Why iodine is particularly important in a vegan diet

Why iodine is particularly important in a vegan diet

A large proportion of Germans are not sufficiently supplied with iodine . According to studies, this undersupply is even more pronounced with a purely plant-based diet. But why do we need the nutrient at all and where is iodine vegan?

But before we address these questions, the basics: Iodine is one of the trace elements and is an essential part of our organism. We absorb it through diet and need it to make vital thyroid hormones.

In general, iodine supply is closely linked to the thyroid gland . If you have too little of it, it can lead to an underfunction of the organ. If you ingest too much iodine, however, there is a risk of hyperfunction of the thyroid gland.

As with all nutrients, the right balance is also crucial for iodine.

However, since the soils in Central Europe contain rather little iodine, people in this region are often undersupplied. An attempt to counteract this is the addition of iodine to certain food or animal feed. An example of this that you probably know is iodized table salt. In addition, the regular consumption of sea fish is recommended to boost the iodine supply. As a vegan, however, this is not an option.

Fortunately, there are alternatives here. But more on that later.

How much iodine do you need a day?

First, let’s look at how much iodine we need a day. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends the intake of about 200 μg of iodine per day for adolescents and adults under the age of 51 in Germany and Austria.

Here is the exact breakdown of recommended daily iodine intake for all ages:

Age Iodine in μg per day
0 to less than 4 months ~40 (estimated)
4 to less than 12 months 80
1 to under 4 years 100
4 to under 7 years 120
7 to under 10 years 140
10 to under 13 years 180
13 to under 51 years 200
51 to under 65 years 180
65 years and over 180

With a varied diet, which also contains iodized foods and animal products, a supply of sufficient iodine is possible. Especially among vegan people, however, there is always an undersupply.

The good news: Since your body can store iodine to a certain extent, it often comes only after a long undersupply to a problematic iodine deficiency.

The bad news: One often only notices after a long undersupply that there is a problem with the iodine level at all.

Pay particular attention to symptoms of hypothyroidism. These include, for example:

  • Drowsiness, fatigue and increased listlessness
  • Increased cold sensation
  • Problems with concentration
  • pale skin
  • Water retention
  • Hair loss

In the long term, a lack of iodine can also lead to the growth of the thyroid gland and thus an overfunction of the organ. In addition to the formation of a goiter (goiter), this can also result in an impairment of mental performance.

As a rule, an iodine deficiency can be effectively combated by administering iodine-containing dietary supplements . If you suspect an undersupply, however, you should always seek medical advice first.

But not only too little iodine can be a problem. Too much of the trace element can also have harmful consequences.

How to recognize an overdose of iodine

Although we need a certain amount of iodine to live, it is actually toxic. With an extreme overdose, this can even lead to death.

The interesting thing: As mentioned above, too little iodine over a long period of time can lead to an overactive thyroid gland, as the organ tries to compensate for the deficiency. Taking iodine too much can have exactly the same effect.

In addition to the already mentioned goiter, such an overdose can also lead to:

  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • trembling hands
  • Sleep problems
  • Weakness
  • or tachycardia.

Especially in and after pregnancy you need iodine as a vegan

Iodine is essential for the physical and mental development of children. Therefore, especially in and after pregnancy, increased intake of the trace element is recommended. Since iodine deficiency, as mentioned above, is especially common among vegans, you should definitely pay attention to a sufficient intake in a plant-based diet.

Breastfeeding is important even after birth. The generally recommended daily intake increases significantly during this time. According to the DGE, it is 230 μg/day for pregnant women and 260 μg/day for breastfeeding women.

Since too much iodine can also be a problem and the study situation around iodine in pregnancy is not yet completely clear, you should definitely clarify an additional intake with your doctor of trust beforehand.

Salt in the tea? How to meet your iodine vegan needs

Without the intake of animal products, the adequate supply of iodine can become a problem. Things like dairy products, shellfish, eggs and saltwater fish are among the foods with the highest iodine content.

With a vegan diet, however, you still have alternatives. Among conventional vegan foods, iodine is found in:

  • Lamb’s lettuce (~35 μg / 100g)
  • Spinach (~15 μg / 100g)
  • Broccoli (~15 μg / 100g)
  • Mushrooms (~15 μg / 100g)

Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, can also provide you with iodine. However, the problem with all the foods mentioned is that they contain comparatively little iodine.

But don’t worry, you also have two crucial jokers as a vegan:

  • iodized table salt
  • Seaweed

Is there anything to consider?

Well, iodized salt is a good source of iodine, but since the excessive use of salt neither tastes good nor is healthy, it may not be the best solution.

The situation is quite different with seaweed.

On average, fresh algae contain about 50 μg of iodine per 100g. However, this value may fluctuate. In addition to the type of algae, it also depends on its place of origin. For example, algae imported from Asia can contain significantly more iodine, as they remain there longer in seawater before harvesting and can thus accumulate more iodine.

But the iodine content can also be problematic. In dried form, they sometimes contain up to ten times as much iodine as after harvesting. Therefore, due to the natural toxicity of iodine, you should be careful when consuming algae products, especially if you do not know exactly the amount of iodine contained.

An alternative to this are vegan dietary supplements. In the natural variant, you can take iodine from algae extract in capsule form. It is important that the shell of the capsules was also produced vegan. A big advantage: The exact indication of the amount of iodine contained makes it easier for you to get the right dosage. So you don’t lack anything even with a vegan diet.


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