The Importance of Iodine-Rich Foods and Where to Find Them

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Eating seafood and seaweed is one good way to get iodine—an essential trace mineral—into the body.

Iodine is a trace mineral that plays a crucial role in several physiological functions within the body. Because our bodies do not produce iodine naturally, we must gain it through food or supplements. Iodine deficiency can have serious health consequences, so it is important to ensure you have the appropriate daily intake your body needs to function properly.

How Much Iodine Should You Have in a Day?

The recommended daily dose of iodine for adults is 150 micrograms (mcg). This recommendation is the same for both men and non-pregnant women. For pregnant or breastfeeding women, that recommendation increases to between 220–290 mcg per day. For perspective, one-quarter teaspoon of iodized table salt contains approximately 78 mcg of iodine.

What Does Iodine Do in Your Body?

Healthy levels of iodine are essential for the proper function of several organs within the body, including the thyroid, brain, liver, and kidneys. Within the brain, iodine plays a key role in cognitive function, including gross motor function, memory, and comprehension. Iodine also seems to play an important role in the body’s immune response by improving the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria and decreasing inflammation.

Approximately 70–80 percent of the body’s iodine is stored inside the thyroid gland. Within the thyroid, iodine assists with hormone production, particularly thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones are responsible for metabolism regulation, protein synthesis, and enzyme production. Without iodine, the body would not have the components necessary to create and maintain the required levels of these vital hormones.

Iodine also plays a crucial role in fetal development. During early pregnancy, fetuses depend entirely on the mother’s supply of iodine, due to their own thyroid gland being insufficient. Iodine is a key component of the fetus’s neurological and skeletal development, as well as its organ and tissue development and functionality. In fact, researchers have found that iodine deficiency is one of the most prominent causes of intellectual disabilities in infants and children. Even mild iodine deficiency in the mother can irreparably affect the growth and development of the fetus.

Examples of Iodine-Rich Foods

Relatively speaking, there are not many foods that contain high amounts of iodine. The good news is, that the ones that do exist are quite common and easy to find at any grocery store. Some examples of iodine-rich foods include:

  • Cranberries (~400 mcg per 4 ounce serving)
  • Whole wheat bread (~273 mcg per 2-slice serving)
  • Cod (~146 mcg per 3-ounce serving)
  • Seaweed (nori) (~116 mcg per 5 gram serving)
  • Greek yogurt (plain) (~87 mcg per 3/4 cup serving)
  • Milk (~84 mcg per 1 cup serving)
  • Iodized table salt (~78 mcg per 1/4 teaspoon serving)
  • Cottage cheese (~65 mcg per 1 cup serving)
  • Navy beans (~64 mcg per 1 cup serving)
  • Baked potato (~60 mcg per 1 medium-sized potato)
  • Hard-boiled egg (~31 mcg per 1 large egg)
  • Strawberries (~12 mcg per 1 cup serving)

“Seafood, especially saltwater fish, and seaweed are the richest sources of iodine in the diet. Common saltwater fish that are readily available in the grocery store include salmon, tuna, cod, flounder, and swordfish. Other foods that contain iodine are dairy products, eggs, and iodized salt,” Laura Ali told The Epoch Times in an email. Ms. Ali is a culinary nutritionist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

You may also consider taking a dietary supplement containing iodine in order to get your recommended daily allowance. Many multivitamin supplements contain iodine, usually present as either potassium iodide or sodium iodide. However, iodine supplementation is only recommended if you are certain you are not getting enough from the foods you eat, in order to prevent excessive intake.

Consequences of Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency occurs when the body does not have enough iodine to meet its needs. This usually occurs when a person’s daily iodine intake falls below 10–20 mcg, which in turn causes the body to produce inadequate levels of thyroid hormones.

While now considered uncommon in North America, iodine deficiency remains a serious public health concern in approximately 25 countries around the world. It is estimated that approximately 35–45 percent of the world’s population is affected by iodine deficiency. People who do not use iodized salt, vegans, pregnant women, and people who live in regions with iodine-poor soil are considered some of the most at-risk groups for developing iodine insufficiency.

Ms. Ali notes that not all salt sold in stores contains iodine and that “people who only use kosher salt, Himalayan salt, and some sea salts may be at risk for iodine deficiency.”

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Iodine deficiency has been linked to several negative health impacts, including an increased risk for cancer. It can also cause various thyroid diseases, including goiter (enlargement of the thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland).

The risks of inadequate iodine levels for pregnant women and their unborn children are particularly concerning. Iodine deficiency can cause intellectual disability, birth defects, deafness, and even stillbirth or fetal death while in the womb. It may also increase the risk of perinatal death for the mother.

“For infants and children, iodine deficiency is especially concerning as it can cause neurological damage if enough iodine is not consumed. This can include significantly reduced IQ, brain damage, and a condition called cretinism,” confirms Ms. Ali. Cretinism is currently diagnosed as congenital hypothyroidism or congenital iodine deficiency.

Causes and Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency is most often caused by inadequate iodine intake via food or supplements. However, Sarah Herrington, a nutritionist based in Phoenix, Arizona, told The Epoch Times that there are other potential causes, as well:

“An inadequate intake of iodine is generally the root cause of an iodine deficiency. Fluoride can inhibit iodine transport in the body, so excess fluoride consumption can also potentially contribute to an inability to effectively absorb iodine. A deficiency in vitamin A may also reduce iodine uptake in the thyroid.”

Symptoms of iodine deficiency often align with those of hypothyroidism and may include:

  • Goiter (often the first sign of iodine deficiency)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Infertility

Is Too Much Iodine Bad for You?

Generally, the highest tolerable intake of iodine for a healthy adult is approximately 1,100 mcg per day. Ingesting more than 1,100 mcg per day can lead to iodine toxicity, which can have detrimental effects on the body.

Iodine toxicity can be just as harmful as iodine deficiency and interestingly, can have many of the same symptoms. Goiter, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism are all common symptoms of high iodine. Some research also demonstrates that high iodine intake can cause thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) and even thyroid cancer. Despite these undesirable consequences, iodine toxicity is rarely fatal.

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