When you go to culinary school they teach you how to cook, but you don’t learn anything about the nutritional value of the food you’re cooking. After graduating, I knew how to make the food taste great, I just had no idea how my body used what I was feeding it. So, last semester I took a nutrition course at Northern Virginia Community College – a pre-requisite for the nursing program – I was surrounded by people who knew a LOT more about biology and physiology than I did. However, the course was taught by a fantastic instructor, Debbie Schmidt, a Registered Dietitian with years of clinical experience, who made the course material very easy to understand. For anyone who’s interested, I’d highly recommend taking a course like this. In fact, I think it should be a required class for all junior high school students in the country – but that’s the subject of another blog post.
My favorite assignment was our vitamin project, where we had the opportunity to choose a vitamin or nutrient and conduct some research. I chose choline which is a conditionally essential nutrient. A conditionally essential nutrient is a nutrient vital for proper body function – in other words, your body requires food sources of pure choline or foods containing betaine, which can be converted to choline. It was startling to learn how vitally important choline is to the body, especially since I had never heard of it before.
Not only is choline essential in lipid and cholesterol metabolism, but there are studies to suggest that the oxidation of choline will reduce the bodies homocysteine levels which have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are linkages between inadequate choline levels with neuromuscular disorders, dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) and overall cognitive function. There also have been some studies to suggest that it reduces chronic inflammation in the body. Having inflammatory arthritis, I find this extremely interesting – to indulge in my personal story further, it was curious to note that methotrexate, the first drug suggested to me for my condition, has a negative influence on choline in the body and not surprisingly, one must be off of this drug for at least six months before healthy conception can take place – and the doctor NEVER mentioned monitoring my choline intake while on the drug – here are two great article to read about the linkages between choline and robust fetal neuro-development and choline’s importance in overall health:
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and Adequate Intakes (AI) of choline for men and women are as follows:
Men – 550mg
Women – 425mg – some physicians even recommend 850mg for pregnant and lactating women!
The Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) for choline: 3.5g
Here are some choline-rich foods:
Beef Liver (3oz) – 355.5mg
Egg (approx 2oz or 1 large egg – 125.5 mg
Beef Steak (3oz) – 66.4 mg
Bacon (3 slices) – 125mg
Salmon (3oz) – 65mg
Milk (8oz) – 40mg
Here are two great articles featuring studies about the benefits of eating eggs, liver, and pork:
These foods contain betaine which can be converted to choline:
Green Beans (1 cup) – 340mg
Cauliflower (3/4 cup) – 38.7mg
Cabbage (1 cup) – 250mg
Wheat Germ (2T) – 21.3 mg
Almonds (1/2 cup) – 25mg
Edamame (1 cup) – 56mg
Overall, I am completely terrified and appalled that there is so much misinformation about the importance of foods like eggs, liver, and pork. These foods have been demonized for my entire life and now I learn that not only are they high in a nutrient called choline, but that this nutrient is essential for the health of every cell membrane in the human body, cell signaling, nerve impulse transmission, lipid transport and metabolism, and reduction of homocysteine levels in the body. Most importantly, it’s vital to the healthy development of fetal brain tissue — why is no one crying “Give me Choline or give me death” from atop the Capitol dome?
Flying in the face of what has been hammered into our brains over the past 30 years is the idea that eating an egg, can actually help REDUCE a persons cholesterol, because it contains, choline, a vital nutrient, which actually makes it possible for the liver to package lipids and cholesterol as VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), transporting it out of the liver and to cells and tissue all over the body. It’s enough to make me want to raise heirloom chickens on my own grassy knoll and look-up recipes for succulent beef liver — which by the way, I’ve never cooked, or even considered eating.
The moral of the story of choline and basically everything that I learned in my nutrition class is that, eating REAL food is vitally important for health, and just plain feeling good everyday. With all the misinformation there is in the U.S. about food, I think it’s really a miracle that any of us are alive. It’s a real testament to the resilience of the human body — what a miraculous machine!