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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.

April 5, 2011

Cooking Light’s Healthy Options for Egg Breakfasts

Eggs are good for you, but they are often scorned for the company they keep, including hash browns, full-fat cheese, and bacon. When you’re dining out, side dishes, sauces, and added fat used to make eggs can add hundreds of unnecessary calories to your favorite menu items. But that’s no reason to shy away from eggs, which are relatively low in calories, packed with high quality protein, vitamin and minerals, and choline, which is necessary for your child’s developing brain during pregnancy and infancy.

This Cooking Light piece offers great suggestions about healthier egg dishes in restaurants. When you’re making eggs at home, always use fortified eggs for the greatest benefit. Eggland’s Best eggs provide 10 times the vitamin E, triple the vitamin B12, and twice the vitamin D of regular eggs. Eggland’s Best also supply double the omega-3 fats, which are necessary for peak brain development and vision in developing babies and young children.

January 31, 2011

2010 Dietary Guidelines: What They Mean for Pregnant and Nursing Women

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines (DG) for Americans. The latest recommendations about what to eat have lots of advice for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for women in their childbearing years who may become pregnant. Here are the highlights:

• Healthy weight: If you may become pregnant, and especially if you’re trying for a child, you should achieve a healthy weight before conception. Starting pregnancy at a healthy weight, and gaining the right number of pounds during pregnancy (which is based on your pre-pregnancy Body Mass Index), reduces your chance of pregnancy complications, and improves your health and your child’s, possibly for a lifetime.

• Iron: If you’re pregnant, take an iron supplement. Even if you’re not pregnant, choose foods rich in heme iron, the form of iron most easily absorbed by the body. Animal foods, such as lean beef, pork, and seafood, are rich in heme iron. Another DG recommendation: include foods with non-heme iron, such as cereal, bread, rice, and pasta, and consume foods with vitamin C, such as orange juice, mango, tomatoes, and strawberries, to increase the body’s absorption of non-heme iron.

• Folic acid: Women in their childbearing years who are capable of becoming pregnant should get 400 micrograms (ug) of folic acid daily. Folic acid is a man-made B vitamin that reduces the risk of certain birth defects that occur during the first month after conception. You should also include in your diet foods with folate, folic acid’s naturally-occurring counterpart. Beans, orange juice, and dark leafy greens provide folate.

• Fish: The latest DG recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume 8 to 12 ounces of fish every week. Fish supplies omega-3 fats, which are touted as heart healthy. But when it comes to pregnancy and nursing, the most important omega-3 fat is docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. Your baby’s body starts hoarding DHA around the 24th week of pregnancy because it’s vital for proper brain development and peak vision. Nursing moms need adequate DHA in their diet to pass on to their child through breast milk. (Many infant formulas contain DHA, too.)

The recommendation for fish comes with a caveat: choose a variety of lower-risk fish, such as salmon; limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week; and avoid tile fish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.

If you don’t think you can get as much fish as the DG recommend, supplement your diet with fortified foods, including eggs, such as Eggland’s Best, and fortified milk and yogurt. One of my favorite lunches when I was pregnant and even now is two Eggland’s Best eggs fried in a bit of olive oil on a whole wheat English muffin. Yum!

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