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How to prevent iodine deficiency on a vegan diet

by tamarajune
Published: Last Updated on

Iodine is an essential nutrient and vital for thyroid function. Those on plant-based diets have an increased risk of iodine deficiency. Thus, in this post, we’ll look at vegan sources of iodine and discuss deficiency symptoms. Moreover, we’ll talk about how you can meet the need as a vegan. 

What are the benefits of iodine, and why is it important?

Iodine is a part of the thyroid hormones and involved in metabolism. It also plays a role in the development of the brain and bones. Further, iodine is found in the secretion of mucous membranes and protects against microorganisms entering the body. Moreover, it is an antioxidant and can inhibit unwanted cell growth.

[su_highlight]Summary: Iodine is a part of thyroid hormones and essential for metabolism as well as the development of the brain and bones. It is also found in mucous membranes and acts as an antioxidant.[/su_highlight]

Are vegans at risk of iodine deficiency?

Vegans are more likely to be deficient in iodine.  However, regardless of dietary lifestyle, obtaining enough iodine can be difficult. 

Pregnant women and small children also have an increased risk. 

How much iodine do you need per day?

Algae in a white bowl on a tabel

The recommended daily intake is 200 µg. However, the requirement varies through various life stages. Thus, in the table below, you can find the intake recommendations for all age groups.

Age Recommended daily intake
0 – 4 months 40 µg
4 – 12 months80 µg
1 – 4 years      100 µg
4 – 7 years      120 µg
7 – 10 years   140 µg
10 – 13 years 180 µg
13 – 51 years          200 µg
51+ older       180 µg
Pregnant women        230 µg
Breast-feeding women260 µg


[su_highlight]Summary:  For the general population, the recommended daily intake of iodine is 200 µg.[/su_highlight]

Do vegan foods contain iodine?

How much iodine is available in plant foods depends on how iodine-rich the soil, on which the food was grown, is. Continental land is relatively low in iodine, while soil near lakes, seas, and oceans tends to contain more.

For example, in Northern and Central Europe, the soil is low in iodine. Thus, the food grown there may supply some iodine but not enough to meet the need.

In some regions, tap water can also serve as an iodine source. In general, there is more iodine in the water in northern countries and less in the southern ones.

[su_highlight]Summary: Plant foods can be an iodine source if they were grown on iodine-rich soil. In some regions, tap water may also serve as a source.[/su_highlight]  

How to prevent iodine deficiency as a vegan?

Algae in a small glass container as an example of what to eat to avoid iodine deficiency

Vegans can meet the need by: 

  • using iodized salt. You can incorporate it into your diet to season your meals or by consuming foods that are made with it (like bread). Through iodized salt, you get, on average, 75-125 µg of iodine per day. So, while it doesn’t provide you with all the iodine you need, it can make a significant contribution. However, because of salt’s possible negative impact on blood pressure and blood vessels, you should limit your consumption of it. 
  • incorporating algae into your diet. Using Nori-flakes is an effective and simple method to meet the iodine requirement. You can add the flakes to most meals, but they taste especially good on a salad or in soups. However, you have to be careful because some algae contain way too much iodine, which can be harmful. Thus, you should only use algae products, where the amount of iodine contained is stated on the label labeled. Moreover, check the label for intake recommendations. Often, 1 TBSP per day is sufficient to meet the need. 
  • using kelp tablets, which are pulverized and pressed brown algae. The recommended intake is usually one tablet a day, but always check the instructions on the product.

If you have a diagnosed deficiency, your doctor may recommend an iodine supplement. 

Note: Selenium is needed to metabolize iodine. Thus, it’s crucial that you get enough of that nutrient as well. 

[su_highlight]Summary: To meet the iodine requirement on a vegan diet, you can use iodized salt, regularly consume algae (f.e. Nori flakes), or take kelp tablets. If you live in a country where the soil is rich in iodine, you can usually meet the need by consuming locally grown plant foods.[/su_highlight]  

Do animal products contain iodine?

In the regions of the world where the soil is low in iodine, the animal feed is usually enriched with the nutrient. That’s why animal products can be a (“good”) source of iodine.

Does Himalayan Salt have iodine?

Himalayan salt naturally contains very little to no iodine. Thus, in contrast to most table salts, it is not a reliable source. However, some brands add algae to enrich their products with iodine. 

Is there an iodine deficiency test?

If your doctor suspects that you are deficient in iodine, he/she may check your iodine status with a urine sample (24h urine collection or spontaneous urine sample).

Standard values for a spontaneous urine sample are:

  • 100 – 199 µg/l for adults and school children and 
  • 150–249 µg/l for pregnant and breast-feeding women: 

A blood test can also hint at a deficiency. Parameters to look out for are TSH, T3, and T4.

[su_highlight]Summary: By ordering a 24h urine collection or a spontaneous urine sample, a doctor can detect an iodine deficiency. Blood parameters, such as TSH, T3, and T4, may also give hints.[/su_highlight]

Common symptoms of iodine deficiency:

A plate full of algae on as an example of what to eat to prevent iodine deficiency
  • Weight gain
  • Problems concentrating
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold more frequently
  • Constipation
  • Slowed reflexes

What are the consequences of iodine deficiency?

A mild deficiency may lead to an enlargement of the thyroid but doesn’t impair thyroid function. 

If a severe deficiency persists over an extended period of time, it may lead to a reduction in the production of thyroid hormones. This can result in the development of goiter, as well as decreased basal metabolism. Moreover, cognitive problems may occur.

Pregnant women should be especially careful about their iodine intake because a deficiency can lead to growth, development, and organ problems of the child. 

[su_highlight]Summary: A mild deficiency can cause the thyroid to enlarge. A severe lack may lead to goiter, decreased basal metabolism, or cognitive problems.[/su_highlight]  

Is it dangerous to take in too much iodine?

A healthy thyroid can regulate how much iodine is absorbed and therefore prevent an oversupply.

If you surpass the recommended daily intake by more than 10% for a prolonged time, then a thyroid hyperfunction and enlarged thyroid can develop. 

So, always take Nori flakes, kelp tablets, or any other supplement as recommended on the packaging and consult your doctor. 

[su_highlight]Summary: To prevent an oversupply, always take supplements as recommenced on the label. In addition, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. [/su_highlight]

Summary: How to prevent iodine deficiency on a vegan diet

Infographic summarizing the most important information on how to prevent iodine deficiency as a vegan

What is your preferred source of iodine?


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