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Eggs are a natural way for women to meet their needs for choline–a key nutrient for baby’s brain

Canadian researchers have found that pregnant and breastfeeding women who eat eggs are more likely to meet their needs for choline1, an essential nutrient that benefits baby’s brain.

During a baby’s development, choline affects areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning.2 Some evidence suggests that choline may also play a role in the proper formation of the neural tube, much like folic acid, although more research is needed to better understand this role.3

Research presented at the January 2016 Canadian Nutrition Society conference highlights the need to pay greater attention to choline during pregnancy.4 Researchers from the University of Toronto found that 87% of pregnant women consumed less than the recommended amount of choline.4

Health Canada recommends 425 mg of choline per day for women (19 years and older) and higher intakes of 450 mg during pregnancy and 550 mg while breastfeeding.

It appears that few women are aware of this nutrient and the role it plays in baby’s brain development. This may in part be explained by the fact that choline was only formally recognized as an essential nutrient by Health Canada and the U.S. Institute of Medicine in 1998.5

Food sources of choline, like eggs, are especially important because few prenatal supplements currently contain choline. Experts who recognize the important role choline plays in baby’s brain development suggest this deserves greater attention.

Another Canadian study published in 2014 found that few pregnant and breastfeeding women meet the dietary recommendations for choline. In this study, 77% of pregnant women and 90% of breastfeeding women consumed less choline than is recommended.

Researchers found pregnant women who consumed at least one egg in a 24 hour period were eight times more likely to meet the recommendation for choline, compared to those who did not consume eggs.1 Higher milk intakes also had a positive, but smaller, impact on women’s choline intakes. The authors of this study concluded that eating eggs and milk can help women meet the daily recommendations for choline. Eggs are recognized by experts as a concentrated source of choline and contain much more choline than other common food sources (see the table below). Choline is found in the egg yolk, and women can meet more than half of their daily needs for choline by eating two eggs, which is the amount considered a serving by Canada’s Food Guide.

Choline content of some common food sources

Food (Canada’s Food Guide Serving) Choline (mg)
Eggs (2 large, hard boiled) 294
Pork loin (75 g, broiled) 74
Chicken breast (75 g, roasted) 64
Halibut (75 g, baked) 56
Milk (250 mL / 1 cup, 1%) 46
Spinach (125 mL / 1/2 cup, boiled) 19

Eggs are a natural, convenient and versatile choice for women, especially during childbearing years, providing 14 essential nutrients, including protein, iron, vitamin B12 and choline. Enjoying eggs as part of a healthy eating pattern is a simple way for women to meet their choline requirements. Learn more about the nutrients in eggs.

¹ Lewis ED et al. Estimation of choline intake from 24 h dietary intake recalls and contribution of egg and milk consumption to intake among pregnant and breastfeeding women in Alberta. British Journal of Nutrition 2014; 112(1):112-21.
² Zeisel SH. Choline: Critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annual Review of Nutrition 2006; 26:229-50.
³ Shaw GM et al. Choline and risk of neural tube defects in a folate-fortified population. Epidemiology 2009; 20(5):714-9.
⁴ Masih SP et al. Pregnant Canadian women achieve recommended intakes of one-carbon nutrients through prenatal supplementation but the supplement composition, including choline, requires reconsideration. Journal of Nutririon 2015 Aug; 145(8):1824-34.
⁵ Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Food and Nutrition Board, 1998.