Vegan Wonder

Unlock the Secrets to Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet: Mastering Iodine Intake

If you’re considering going plant-based or have been a vegan for years, you’ve likely researched the ins and outs of getting enough protein, iron, calcium, and omega-3s. But there’s another essential nutrient many plant-based eaters overlook: iodine.

What Is Iodine and What Does It Do?

Iodine is a trace element that the body needs in very small amounts to function properly. It plays a critical role in the production of thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism and support brain development and cognitive function. It also plays an essential role in reproductive health.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Iodine?

When you don’t consume enough iodine, your thyroid gland may enlarge, leading to a condition called goiter. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can also occur, leading to fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, and other health issues. Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood can cause impaired cognitive development.

Where Can You Get Iodine on a Plant-Based Diet?

Unfortunately, many plant-based foods are not naturally high in iodine, making it easier for vegans and vegetarians to be deficient. Seafood and dairy products are the most significant dietary sources of iodine. However, you can still get enough iodine from plant-based foods if you know where to look.

Plant-Based Sources of Iodine

  • Seaweed and algae. Seaweed and algae are some of the richest natural sources of iodine. Some varieties include:
    • Wakame: found in miso soup and sushi
    • Nori: used to make sushi rolls and seaweed snacks
    • Arame: a type of seaweed used in Japanese cuisine
    • Dulse: a red seaweed that is high in iodine, often sold flaked or as a powder

    Aim to include one or two servings of iodine-rich seaweed per week. For example, add wakame to your miso soup or snack on nori sheets.

    Tip: Iodized salt can be a good source of iodine, but it’s important to note that consuming too much salt is not good for your health. Aim for no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (1,500 mg if you have high blood pressure).

    If you use iodized salt, use it sparingly and choose an unsalted variety for cooking most of the time.

    Cooking tip: You can also add dried arame to soups and stews for added texture and flavor, and to boost your iodine intake.

  • Fortified plant-based foods. Some plant-based foods are fortified with iodine. Look for:
    • Non-dairy milks: Some plant-based milks are fortified with iodine, so be sure to check the nutrition label.
    • Cereals and bread: These foods may also be fortified with iodine, so check the label.
  • Other plant-based sources of iodine. While these foods don’t have as much iodine as the options above, you can still get some iodine from:
    • Potatoes: One medium-sized potato has about 60 micrograms of iodine.
    • Cranberries: One cup of cranberries has about 60 micrograms of iodine.

How Much Iodine Do You Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iodine varies depending on age, sex, and other factors. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Adults (19+ years): 150 micrograms per day
  • Children (4-18 years): 120-220 micrograms per day
  • Pregnant women and breastfeeding women: 175-290 micrograms per day

Keep in mind that these numbers are for reference only. Your individual needs may vary, depending on factors such as your age, sex, health condition, and geographical location.

How Can You Tell If You’re Getting Enough Iodine?

Signs of iodine deficiency include fatigue, dry skin and hair, and irregular menstrual cycles. However, these symptoms can also be caused by other issues, so it’s essential to get tested if you suspect you may be deficient.

Your healthcare provider can order blood tests to measure your iodine levels. However, it’s important to note that interpreting these results can be challenging, as there is no universally accepted threshold for iodine deficiency. In some cases, your doctor may order an urinary iodine concentration test, which measures the amount of iodine in your urine over 24 hours. Like blood tests, the results of these tests can be difficult to interpret, so it’s essential to work with a healthcare professional to understand your results.

How to Get Enough Iodine on a Plant-Based Diet

If you’re concerned about getting enough iodine on a plant-based diet, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting enough:

  1. Include seaweed or algae in your meals at least twice a week.
  2. Choose non-dairy milk, cereal, or bread products that have been fortified with iodine.
  3. Eat potatoes and cranberries regularly.
  4. Use iodized salt sparingly.

If you still feel unsure about your iodine intake, you may want to consider taking an iodine supplement. However, it’s essential to choose the right supplement form and to be aware of potential interactions with other medications. Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

How Much Iodine Is Too Much?

While it’s essential to get enough iodine, it’s also possible to get too much. Consuming more than 1,100 micrograms of iodine per day can cause thyroid issues. Be sure to stick to the recommended dosage when taking supplements.


Iodine is a critical nutrient for good health, and it can be a challenge for vegans and vegetarians to get enough. But with a little planning and some simple dietary changes, you can meet your body’s iodine needs and thrive on a plant-based diet.