Plant-based Diets May Affect Brain Health

Plant-based diets have been associated with a number of benefits, including decreased inflammation, improved cardiovascular and digestive health, and a reduced risk of developing heart disease and cancer later in life. Now, a new study is warning that they also have low levels of a vital nutrient. Plant-based diets have been found to lack choline, a key nutrient for mental development. The research has been published in the health journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Choline is an essential dietary nutrient produced at low levels by the human body. A deficiency of this essential nutrient may impact nerves, metabolism, the brain, and more. Studies suggest low levels in pregnancy can harm the fetus and raise the child’s risk of brain issues and memory problems.

Because the amount of choline produced by the liver is not enough to meet the requirements of the human body, most of it must come from one’s diet. The primary sources of dietary choline are found in beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken. Lower levels are found in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli. Choline supplements and some beverages like energy drinks also contain the nutrient.

The U.S. Institute of Medicine began recommended minimum daily intakes of choline in 1998. The current recommendations are 425 mg/day for women, 550 mg/day for men, 450 mg/day for pregnant women, and 550 mg/day for breastfeeding women. Nutritionists say habitual choline intake, on average, falls short of these recommendations and that nine in 10 adults are lacking in choline.

Plant-based diets have also been linked to a deficiency of vitamin B12. B12 is present in high levels in many animal products but very difficult to get from eating plants. Right now, the solution in that case for vegans and vegetarians is to take supplements or consume products that have been fortified with B12.