Plant-based diets may protect the heart, but lack a vital brain nutrient

Plant-based diets have been the source of a growing number of studies focused primarily on heart health and cancer risk. A number of benefits have been associated with diets that do not contain animal products, assuming they focused on whole foods and not processed junk, but a new study warns they may come with one big problem: low levels of a vital nutrient.

Plant-based diets are growing in popularity due to health and environmental concerns related to eating meat. A number of studies have found that eliminating all or some of animal product's from one's diet may decrease inflammation, improve cardiovascular and digestive health, and reduce one's odds of developing heart disease and cancer later in life.

These diets aren't without their controversy, however, and there's a known risk associated with not getting enough essential nutrients. The most common focus for vegans and vegetarians is B12, which is present in high levels in many animal products but very difficult to get from eating plants. The solution, in that case, is taking supplements or consuming products that have been fortified with B12, such as nutritional yeast.

A lesser-known, but no less important, nutrient called choline is the subject of a new plant-based diet editorial that warns many vegans and vegetarians may struggle to get adequate levels of this nutrient from plants alone. Choline is an essential nutrient similar to a vitamin that is only produced at low levels by the human body, meaning most of it must come from one's diet.

It's easy to get adequate levels of choline if you eat meat, eggs, and dairy; alternatively, choline supplements and some beverages like energy drinks may contain the nutrient. Someone who eats a plant-based diet and doesn't take steps to ensure they get enough choline, however, faces a deficiency of this essential nutrient and the eventual resulting health issues that may impact nerves, metabolism, the brain, and more.