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Gluten-free or not, which cereal grains provide the most betaine and choline?
Betaine and its precursor choline have a laundry list of beneficial uses to the human body, yet their place in the diet is often overlooked. For most developed countries, cereals provide a most common source of betaine and choline, but the extent to which these nutrients are available in each cereal is less understood.
For a better idea of the betaine and choline content in cereals, Nestlé researchers in Switzerland and Sweden purchased or received donations of many commercially available cereal foods and fractions. They then analyzed the betaine and choline contents of each and recorded their findings.
As expected, whole grain wheat and its fractions were deemed the best overall common sources of betaine and choline, due to a combination of their rich contents and frequent consumption. But, frequency of eating aside, quinoa provided the most betaine and choline on a gram-for-gram basis, at 3900 and 315 μg/g respectively. Quinoa is technically not a cereal grain, but the seeds of this so-called “pseudocereal” are eaten as if it were. With rising consumer interest in alternative grains and gluten-free eating, pseudocereals were made part of the analysis.
Almost all commercially available gluten-free cereal products scored low in betaine, with the exception of teff and millet. But several pseudocereals performed well. Amaranth scored high in betaine and choline, and buckwheat scored high in choline.
“These data underline the importance of wheat, and especially whole grain wheat as a source of betaine in the diet, and that people avoiding wheat, including those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, are likely to have a low betaine intake,” say the researchers. “Three pseudocereals, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are all rich in betaine and/or choline, making them a good alternative dietary source of these compounds.”
Cooking also appears to have a large impact on the betaine content of foods, and further research is needed here.
In reviewing their population intake data from around the world, the researchers estimate that cereals provide 60–67% of betaine in Western diets and 20–40% of betaine in Southeast Asian diets, where leafy green vegetables take up the slack.