Why are iodine rich foods important? Well, more and more people are paying attention to their bodies lately, but one thing that is easy to miss is your thyroid. Iodine is a huge part of thyroid health… and when your thyroid is healthy, you won’t even notice it! But this organ does need proper care and attention, because thyroid has an influence in nearly every metabolic process in the body. This can lead to many issues if it’s not working properly.1
The thyroid is run by a series of thyroid hormones. To function, the thyroid converts iodine, a mineral, into these hormones. And the body doesn’t make iodine, so it must be taken in through diet.
What is iodine? Iodine has been a readily accessible part of the Western diet for some time now, but this is starting to change. After all, fewer people eat iodized salt than ever before, relying instead on sea salt or himalayan salt. And the other main dietary sources of iodine out there are eggs, dairy products, and fish.
But what do you do if you’re vegan? You could be getting too few of the thyroid hormones you need to function.2
Good news: there are plenty of vegan alternatives to typical iodine rich foods that will help you get the necessary iodine you need through your diet. But first, let’s take a closer look at …
The Consequences of Iodine Deficiency
If you live in the developed world, you probably aren’t at immediate risk of iodine deficiency. That’s because, around the turn of the 20th Century, certain regions of the country, the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes in particular, had a lack of iodine in their soil. As a result, residents suffered from iodine deficiency. Researchers theorized that one way to combat the problem was to add iodine to salt – the one ingredient almost everyone adds to their food, every day. In 1924, iodized salt became available on grocery store shelves.3
However, iodine deficiency remains a massive issue in various parts of the world. An estimated 2.2 billion people – 38 percent of the world’s population – reside in areas where iodine deficiency is a problem. This includes people who live in areas with iodine-poor soil, those who don’t use iodized salt, and people on the edge of iodine intake who eat foods with goitrogens – foods that can interfere with how iodine is processed by the thyroid.4
Part of the reason that iodine deficiency can be so dangerous is due to the nature of the endocrine system. The thyroid hormones T4 and T3 essentially prompt the cells to work harder, which has a number of applications, including:
- Maintaining body temperature
- Stronger heartbeat and pulse
- Processing food faster and more efficiently
- Brain maturation and growth in children
- Higher levels of attention and quicker reflexes due to activation of the nervous system5
Thyroid issues generally stem from the amount of hormones produced. A condition called hyperthyroidism can develop if too many hormones are produced by the thyroid. One symptom of hyperthyroidism is a goiter – an enlargement of the thyroid. Other potential consequences include nervousness and irritability, heat intolerance, rapid and irregular heartbeat, and fatigue. Symptoms can vary from person to person.6
On the opposite end of the spectrum, hypothyroidism is caused when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones. This can lead to issues like fatigue, sudden weight gain, decreased sweating, and constipation. Hypothyroidism is particularly dangerous for developing children, as a lack of thyroid hormones during this crucial time can lead to stunted physical and mental development.7
Iodine deficiency is becoming an issue in Western countries again, as more people eschew iodized salt and other iodine rich foods in their diets – including fish, milk, and certain cheeses. None of these are options in a vegan diet.8 In addition, artisan salts like Himalayan pink salts, sea salts, and Celtic salts are gaining in popularity, but none of these salts are iodized.9 As a result, many people who are trying to be healthier may be accidentally steering themselves into iodine deficiency.
Iodine Rich Foods (that are vegan to boot!)
Iodine deficiency can lead to some major issues in regard to your thyroid health. This makes it all the more important to get proper amounts from your diet. How much iodine is enough? The recommended dietary allowance for iodine is 150 mcg for adult men and women. But because of the role iodine plays in development, pregnant and lactating women will want to take anywhere from 220 mcg to 290 mcg.12
If you are vegan, you’ll need to get creative when it comes to finding foods high in iodine because you may have a higher risk of iodine deficiency.13 Here are seven standout iodine rich foods to add to your diet, all of which are vegan:
Cranberries are a good fruit to add to any diet. They are rich in flavonoid and phytonutrient content, and studies show potential applications for urinary tract health, cardiovascular health, and more.14 However, interest in the iodine content of cranberries has been around for decades, especially those grown close to the sea.15 Not all cranberries are equal in this regard, but you can hedge your bets by buying organic cranberry juice…just make sure you don’t overdo it, as many fruit juices are high in sugar content, so look for unsweetened – or no sugar added – juices.
Strawberries won’t completely give you your iodine fill, but the 13 micrograms per cup you get from them can make up a respectable percentage of the intake you need. And the fact that they are a high-water, low-calorie fruit makes them a good addition to your meals and snacks on a daily basis.16
The versatility of beans has made them a staple of vegan and omnivore diets across the world, and you’ll be happy to know that these are foods high in iodine, and they can help you get the most iodine in your diet as well! Two standouts are lima beans and navy beans, with navy beans offering 32 mcg of iodine per one-half serving.18
4. Potatoes (Baked)
If you’re planning on using potatoes to get your necessary amount of iodine, make sure you have them baked over mashed or fried. Several key nutrients, including iodine and fiber, are found in the potato’s skin.19, 20
5. Sea Vegetables
When it comes to vegan sources of iodine, the ocean is king. Sea vegetables, including kelp, wakame, and nori, are incredible iodine rich foods. One serving of kelp provides multiple times the amount of daily iodine needed. As a result, don’t go overboard – enjoy small servings of sea vegetables, or sprinkle them into other meals, like salads, to meet your nutritional needs.21
Do You Need a Supplement?
Vegans might also want to consider taking an iodine supplement to fill the gap in their diets – but it’s something to talk to your doctor about before making any choices.
While taking a supplement may be helpful if you’re struggling to reconcile a need for iodine with your vegan lifestyle, always discuss things with a doctor before using any dietary supplements. Taking too much iodine can be dangerous. The upper limit for iodine is 1100 mcg a day, so be sure to keep this in mind.22
By incorporating some, or all, of these iodine rich foods into your diet, you can meet your iodine requirements as a vegan – just be sure to plan meals carefully, read labels, and shop wisely.
For more helpful health tips, keep reading: