Vegans & Iodine

When we went vegan, we knew to include supplements like B12 and Vitamin D in our diet, but we did not always know about iodine. Iodine is a mineral found in seawater, rocks and some types of soil. It is very important for making thyroid hormones, which control metabolism, bone and brain development. Iodine is also especially important for pregnant women and fetus development, and infants.

Iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency can be a serious problem, and about 30% of the world’s population is at risk of iodine deficiency. Without proper levels of iodine, the thyroid gland can not function properly and can lead to problems such as Goiters – which is the swelling of the thyroid glands as they try to keep up with the body’s need for thyroid hormones. When the thyroid gland is not making enough hormone, it can also lead to Hypothyroidism. Some symptoms of Hypothyroidism include muscle weakness, weight gain, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, thinning hair, memory problems or depression.

Iodine in animal products

Iodine is found in animal products, but just as in Vitamin B12, it’s a question of how it gets there. Dairy products contain iodine because it is used as a supplement in animal feed. Iodine is also used as a disinfectant for equipment and to treat infections. Cows’ udders are very prone to infections which are washed down with iodine, that ends up in the dairy products people are eating and drinking!

Eggs also contain iodine, again because it is used in feed. And, or course iodine is found in fish along with pollutants and contaminants like mercury, PCBs, and pesticide residues from the food they eat.

Vegans and iodine

Vegans can be especially at risk of having an iodine deficiency since we don’t eat dairy products, seafood, and eggs. To add to that, there are some foods that we do like to eat, that contain compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens are substances that interfere with the way the body uses iodine. These are present in some plants like cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower – as well as soy products. There is no need to stop eating these foods, though, because there are other ways for vegans to get their iodine.

There are two main sources for vegans to their recommended amounts of iodine.

  • One of the best natural food sources of iodine is seaweed (such as kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame).
  • Another vegan iodine source is Iodized table salt.

Seaweed and Iodine

One of the most natural sources of iodine is seaweed.

Although iodine levels vary in each type of seaweed. the recommended amount of seaweed is 150 mcg. That’s micrograms not milligrams – a tiny amount compared to our other vitamin and mineral needs. For example, 1000 mcg is equal to one mg, and the recommended amount of zinc per day is about 10mg. That’s 10,000 mcg of zinc, compared to only 150mcg of iodine.

For reference, one sheet of nori contains approximately 40mcg of iodine.

Look for good quality, if possible organic seaweed, from companies that are dedicated to producing products from clean waters. Seaweed grown in polluted waters, can absorb high levels of heavy metals.

Sea salt vs iodized table salt

However, unless you are eating sufficient amounts of sea vegetables, iodized salt may be a crucial way to get your recommended amounts of iodine. But not all salts are created equal.

Sea salt comes from evaporating sea water. It contains small amounts of minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. Iodized table salt comes from mining salt deposits, is then processed so any minerals are removed, and finally it is fortified with iodine.

Many people believe that sea salt is healthier because it is more natural, less processed and contains some minerals. Also, sea salt, and fancy salts, (like pink Himalayan, grey or black salts, etc.) even Kosher salt, have become very popular in cooking, and many people just no longer use Iodized table salt. The problem with sea salts is that they do not contain sufficient amounts of iodine.

The recommended amount of iodized table salt is about 1/2 teaspoon a day. A package of salt must say it’s iodized, if it doesn’t then it does not contain significant amounts of the mineral.

Some other foods that contain iodine are: prunes, lima beans, bananas, cranberries, whole grains, watercress, green peas, dried fruits, strawberries

Although rare, you can get too much iodine…so everything in moderation!

Disclaimer: This post provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers about any questions, or use of dietary supplements that may be best for your health.

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