Iodine is a micronutrient that is essential in thyroid hormone production and critical to brain development in babies. Fish and seaweed are rich in iodine, but these foods are not very prominent in the American diet. Most Americans get iodine from fortified salt and dairy products, particularly cow’s milk.
But what if you are avoiding dairy due to sensitivity or outright allergies? Many Americans have been drinking significantly less cows’ milk over the past few decades, as a variety of new milk alternatives have filled the shelves. Consumption of soy, almond, coconut, oat, rice, hazelnut, and hemp “milks” have increased steadily as many consumers discover they have milk allergies or feel it is difficult to digest due to lactose sensitivity. Likewise, some consumers simply prefer dairy alternatives due to taste preference or they want to avoid the antibiotics and hormones that are present in conventional dairy products.
With this trend away from drinking cows’ milk, nutritionists have become more concerned about adequate iodine intake. A study recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition examined the nutrient content of cows’ milk and dairy alternatives to compare iodine levels in the various products (all sold in the UK). They examined 47 different non-dairy beverages along with several brands of organic and non-organic cows’ milk. A few of the alternative products were fortified with iodine, but most were not. Overall, the dairy-free drinks averaged less than 2% of the amount of iodine as compared to the iodine content in cows’ milk.
In addition to the shift away from dairy products, many Americans are choosing natural sea salt and himalayan salt which aren’t fortified with iodine. This combination of factors is increasing the risk for iodine deficiency. During the times when Americans were regularly drinking cows’ milk and using iodized table salt, it was taken for granted that most people’s iodine requirements were being fulfilled and it was not a nutrient that was top of mind for most. But with the new food trends, it’s important to consciously choose foods high in iodine or supplement with Iodine in a pill or liquid form. If you are concerned about your iodine intake, be sure to add 200 mcg of iodine to your daily regime. Your doctor can order a test to measure iodine levels and if you are deficient, you can take 1-2 mg daily until your levels normalize.
Sarah C. Bath, Sarah Hill, Heidi Goenaga Infante, Sarah Elghul, Carolina J. Nezianya, Margaret P. Rayman. Iodine concentration of milk-alternative drinks available in the UK in comparison with cows’ milk. British Journal of Nutrition, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1017/ S0007114517002136
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