Lack of choline in the American diet is a public health issue, according to a Solae nutritionist, and the way is open for manufacturers to develop more choline-fortified foods and to use the nutrient as a selling point.
Choline is understood to play an important role in cognitive function, development of fetus' brains, cellular structure, the nervous system, and the use of fats in the body. The US Institute of Medicine recommends an adequate daily intake is 550 mg/day for men and 425 mg/day for women.
Natural dietary sources include eggs, soy lecithin, nuts and marine fish, but according to Greg Paul, a nutritionist with soy lecithin supplier Solae, only small amounts are used in processed foods, which many people in modern society rely on for their nutritional needs.
Paul's comments come after a poll conducted last month found that awareness of choline, its sources and its benefits is extremely low amongst American adults; and a study published in April in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that average consumption falls way short of recommended daily intake.
In the Opinion Research Corporation poll amongst 1020 American adults aged 18 years and older, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they did not understand or did not know if they understand choline's role in the body; and only 14 per cent said they know how much choline they consume each day.
Not surprising, then, that the authors of the AJCN study found from there analysis of food frequency questionnaires that average choline consumption in the US is just 314mg per day.
Steven Zeisel, one of the authors, said: "Although we cannot be sure from this study, Americans may not understand the importance of choline in their diets, or may not know which foods are rich in the nutrient."
"Increasing the amount of choline in processed foods and better promoting those products that are good or excellent sources of choline are positive steps to help address this public health issue," said Paul.
Since 2001 the FDA has permitted food products to advertise choline content on their labels, depending on whether they meet criteria to be classed as a 'good' or an 'excellent' source.
Registered dieticians typically advise that consumers obtain the nutrients they need by following a healthy balanced diet rather than relying on fortified or functional processed foods.
But in a society where people tend to have little time on their hands to prepare food and like the convenience of ready meals, it is sometimes easier to adapt recipes to bridge a gap rather than try to change people's eating habits entirely.
Since awareness is presently so low, upping the appearance of choline content on labels may not strike an immediate chord with consumers unless it combined with other efforts to raise awareness, such as advertising campaigns aimed at consumers or health care practitioners.
These may his presently considerable interest in mental health and cognitive function, especially amongst members of the baby boom generation who are entering their sixth decade and determined to stay active and aware for as long possible.
Analyst Frost and Sullivan recently cited mental health as one of the fastest growing areas of the US dietary supplement market, alongside weight loss, bone health, gut health, heart health and immune health.
Moreover, optimum nutrition during pregnancy is an emotive issue.
In the US there is mandatory folic acid, another member of the B vitamin family closely associated with fetal development for its role in preventing neural tube defects.
This measure, introduced in 1998, has been shown to have had an impact on NTD incidence although debate still ranges as to whether levels should be greater (to stamp out NTDs altogether) or lower (to avoid masking B12 deficiency in the elderly).