March 2016

Research and Development

Choline Levels in Alberta Foods Sustain Human Health


Choline is an essential nutrient for humans in the development of the immune system, intestinal function and fetal brain development. Consumption of foods that contain an adequate amount of choline is therefore necessary for optimal health and development. However, according to recent research, most people are not consuming the recommended daily amounts of choline. This is especially notable for pregnant and lactating women.

“Our study showed that only 23 per cent of pregnant women in Alberta consume adequate amounts of choline, with only 10 per cent of lactating women receiving adequate amounts of choline,” said Dr. Catherine Field, a professor of nutrition with the University of Alberta. “It wouldn’t surprise me if that statistic also applied to other adults.”

Dr. Field’s work, as part of a team including Dr. Rene Jacobs and Dr. Jonathan Curtis, recognized that a contributing factor to that number is a lack of awareness of the health benefits of choline.

Seeing an opportunity, the team evaluated choline’s role in a healthy diet and which Alberta foods made the highest contributions to dietary choline. This included a focus on its role during pregnancy and lactation, as well as early development of immune, brain and intestinal function.

“By examining the choline content in locally-sourced eggs, meat and dairy products, this initiative generated current and accessible information about choline for consumers and industry,” said team leader, Dr. Curtis. “This included meats like bison or lamb, which did not have any published data for their choline content. For products with documented choline levels, our work will show the specific benefits and value of Alberta-sourced foods.”

The team’s research showed that pregnant women who ate one egg or consumed two glasses of milk per day were up to eight times more likely to meet their dietary requirements for choline. Dairy products or meat cuts with lower fat contents also led to higher choline levels.

The results confirmed egg yolks are the largest natural source for choline. That inspired Dr. Curtis’ team to use an egg yolk extract to make a shelf-stable choline-rich cereal product. The cereal has the same choline content per serving as a medium-size egg.

“While the majority of this project focused on data collection, we wanted to use that data to develop a choline-rich supplement or a functional food product,” said Dr. Curtis. “When convincing consumers to incorporate nutrients in their everyday diet, it is important to have multiple options available for them to consume ideal levels of that nutrient.”

For this project, Dr. Curtis’ team partnered with the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and Egg Farmers of Alberta. Clinton Dobson, ALMA’s Senior Manager of Research and Policy, sees many potential ways this research can advance industry.

“Consumers are interested in eating local products and want easy ways to live a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “With effective communication moving forward, industry can increase consumer awareness on the benefits of choline. That could provide a competitive advantage for local foods in domestic markets and items like the enriched cereal product open up new ways to use Alberta foods for product development.”

To learn more about this project, please contact Dr. Jonathan Curtis directly.