef, egg yolk, poultry, and fish.1

Cruciferous veggies and some beans are also sources of this nutrient, such as potatoes, soy beans, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and green peas.1

Other plants that contain choline include sunflower seeds, quinoa, peanuts, and brown rice.1

Wondering if you and your child are getting enough choline? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

Choline in your, your baby, and your toddler’s diet

Choline: Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and formula feeding

Infant formulas manufactured in the United States are required to contain choline.8 Breastmilk does as well. In fact, a large amount of choline is transferred from mother to baby in breastmilk, indicating how important this nutrient is for baby’s development.5

The good news is that during pregnancy and breastfeeding your body prioritizes the baby; it will take from your choline stores so that baby gets what they need.7 However, if your diet does not have adequate choline, not only could you be left depleted, but your little one may not be getting enough either.7

The amount of choline in breastmilk is strongly linked with how much choline you get through your diet, so having a diet rich in choline is important.6

Choline: Toddler and parent diet

As an essential nutrient, choline can be made by the body, but not in sufficient amounts for what it needs.1 Because of this it is important to get additional choline through the foods you eat.

Choosing foods throughout the week that contain choline can help both you and your toddler get enough of this nutrient. Don’t worry about tracking specific numbers, instead focus on including choline-rich foods in your diet.

Read more:

Meal Plan for 12 Month Old Toddler

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Month Old Toddlers

Tips for getting enough choline

Include choline-rich food sources in your and your child’s diet regularly

Most people in the United States are not meeting the recommended amounts for choline.1,9

Familiarize yourself with the foods high in choline and sprinkle them in throughout your week to help you take in enough. If you aren’t sure if you’re getting enough, take note of how many times you eat choline-rich foods during a week and make adjustments if needed.

As always, check with your health care professional before taking any supplements and to see if you may need this nutrient in your pre -or post-natal vitamin.

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of choline by serving:

  • Egg (white and yolk): 1 large has about 147 mg

  • Beef, top round: 3 oz has about 117 mg

  • Soybeans, roasted: ½ cup has about 107 mg

  • Chicken breast: 3 oz has about 72 mg

  • Beef, ground: 3 oz has about 72 mg

  • Fish, cod: 3 oz has about 71

  • Potatoes, baked: 1 large potato has about 57 mg

  • Wheat germ, toasted: 1 oz has about 51 mg

  • Beans, kidney: ½ cup has about 45 mg

  • Quinoa, cooked: 1 cup has about 43 mg

  • Milk, whole or 1%*: 1 cup has about 43 mg

  • Yogurt: 1 cup has about 38 mg

  • Brussels sprouts, cooked: ½ cup has about 32 mg

  • Broccoli, cooked: ½ cup has about 31 mg

  • Peanuts, dry roasted: ¼ cup has about 24 mg

  • Cauliflower, cooked: ½ cup has about 24 mg

  • Sunflower seeds, roasted: ¼ cup has about 19 mg

  • Brown rice, cooked: 1 cup has about 19 mg1

Note that choline in eggs is only in the yolk.10 So if you include eggs in your diet as a source of this nutrient, be sure to eat the whole egg!

*Children under 1 year should not drink cow’s milk. Read more here: How Do I Introduce Milk to my Toddler

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase choline

Wondering about how to include choline in your baby and toddler’s diet? Here are some recipe ideas to help. Feel free to mash or blend any of the below recipes up should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency!

Fluffy Spinach Scrambled Eggs

Whole Grain Chicken Nuggets with Green Bean ‘Fries’

Beef Sweet Potato and Broccoli Puree

Strawberry Quinoa Cereal for Baby *To make this for a toddler or adult, add cow’s milk or a milk alternative as the liquid. If making for an adult (or toddler who is developmentally ready) top with sunflower seeds for an extra sprinkle of choline.

Check your multivitamin to see what amount of choline it contains

If you are taking a vitamin supplement, compare the amount of choline it contains to the amount recommended for your gender and age. Many multivitamins and prenatal vitamins currently do not contain sufficient amounts of choline to meet the established adequate intakes.

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Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Month Old Toddlers