The primary reason most people consider a vegan diet, and subsequently adopt the lifestyle, is because of the numerous health benefits. From weight loss to low cholesterol to heart health there are a lot of health benefits to following a plant based diet.
On the fitness side, you’re also seeing many elite athletes switching to the vegan diet, if only temporarily, when they need to get in optimal health for competition. Triathletes, runners, bodybuilders, and football players have proclaimed the physical benefits.
On the flip side there are a couple of areas that must be monitored. When it comes to essential nutrients that can’t be obtained from fruit and veggies, vegans need to beware. The most common nutrients to monitor are protein and iron. These are always of concern, so most people stay on the lookout for issues.
As I indicated in my previous blog, I recently discovered the importance of iodine. I didn’t get a handle on my iodine intake soon enough and it caused – or at least contributed to – some key health issues I’ve been experiencing for the past couple of years. You can check out “This One Nutrient Drastically Impacted My Vegan Diet & Health” for more information about that.
Iodine is an essential mineral I don’t think most people give much thought to, but it’s crucial for vegans and vegetarians to consider. There are several reasons to be mindful of iodine deficiency:
- Thyroid Function – it can impact the functioning of the thyroid. Both too little or too much iodine can cause an enlarged thyroid gland, commonly known as a goiter. Hypothyroidism, in which metabolism slows and weight and cholesterol increases; or hyperthyroidism, in which metabolism increases resulting in weight loss.
- Brain Development – it can inhibit brain development in a fetus, therefore, pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume higher levels of iodine than the standard recommended amount for women in general.
- Mental Retardation – it’s the most common preventable cause of mental retardation.
Since iodine isn’t found in fruit and veggies, vegans and vegetarians are at greater risk for iodine deficiency. Foods high in iodine include dairy products, eggs, seafood and some types of bread.
The good news is it doesn’t require a lot of iodine to reduce the health risks. Iodine recommendations vary depending on age and other factors. Recommendations are expressed in micrograms, which is one-millionth of a gram. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for teens and adults is 150 micrograms per day; pregnant women need 220 micrograms per day; and women who are breastfeeding need 290 micrograms per day.
Since I felt my health situation required me to take drastic measures to get my iodine levels on track, I added salmon, tuna and eggs to my diet. But you don’t have to do that. As a vegan or vegetarian there are things you can do, including:
- Eat iodized salt. I was consuming sea salt, which does not include iodine. The container of salt will indicate whether or not it contains iodine. Now, I buy iodized salt.
- Eat seaweed. Most of the iodine found on the earth is found in the ocean. Since the availability of iodine from seaweed is variable, be mindful of the potential to consume too much. The most common seaweed among vegans is kelp. As mentioned earlier, too much iodine can also cause health risks, including arsenic toxicity from excess kelp. Eating seaweed a few times a week should suffice.
- Use an iodine supplement. If you are watching your dietary sodium and don’t use much salt, or if you prefer to avoid iodized salt, a small daily iodine supplement is a good idea. A regular multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may contain iodine – check the label. The amount of iodine in your supplement should be close to the RDA for your age group.
As always, most of my blog content is based on my personal experiences, as is the case with this topic. These are just my thoughts and some generic suggestions regarding iodine. But I highly recommend you consult your physician for recommendations that are specific to you and factor in your overall health.
Until next time…
Peace, Love & Fitness!