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Expect the Best Pregnancy

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March 19, 2012

Q&A: How much choline and omega-3 fats do you need?

Here are two questions about choline and omega-3 fats from a reader:

Q. What are the current recommendations for choline during pregnancy? I’ve noticed there are some vitamins with choline now but I eat 7 eggs per week (not pregnant yet).

A. Choline is essential for normal functioning of all cells, especially those in the brain, liver, and the central nervous system. Choline works together with folic acid to promote proper nervous system (including the brain) during pregnancy, and preliminary evidence suggests that choline curbs the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida, early in pregnancy. Animal studies suggest choline is crucial for the development of the brain’s memory center.

Before pregnancy, you need 425 milligrams choline every day. During pregnancy, choline needs are 450 milligrams daily. If you breastfeed, get 550 milligrams every day. Don’t rely on supplements or prenatal pills. Most supply little or no choline, or contain a form that the body cannot readily use.

Many women begin pregnancy with a choline-deficient diet. Choline content is highest in animal foods, so women who avoid or limit eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood may be low in choline intake.

Here are some common foods with choline:

Egg*, 1 large, cooked any way: 125 milligrams
Cod, Atlantic, 3 ounces, cooked: 84 milligrams
Ground beef, 3 ounces, cooked: 83 milligrams
Pork tenderloin, 3 ounces, cooked: 76 milligrams
Salmon, 3 ounces, cooked: 65 milligrams
Chicken, 3 ounces, cooked: 65 milligrams
Broccoli or cauliflower, 1 1/4 cups cooked: 40 milligrams
Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons: 21 milligrams

(Fortified eggs, such as Eggland’s Best, also supply the omega-3 fat DHA: see below.)

Q. Also I am wondering about omega-3 supplements. If I eat 2 fish meals a week (1 with light tuna, 1 with wild salmon), is there any benefit for taking a DHA supplement? Is there any harm?

A. Omega-3 fats are healthy for mom, so it’s a good idea to follow the American Heart Association’s advice to eat two fish meals weekly before and during pregnancy. Docosohexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the omega-3 fats most important to brain development during pregnancy and the first two years of life. DHA is the dominant fat in the brain. Research shows DHA helps to build your baby’s brain, and promotes peak vision, as DHA is part of the retina, located in the back of the eye.

Like choline, most women don’t get enough DHA. DHA is found in seafood and in fortified foods. Pregnant women need 200 to 300 milligrams DHA every day. If you don’t eat enough fish or avoid it, rely on fortified foods and dietary supplements to get the DHA you need.

Here are some DHA sources to help you get an average of 200 to 300 milligrams of DHA daily:

Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, 3 ounces, raw: 1,238 milligrams
Expecta Lipil, 1 pill: 200 milligrams
Tuna*, light, canned, drained, 3 ounces: 190 milligrams
Eggland’s Best, 1 large, cooked any way: 50 milligrams
Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese, 1 ounce: 32 milligrams
Horizon Organic Milk Plus DHA Omega-3, 8 ounces: 32 milligrams

* Certain fish harbor high mercury levels. The Food and Drug Administration says it’s OK to eat light tuna but to limit white tuna to six ounces a week. White tuna is from a larger tuna species that may have more mercury.

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