By Vincent C. Giampapa, M. Iodine is an essential mineral that we typically get from our diets, and it plays a vital role in our hormone balance. Our bodies need iodine to make thyroid hormones that control our metabolism, among other critical functions. The thyroid hormones made possible by iodine also support fetal brain and skeletal development during pregnancy and adolescence, so it is especially important for pregnant mothers and very young children to get enough. This is a very small amount of iodine, but critical to your health nonetheless. In the US, the median intake of iodine is about – mcg per day for men and – mcg for women. As with most essential nutrients, too little can cause health problems, but too much can also cause health problems; it’s all about proper balance. The maximum amount you can take without a potential negative impact on your health is 1, mcg per day 7. While adequate levels of iodine support thyroid and hormone health, too much may disrupt thyroid function, leading to hypo- or hyperthyroidism, and weight gain. It is very uncommon for people to consume more than the UL.
Many parts of the world do not have enough iodine available through their diet, and low iodine levels continue to be a major public health problem. Unfortunately for plant-based eaters, getting enough iodine through a vegan diet can be just as challenging as getting enough vitamin D or B On top of that, iodine is a fundamental nutrient for pregnant women and infants, as it is needed for optimal brain development and healthy cognitive functioning — two things that no parent in their right mind would ever neglect when it comes to their growing child! Iodine is an essential component of our body’s thyroid function, yet oddly enough, it’s incredibly hard to get enough iodine from natural dietary sources alone. Note that dairy products and iodized salt are only fortified with iodine, but they still make for the most common and accessible sources of iodine, so much so that the majority of people will never really think about their iodine intake. Vegans, however, should be very attentive to the iodine content of their food, as vegan sources are few and far in between, and iodine supplements for vegans are yet to become as widespread as vitamin B Though really, they should be! Iodine has long been an overlooked nutrient in vegan diets, and there is enough data out there to make this a simple fact — not just an opinion.
Iodine is a trace element, which means we require only very, very small amounts. To put that in a way that is easier to understand, 1 gram is equivalent to 1,, micrograms and we need around 50g of protein and 30g of fibre. So, given this miniscule iodine requirement — the mass of around three eyelashes! Well, as we discuss in our feature on vegan supplements and vitamins, there are some nutrients that are harder for vegans to obtain than others. Iodine is most usually associated with non-vegan foods, chiefly fish and seafood, and also milk and other dairy-based products, such as cheese. However, one of the richest sources of iodine is actually vegan friendly. Edible seaweeds and other sea vegetables are actually so high in iodine that one has to be careful not to consume too much. There are also a number of other plant-based foods that contain at least some iodine, whilst iodised salt essentially salt with added iodine is also one way to get iodine into your diet.