I was interested to find out more about iodine and to find ensure we are getting enough of this mineral in our diet. We have since started buying seaweed snacks and also checking into our the ingredients of the plant based milks we are buying. I was surprised to see this in several of the protein powders and smoothie boosters we have been trying out as well…. so there are many good vegan sources of iodine available ….

We also thought we would chat with our good friends at Viva! who as always give us an abundance of information.

Adults need 140 micrograms of iodine a day. Most people should be able to get all they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Signs of deficiency include an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre), tiredness, weight-gain, increased susceptibility to infections, depression, feeling cold at all times and dry and cracked skin.

5 Minute Kale Salad

5 Minute Kale Salad

According to the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), there is public health concern that iodine intakes have become too low to meet a number of needs, especially during adolescence, reproduction, pregnancy and development.

The 2018 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found low levels of iodine in nine per cent of children aged 4 to 10 years, 12 per cent of children aged 11 to 18 years, 14 per cent of adults aged 19-64 and eight per cent of adults aged 65 years and over. 

Iodine is a trace element found in seawater, rocks and some types of soil. In the human body, it is essential for the production of the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine in the thyroid gland – these regulate how energy is produced and used up in the body. Too much or too little iodine can throw our metabolism off balance. Iodine is also necessary for the development of the nervous system and cognitive abilities in infancy and childhood.

The dairy industry try to persuade people to consume more dairy products on the basis that milk contains iodine. However, it is not a natural component of milk, it comes from iodine supplements in cattle feed and iodine-containing disinfectant used to sterilise milking equipment and added to teat dips and udder washes! 

Iodine has been used clinically in the treatment of wounds for more than 170 years. Dairy cows’ udders are prone to infection (mastitis) and are routinely washed with iodine which is why some of it ends up in their milk. It is also added to animal feed and levels in milk can vary widely, especially in winter when cows are confined indoors and fed only iodine-fortified feed. There is up to 40 per cent less iodine in organic dairy products.

The amount of iodine in plants depends on how much iodine is in the soil in which they grow (just as the levels in meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products reflect the amount of iodine used in the animal feed). On the other hand, seaweed is always a good source as it absorbs iodine from seawater. Kombu (kelp) is exceptionally rich in iodine – the highest amount of iodine in any food, so whilst seaweed consumption is encouraged, use kelp very sparingly.

Excess iodine can disrupt thyroid function leading to weight gain, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. The Department of Health advise that intakes of up to 500 micrograms a day of iodine are unlikely to cause harm.

A healthy vegan diet containing the above foods on a daily basis, with some occasional seaweed and/or iodised salt (used sparingly) will cover your needs. 

The best plant sources of iodine include sea vegetables (kombu, arame, wakame and nori) and iodised salt. The following foods have varying iodine content depending on iodine levels in the soil in which they’re grown: wholegrains, green beans, courgettes, kale, spring greens, watercress, strawberries and organic potatoes with skin.  Amounts tend to be low and variable.

10 Minute Tofish! Vegan "Fish" With Nori

10 Minute Tofish! Vegan “Fish” With Nori

Some plants milks also contain a source of iodine as potassium iodide including Alpro Original Soya (the chilled version), Oatly Oat Drink, Qwerkee Pea M’lk, Koko Super (enriched with 8 vitamins & minerals) and Marks & Spencer’s own brand soya, oat and rice milks. Most of these tend to contain 22.5 micrograms per 100ml so a 200ml glass of fortified plant milk may provide 45 micrograms (around a third of your daily requirement).

Kombu is an edible kelp used in East Asian cuisine and can be extremely high in iodine. Avoid using kelp if you have a thyroid problem as it contains such excessively high levels. Some health bodies advise not eating seaweed more than once a week during pregnancy as it may contain too much iodine which can disrupt thyroid function. If you are concerned about getting the numbers right, you can always take a supplement.

Sea vegetables contain many other minerals and trace minerals too, including calcium, copper and magnesium. They can be also be high in protein and fibre, while being low in calories and fat-free. As stated though, use sparingly and use the nutritional information provided on the packaging for guidance.

For most people, the regular use of small amounts of powdered or crumbled sea vegetables added to soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes or used as a condiment, is an excellent way to ensure a good iodine intake. A healthy vegan diet containing a wide range of vegetables on a daily basis, with some occasional seaweed and/or iodised salt (used sparingly) will supply sufficient iodine.

With thanks to the fantastic team at Viva!