Getting enough vitamins and minerals is essential for any healthy diet. And for vegans, it’s especially important to get adequate amounts of nutrients like vitamin D and B12. But those who are vegan also need to ensure that they’re consuming enough of another important mineral: iodine. But what exactly is iodine? Why is it so important? And what are the best vegan sources of iodine?
What is Iodine?
Julieanna Hever, MS RD CPT, known as the Plant-Based Dietitian, is the author of The Healthspan Solution and Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiots Guide). She tells LIVEKINDLY that because the body doesn’t produce iodine naturally, it’s an important part of any diet.
“Iodine is an essential trace mineral that needs to come from diet, fortified foods, or supplementation,” she says.
“It’s a crucial component of thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism in the body, and play roles in neurological function, protein synthesis, and immune function,” she adds.
The body requires iodine in order to produce these thyroid hormones. In addition to regulating the body’s metabolism, thyroid hormones control digestive, heart, and muscle functions. Iodine is also important during pregnancy and infancy because the mineral promotes brain and bone development.
According to the World Health Organization, the recommended dietary allowance for iodine for the average person is 150 micrograms (mcg). For pregnant and lactating people, the recommended amount is 250 mcg. Children up to the age of six require 90 mcg per day, and children between the ages of six and 12 need 120 mcg per day.
The American Thyroid Association (ATA) indicates that prior to 1920, iodine deficiency was prevalent in much of Canada and many parts of the U.S., including the Great Lakes, Appalachian, and Northwest regions. The Association now estimates that approximately 30 percent of the global population is at risk of iodine deficiency. But how do vegans fare in regards to their iodine intake?
Do Vegans Suffer From Iodine Deficiency?
A recent study out of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin found that one-third of the vegans assessed were iodine deficient. However, the cross-sectional study only included a sample size of 72 adults. The blood and urine samples of thirty-six people following a plant-based were compared to the remaining 36 adults, who were omnivores.
But is this indicative of a vegan diet as a whole? Hever says vegans do need to ensure they’re getting enough iodine in their diet.
“Iodine remains a public health concern around the globe. And vegans are one of the groups at an increased risk for iodine deficiency,” she explains.
What are the Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), not getting enough iodine can impede the body’s ability to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormones.
The health issues that arise as a result of this are called iodine deficiency disorders. Examples of these disorders include endemic goiter, learning disabilities, and hypothyroidism. The latter condition, which results in an underactive thyroid, is caused by severe and prolonged iodine deficiency.
Iodine deficiency does require a medical diagnosis. Symptoms of iodine deficiency include a lump or swelling of the neck, fatigue, sensitivity to the cold, and constipation. However, getting too much iodine in the diet can also result in similar symptoms. The NIH indicates that high iodine intakes may cause thyroid gland inflammation and even thyroid cancer.
The 6 Best Vegan Sources of Iodine
Iodine is commonly found in non-vegan foods, such as fish, eggs, and dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and milk. But there are a number of plant-based foods that are rich in iodine. Here are seven of the best vegan sources of iodine that may help you get more of the mineral in your diet.
“Sea vegetables are one of the best sources of iodine,” Hever says. And according to the NIH, seaweed like nori, wakame, and kombu kelp contains some of the most iodine compared to other foods. Ten grams of dried nori—the type of seaweed commonly used to make sushi—contains 232 mcg of iodine. This is well above the 150 mcg recommended dietary allowance for iodine.
2. Iodized Salt
You can thank iodized salt for eliminating much of the iodine deficiencies found in the U.S. in the early 1900s, according to the ATA. Although it resembles plain salt, iodized salt is table salt that is mixed with small amounts of various salts of the iodine. But a little sure does go a long way! Approximately a quarter of a teaspoon—or 1.5 grams—of iodized table salt contains 76 mcg of iodine. Stock up on iodized salt here.
Don’t get too excited: Not all bread is high in iodine. But if you needed a good excuse to snack on bread—this is it! Certain kinds of whole-wheat and white bread are made with an iodate dough conditioner. Just one slice of these types of bread contains 198 and 185 mcg of iodine, respectively.
In addition to being a good source of vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, iron, and potassium, prunes—which are dried plums—are another great source of iodine. Consuming just five dried prunes provides about nine percent of the recommended daily value, which is about 13 mcg. Snag a bag of dried prunes here.
Although pasta on its own isn’t a good source of iodine—when boiled in water with iodized salt, you can get 36 mcg of iodine per serving. If you’re looking for tasty pasta recipes to make to up your iodine intake, try making this vegan pasta featuring a creamy cashew sauce with mushrooms and asparagus.
6. Canned Fruit Cocktail
Granted, canned fruit cocktails rank relatively low on the iodine content scale. Although the canning process reduces some of their vitamin content, half a cup of canned fruit cocktail in light syrup contains six mcg.
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