Choline, a powerful essential nutrient most known for its cognitive and brain health benefits, is generally associated with animal-based foods—with egg yolks being number one. (This is partially where the notion that eating eggs for breakfast is a brilliant way to boost your brain strength and mood comes from… truly, what can’t a cheesy egg omelet solve?)
Know that there are plenty of other reasons to prioritize choline into your diet, though. “Choline is an essential nutrient and water soluble compound,” says registered dietitian Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD. “While it isn’t technically classified as a vitamin or a mineral, it is considered part of the vitamin B family.” Choline, she says, is vital for a variety of bodily functions. “This includes brain development, maintaining energy levels, and providing nervous system support and liver function, as well as for the production of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Without choline moving fat and cholesterol from the liver these can build up and cause liver damage,” Best explains, which is why its role with acetylcholine production is so critical.
Based on the recommended daily requirements, Best says that women should consume about 425 mg of choline and men should shoot for around 550 mg per day. “It can be challenging for anyone to monitor their daily choline intake, but if you avoid animal foods, it can be even harder,” Best says. “This is because choline is predominantly found in foods derived from animals, meaning those who follow a plant-based or vegan diet may find it difficult to get enough,” says Best. Know that it is certainly not impossible to meet your daily needs when plant-based or vegan, however—it just involves a little research and planning ahead to find the vegan choline food sources that also satisfy your palette.
Here are the top five vegan choline foods that offer a solid dose of the nutrient per serving.
5 vegan choline foods that can help boost brain health as you age
Soy-based foods are some of the top sources of plant-based protein and meat alternatives for those living a plant-based or vegan lifestyle. “Tofu, as well as soybeans (edamame) and soy milk, contain choline and will help you meet your daily needs,” says Best. “There is about 60 mg in just a cup of soy milk, and there is a whopping 81.7 mg of choline per cup of boiled edamame.”
Similarly, Best adds that a one cup serving of tofu provides 71.4 mg of choline. “Try adding tofu to vegetable stir-fries, throw it on top a bed of greens or quinoa, or use tofu as an egg-free alternative in a breakfast scramble,” she says.
2. Nuts and nut butter
Nuts, whether in whole form or a buttery spread, are high in plant-based choline. “Great examples include peanut butter, almond butter, cashews, and walnuts, and they all offer around 10-15 mg per serving,” says Best. Try a trail mix that packs a combination of a few types of nuts, or swirl a spoonful of almond or peanut butter into your next smoothie or oatmeal bowl.
3. Cruciferous vegetables
Green vegetables are high in essential vitamins and minerals and plant protein, plus they contain a solid amount of choline. “This is especially true for vegetables in the cruciferous family, which includes broccoli and Brussels sprouts. These two are excellent sources of choline; you’ll get over 30 mg in just half a cup of broccoli,” says Best.
Try prepping each of these greens with olive oil, garlic, and lemon for an aromatic side or bring the heat with spices, like turmeric and ginger, for a delicious tofu stir-fry (more choline!) as a quick weeknight dinner.
4. Beans and legumes
“Considering the amount of protein and fiber they provide, beans are a great add to all vegan and non-vegan diets, however they also provide a large amount of choline,” says Best. “Black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils—there are so many types to choose from, each distinctive in color and taste, yet universally high in choline content.” For example, canned kidney beans offer 89.3 mg, canned navy beans provide 81.4 mg, chickpeas contain 70.2 mg, and lentils provide 64.7 mg of choline—all per a one cup serving.
Enjoy beans and legumes roasted as a crispy, lightly-salted snack, and have some fun experimenting with different spices, herbs, and oils in your recipe. You can also sprinkle beans on salads and use them as a base for grain bowls for a nice boost of protein and fiber. And don’t forget to top it with a hefty dollop of homemade (or store-bought) hummus or bean dip!
“In addition to packing a ton of choline, quinoa a source of complete protein, as it has a full amino acid profile as a plant food. This is hugely beneficial to vegan eaters,” says Best. “One cup of cooked quinoa contains over 40 mg of choline, which is why this ancient gluten-free grain is one of the best carbohydrate sources for greater focus and brain-power.”