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Dine with Iodine

Dine with Iodine

  • October 24, 2019

As a country with a big vegetarian population, we come across a lot of questions concerning the fulfillment of nutritional needs of vitamins, proteins and iron however, no one ever questions about the intake of Iodine.

Although iodine tends not to be the first nutrient that springs to mind as a concern for those who eat mainly plant-foods, most dietary iodine comes from animal sources, and iodine deficiency has been described by the World Health Organization as the ‘the world’s greatest single cause of preventable brain damage’.

Importance of Iodine

Iodine is an essential part of all of our diets as it is not produced by the body. It is used to make thyroid hormones that play an important role in metabolism and growth. Having insufficient iodine in your diet can mean that you don’t make enough thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), with symptoms including tiredness, weight gain, mood changes, constipation and sometimes enlargement of the thyroid gland that can become visible in the neck (known as a goiter).

Fetuses and exclusively breastfed babies get all their iodine from their mum and so it’s extremely important that women have enough iodine in their diet during the childbearing years. If fetuses and babies don’t get all the iodine they need, then brain development can be impaired.

Iodine rich diet

Fish and shellfish, milk and other dairy foods (e.g. yogurt) provide the most amount of iodine per average portion. White fish provides more iodine than oily fish. Non-animal products such as cereals, potatoes, nuts and fruit and vegetables also contain some iodine but at much lower concentrations than animal sources of iodine, and even if eaten in large quantities are alone unlikely to provide enough iodine to meet requirements.

In India, iodisation of salt is mandatory to prevent and control iodine deficiency but we all should be eating less, not more, salt. Kelp (seaweed) tends to contain high concentrations of iodine but its recommended to avoid eating this regularly because it can result in excessive iodine intake (which can also cause thyroid problems).

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In general, restricting intake of animal products increases risk of low iodine intake because the richest iodine food sources are of animal origin. Vegans, who eliminate all animal products from their diet, are more at risk of iodine deficiency than vegetarians (who usually consume iodine-rich dairy foods); those who do not restrict animal products and eat dairy foods and fish typically have the highest iodine intake.

All pregnant and breastfeeding women, especially those who are vegetarian or vegan, should pay particular attention to their iodine intake because iodine needs increase during this period and it’s very important there is enough for the growing baby and to maintain maternal status.

As a vegetarian make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates and plant-based proteins, and get all the iodine by regularly eating dairy foods. As milk is such an important source of iodine for, we use plant-based alternatives regularly in place of milk, we should go for an iodine-fortified version or up my iodine intake in other ways. Whatever dietary choices you make, be reassured that iodine adequacy is possible for all!

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