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Unmasking the Critical Nutrient You’re Likely Ignoring

Iodine, a trace element found naturally in the earth’s soil and ocean waters, is vital for human health. It’s essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which regulate our metabolism, energy levels, and overall growth and development. Despite its importance, iodine doesn’t receive as much attention as other nutrients (like protein 😫), yet its deficiency can lead to serious health issues, including goiter, intellectual disabilities, and various thyroid problems. So we’re going to explore the significance of iodine, why it is present in animal products, and where you can find iodine in plant-based food.

iodine plant-based diet
Why Iodine is Essential for Health

The thyroid gland, located at the base of our neck, uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial for brain development in infants and children, as well as maintaining metabolic rate and promoting healthy heart, muscle, and digestive functions in adults. An iodine-deficient diet can lead to hypothyroidism, characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, cold sensitivity, and depression. In pregnant women, insufficient iodine intake can cause developmental issues and lower IQ in their offspring.

It is also worth noting that too much iodine may be as bad as too little, leading to iodine toxicity, so be sure to keep an eye on the amount of iodine you consume, whether you are vegan or not.

Iodine in Animal Products

Traditionally, iodine is found in high quantities in animal products. This is because animals consume plants or drink water containing iodine, which then accumulates in their bodies. For instance, fish absorb iodine from seawater, while cattle may be given iodine supplements or feed that is rich in the mineral, contributing to the iodine content of animal products.

Horrifying fact: Much of the iodine present in dairy milk originates from the contamination with iodine-based teat sanitizers used in dairy farming to reduce infections during milking!

Plant-Based Sources of Iodine

No matter what diet you’re on, whether you are worried that you are getting too much iodine on an animal-based diet, or too little on a plant-based diet, we should all be monitoring our iodine intake.

Meeting your iodine intake on a plant-based diet requires a bit more attention but is entirely feasible and super easy once you know which foods are great sources of iodine. Here are some excellent plant-based sources of iodine:

Note: The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg/day for an adult.

Seaweed
Plant-Based Iodine

Seaweed or seaweed powder is the best way to get your iodine as a vegan. The ocean is a natural reservoir of iodine, making seaweed one of the richest plant-based sources. Varieties such as nori, dulse, kelp and wakame can be easily incorporated into diets through sushi, soups, and salads. However, the iodine content in seaweed can vary widely, so moderation is key to avoiding excessive intake.

2 Nori Sheets, 1 tsp of pulse flakes, 1 tbsp of seaweed salad OR 1 tbsp of arame should meet your daily requirement of iodine as an adult (who is not pregnant).

Iodized Salt
Plant-Based Iodine

Adding iodized salt to meals is an effective way to ensure iodine consumption. It’s a staple in many households and is especially important in areas where the natural iodine content in soil and water is low. However, iodised salt contains a high amount of sodium, making it not the best choice as the only source of iodine.

Cranberries and Strawberries
Plant-Based Iodine

These fruits can accumulate iodine from the soil, making them good options for a boost of this essential nutrient. Aim to buy organic cranberries or strawberries to minimize pesticide exposure.

Beans and Legumes
Plant-Based Iodine

Particularly lima beans and navy beans, these can be good sources of iodine, depending on the soil in which they were grown.

Potatoes
Plant-Based Iodine

When grown in iodine-rich soil, potatoes can be a good source of iodine. The potato’s skin holds most of the iodine, so it’s best to consume them with the skin on. However, aim to buy organic options to minimize pesticide exposure.

So there you have it! Iodine might not be the first thing on your mind when you’re whipping up your next meal, but it’s clear this little nutrient is super important for our health. With seaweed being the clear winner out of the plant-based iodine sources, find the type that works for you. Whether that’s munching plant-based sushi rolls or hiding a sprinkle of seaweed powder in your smoothies, there are plenty of ways to make sure you’re getting your fill of iodine and keeping your thyroid happy.

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