Eye health was the focus of some speakers at the Institute of Food Technologists meeting in Chicago in July when they discussed an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in human wellness. Unfortunately, few people have heard of it and fewer still are eating enough of it.

“Choline is an essential but widely under-consumed nutrient,” says Catherine Adams Hutt, registered dietician and science and nutrition advisor to The Choline Information Council®. “Only children typically get enough choline and most adults, including pregnant and lactating women, don’t get as much choline as they need. Just as choline is essential in the development of the brain, it is also critical for the development of the mechanics of our eyes,” she adds.

The Institute of Medicine defined choline as an essential nutrient in 1998, but according to recent nutrition studies, about 90% of Americans (especially adolescents, adults, and the elderly) are not getting as much choline as scientists like Dr. Steven Zeisel, Director of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis, NC recommend.

Recent research on choline and eye health at the NRI proves a direct connection between choline intake and the stem cells that will eventually form the retina (the film at the back of the eye that transmits images to the brain). “We can show that in mice we have fewer retinal cells formed, and that the function of those cells (in other words, how the eye sees in the young baby mouse), is worse if the mother had low choline versus high choline,” says Zeisel. Even if the womb was not a high-choline environment, getting adequate choline at any stage of life will improve health.

“The richest sources of choline are eggs (including the yolk) and liver,” says Hutt. “Good sources include poultry, red meat, and fish. Other sources include legumes like peanuts, soy beans and navy beans, nuts like almonds, and dairy products including milk and yogurt. Orange juice and vegetables can also be sources of choline in the diet.”

How much choline is enough? Obtaining 550 mg (the recommended daily amount for an adult male or a lactating woman) means eating:

  • 2 eggs (with yolks)
  • 3 oz cooked chicken
  • 3 oz almonds
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup cooked broccoli
  • ½ cup cooked brussel sprouts

“If you didn’t choose to eat the eggs, then you would have to eat an additional 9 ounces of cooked chicken or fish, or two ounces of chicken or beef liver to replace them,” explains Hutt.

Dietary supplements are another way to increase the amount of choline, especially in child-bearing women. “If you’re pregnant or lactating, you may want to be sure that the prenatal vitamin you are taking includes choline – just look for choline on the label,” she adds.

Adequate choline allows the eye to function properly at all life stages, and Zeisel predicts big advances in our knowledge over the next year or so. Until then, it’s yet another reason, “besides helping your brain, to be thinking about making sure you have adequate choline in your diet,” he says.

Learn more: