3 ways to know you’re getting enough iodine

Iodine - are you getting enoughIodine – are you getting enough?

Iodine is an essential nutrient for pregnant and breastfeeding women. There are 3 main ways to know you’re getting enough iodine.

Even those planning a pregnancy are advised to take an iodine supplement. It is important to remember that food alone will not provide the iodine necessary for the healthy growth and development of a baby.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released a new statement recommending that all pregnant and breastfeeding women take iodine supplements of 150 micrograms (μg) per day to help make sure that a baby’s brain and nervous system develop normally.

What is iodine?
Iodine is an essential nutrient the body needs for a healthy thyroid, growth and development. Iodine is very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the normal development of a baby’s brain and nervous system. Humans store iodine in the thyroid. During pregnancy, the thyroid becomes very active and produces more thyroid hormones than usual to help the baby grow and develop. Too little iodine can affect the thyroid’s ability to produce these hormones and this can lead to learning problems for babies and young children. It can also affect their physical development and hearing.

It is therefore very important that pregnant and breastfeeding women get enough iodine.

Too little iodine 
The National Iodine Nutrition Survey (2006) results suggest that Australians do not get enough iodine.

Since September 2009, bakers in Australia have been required to add iodine to bread (known as iodine fortification) as a means of increasing the amount of iodine in people’s diets.

While this will result in an increase in iodine intake in the general population, iodine requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding are substantially greater.

Ways to Get Iodine


Can pregnant and breastfeeding mothers get enough from food?
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased iodine needs and will not get enough iodine from food alone (even with the addition of iodine to bread).

Evidence from recent Tasmanian research has shown that iodine fortification of bread is insufficient to meet the needs of pregnant women.

As breastfeeding women’s iodine requirements are even higher than pregnant women it is also likely that iodine fortification of bread will not meet the needs of breastfeeding women. The NHMRC therefore recommends that all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (μg) each day. Supplements of 150 μg/day of iodine are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Women should not take kelp (seaweed) supplements or kelp-based products because they contain varying levels of iodine and may be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those considering becoming pregnant, should check with a doctor or health professional about iodine in their diet and an appropriate supplement.

Which foods contain iodine?
Most foods in Australia contain only small amounts of iodine. The amount of iodine varies according to where it is grown, changes in season and processing practices. However, iodine may be found in:

  • cows’ milk and yoghurt
  • bread baked with iodised salt – most commercial bread in Australia now contains iodised salt in place of regular salt (check the ingredients list or ask the baker)
  • seafood such as flathead, tuna and salmon (including tinned varieties), oysters and mussels, prawns and crayfish*.
 *Note: Fish such as shark, marlin and swordfish have high levels of iodine: an essential nutrient for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Which iodine supplement should I use?
Some vitamin and mineral supplements contain iodine. Look for one that contains 150 μg/day or check with a doctor, accredited practising dietician, pharmacist or health professional for a suitable supplement. Women should not take kelp (seaweed) supplements or kelp-based products because they contain varying levels of iodine and may be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury.

When should I start and finish taking iodine supplements? 
Women should start taking iodine supplements as soon as they are planning to become pregnant and for the full duration of the pregnancy and breastfeeding. If the pregnancy is unplanned, a woman should start taking an iodine supplement as soon as she becomes aware of her pregnancy. Although the rate of thyroid hormone production returns to normal once the baby is born, it is still recommended that breastfeeding women take an iodine supplement because breastfed infants are completely dependent on breastmilk as a source of iodine. This helps babies to build their own reserves of thyroid hormones.


While Iodised Salt contains Iodine this doesn’t mean you should eat more of it! Don’t use more salt in cooking or at the table as salt may cause high blood pressure. Choose low salt foods where possible. Replace any salt used with iodised salt.

What if I have a thyroid problem?
Women who have a thyroid problem should seek advice from a doctor before taking an iodine supplement. Contact your doctor or an accredited practising dietician if you have any concerns about iodine.

Further information:

Courtesy Essence Magazine 

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