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Best Raw Vegan Sources of Iodine

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The mineral iodine is essential for good health, and because our bodies cannot manufacture it, it is critical that we eat foods that contain it. A common criticism of both vegetarian and vegan diets is that they avoid many of the foods that contain iodine. Ironically, there are whole foods that contain as much and, in some cases, more iodine than the most recommended animal sources.

Best Raw Vegan Sources of Iodine

  • Potatoes, 1 medium, 60mcg 
  • Prunes, 5 whole, 13mcg 
  • Bananas, 1 medium, 3mcg 
  • Corn, ½ cup, 14 mcg 
  • Cranberries, 4 ounces, 400mcg 
  • Green beans, ½ cup, 3mcg 
  • Strawberries, 1 cup, 13 mcg
  • Sea Vegetables 
    • Kelp, 7 grams or ¼ oz., 3170mcg 
    • Alaria, 7 grams or ¼ oz., 1162mcg 
    • Dulse, 7 grams or ¼ oz., 1169mcg 
    • Laver, 7 grams or ¼ oz., 98mcg 
    • Sea Lettuce, 7 grams or ¼ oz., 27mcg

The foods I have listed contain varying amounts of iodine, but most contain as much or more than the animal sources that are often recommended to those low on the mineral. For example, one medium potato contains more iodine than a glass of cow milk, 3 ounces of shrimp and 3 ounce of turkey breast. And, of course, most of the sea vegetables beat out all of the animal products by a very wide margin. Just ¼ of an ounce of Alaria and Dulse contain more than 1100mcg of iodine and ¼ of an ounce of Kelp has more than 3000mcg, whereas 3 ounces of cod contains 99mcg, lobster 100mcg and one cup of plain yogurt 154mcg. In my estimation, one can get far more and better quality iodine from whole foods than from animals.

The importance of iodine in one's diet can not be overstated. There is a widespread belief that iodine is only needed by the thyroid gland, when in fact the entire body requires iodine for optimal functioning. In addition, according to family practitioner and iodine specialist, Dr. Jorge Flechas, MD, thyroid hormones are also created in the white blood cells of our bone marrow and in women's ovaries. Dr. Flechas also contends that iodine is required by our cerebral spinal fluid, salivary glands, pancreas, breasts, stomach, brain, muscles, skin and thymus.

An iodine deficiency in any of these organs and tissues can cause problems. In the muscles, a deficiency may cause fibromyalgia, pain, fibrosis, nodules and scar tissue. The salivary glands may become unable to produce saliva and lead to dry mouth. Dry skin and an inability to sweat are also acute signs of iodine deficiency. Reduced alertness and lowered IQ is how iodine deficiency affects the brain; in gestating fetuses and young children, a deficiency can have life long repercussions.

Iodine has also been shown to help prevent cancer, by helping the body properly program cells to go into apoptosis (PCD – programmed cell death) when they mutate, thus preventing the proliferation of cancer. Dr. David Brownstein, MD, a family physician and holistic medicine practitioner, has written on this topic in regards to breast cancer, in his newsletter Natural Way to Health. He states, “In my medical practice, I've found that more than 95 percent of my new patients are deficient in iodine. You've probably heard about the relationship between iodine and your thyroid. You were probably told to use iodized salt to protect your thyroid. But what doctor ever told you about iodine and breast cancer? In fact, there is a long history in the medical literature of treating and preventing breast diseases with iodine.

"Here's why: Your breasts contain one of the highest concentrations of iodine in your body. And when it comes to your breasts, iodine deficiency is associated with cyst formation. Many women develop fibrocystic breast disease, with cysts turning into small lumps called nodules. In prolonged iodine deficiency, these nodules become hyperplastic, meaning that an enlargement has formed due to an abnormal multiplication of cells. Here's the deal: Hyperplasticity is a precursor to cancer. Thus, long-term iodine deficiency can lead to breast cancer. But here's the good news: Iodine therapy can kill cancer cells!

"However, the government's recommended daily allowance for iodine is only a fraction of what's necessary to promote cancer cell death. And you can't just load up on more iodized salt or any old brand of iodine and expect to see a benefit. ”

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iodine in the USA is only 150mcg per day for adults, 220mcg during pregnancy and 290mcg while breast feeding, which are all considered minimum levels. And compared to a nation like Japan, which has significantly lower prostate, breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer rates, and where the average daily iodine intake from food sources is approximately 13.8mg (nearly 100 times the U.S. RDA), one cannot help but recognize that the U.S. RDA for iodine is rather minuscule.

Obviously, pregnant and lactating women and growing children are most in need of getting sufficient amounts of iodine in their diet, but the rest of us need it too and not just to avert potentially dire health problems; there are a few mundane health and beauty issues at stake as well. Iodine has been credited with helping to improve the rate of hair growth, boosting metabolic rate to one's optimal level, and insuring that one reaches their optimal height in adolescence. When I say optimal, I mean optimal for the individual. For example, if one's genetics only allows for a maximum height of 5'10”, they are unlikely to reach 6'1”.

The human body cannot create iodine the way it can Vitamin D, so we must consume iodine-rich foods regularly to get our dosages. According Dr. Flechas, the human body can hold a total of 1500mg of iodine, but not everyone in the medical field is convinced that it is safe to consume such large amounts. Especially as Americans are not accustomed to high amounts of the mineral. Keep in mind, the Japanese have been consuming large quantities of iodine for milennia, and this fact may make a difference in one's response to high amounts of the mineral. The U.S. RDA for iodine was set to prevent goiter, not with one's overall health in mind.

In the article 'How Iodine Deficiency May Affect Your Child's Brain Function and IQ', Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, wrote, “As reported by Reuters at the beginning of this year, a recently published study has cast some doubts on high-dose iodine supplementation. The study, published December 28, 2011 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, randomly assigned one of 12 different dosages of iodine (ranging from 0 to 2,000 mcg/day) to healthy adults for four weeks. When diet was factored in, those taking 400 mcg/day were receiving a total of about 800 mcg of iodine per day. At doses at and above 400 mcg of supplemented iodine per day, some of the study participants developed subclinical hypothyroidism, which appeared to be dose dependent. At 400 mcg/day, five percent developed subclinical hypothyroidism; at the highest dose—2,000 mcg/day—47 percent of participants were thus affected. Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to a reduction in thyroid hormone levels that is not sufficient to produce obvious symptoms of hypothyroidism (such as fatigue, dry skin, depression or weight gain, just to mention a few common tell-tale signs). So, these findings suggest it might not be wise to get more than about 800 mcg of iodine per day, and supplementing with as much as 12-13 mg (12,000-13,000 mcg's) could potentially have some adverse health effects. ”

Does this mean that Drs Flechas and Brownstein are wrong? I think not. Keep in mind that the aforementioned study was using a mostly iodine supplement regimen and not a diet-only regimen, which may have yielded different results. After all, the 1500mcg per day that Dr. Flechas recommends is far below the amounts consumed daily in Japan, in foods; so, it should be apparent that the issues caused by supplementing with high doses of iodine is more than likely an iodine source issue and not strictly an iodine amount issue.

Whatever amount of iodine one decides to consume, remember that nutrients from food are always complete and more effective for health when they come from foods. I'm not knocking supplements, for some they may be necessary, but all things being equal, supplemental nutrients simply cannot compare to the nutrients found in food. Also, one is less likely to overdose on a nutrient if it is consumed in food, as Nature intended. So, with this point in mind, eat plenty of iodine-rich foods with the goal of at least reaching the U.S. RDA, if not surpassing it.  


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