Iodine: An essential mineral for Brain Development & IQ in Babies during Pregnancy and Early Life
What is iodine?
Iodine is a trace mineral which is essential for the production of the thyroid hormone. Without enough iodine in the diet the body can’t make enough thyroid hormones required for growth, metabolism and foetal brain development during pregnancy and early life. There are studies which have found a link between iodine deficiency and low IQ in babies and infants. Iodine deficiency is recognised as the single most preventable cause of neurological impairment on a global level (1)
The National diet and Nutrition Survey 2015-2016 measured spot-urine iodine concentrations and found that children and adults have adequate amounts of iodine in their diet; however women of child-bearing age (16-49 years) did not meet the recommend concentrations for pregnancy and lactation.
Who is at risk of iodine deficiency?
Anyone following a dairy free or vegan diet can be at risk or high risk of iodine deficiency; especially those with high iodine requirements; particularly with expectant mothers or breastfeeding mothers.
Unfortunately there are no safe iodine supplementations in the UK that can be recommended for pregnant mothers, and ionised or supplemented food items are difficult to find.
An iodine-fortification programme was introduced in many countries whereby iodine was added to table salt which has had a positive improvement on iodine intake overall, however an iodised salt programme was not introduced in the UK. Ionised salt is available in only one or two brands and concentrations of iodine are low so therefore is recommended option to fortify ones diet.
What are the daily nutritional requirements for Iodine?
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends the following:
Pregnant women: 200mcg/day
Breastfeeding women: 200mcg/day
Where can iodine be found?
Iodine is naturally found in soil but varies greatly from place to place in the UK as well as the rest of the world.
Cows milk is a major source of iodine in the UK and Europe. Cows milk and yogurt have between 50-100mcg of iodine per portion; 200ml and 150g respectively. They have larger amounts of iodine in the winter months due to the increase in environmental iodine from iodine supplemented cattle feed.
Fish and shell fish are also rich sources of iodine ranging from 20-100mcg per serving. White fish, such as cod or haddock (approx. 230 or 390mcg respectively, per 120g serving), contains more iodine that oily fish such as salmon (approx. 14mcg per 100g serving).
Seaweed, including kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame, is one of the best food sources of iodine, but it is extremely variable in it's content; ranging from approximately 16 to 2,984 mcg per 1 gram serving (2), therefore seaweed is not recommended to boost or improve iodine intake.
Iodine is found in breastmilk, however concentrations directly depend on the maternal diet therefore it is recommended that the breastfeeding mother has an adequate dietary intake of iodine, especially for exclusively breastfed babies (3).
Other sources of Iodine can be found on the Iodine BDA (British Dietetic Association) Food Fact sheet:
Vegan sources of Iodine
Iodine fortified plant based products unfortunately are not widely available but iodine fortification can be identified by looking for potassium iodide in the list of ingredients of plant based milk.
Some brands include Alpro Growing Up Milk (24mcg/100ml), Alpro Soya Chilled Drink (22mcg/100ml) and Marks & Spencer Oat Drink (29mcg/100ml)
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1. World Health Organization; United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund; International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination: a guide for programme managers, third edition, published 2007. Available from:
2. National Instiututes of health, office of dietary supplements. Iodine fact sheet for health professionals. Iodine. Factsheet for Health Professionals. Available from:
3. Dorea, J.G, 2002. Iodine nutriton and breastfeeding. Journal of trace elements and biology [online]. Vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 207-220. Available from: