Mind the iodine in your diet

Mind the iodine in your diet: It is important for your unborn child

Have you ever wondered why most households in India use iodised salt for cooking everyday meals? Well, iodine is a nutrient that is essential for producing thyroid hormone, and is not made by our body. Hence, obtaining it from external food sources is necessary. And when you are pregnant, getting sufficient iodine becomes all the more crucial. This is because iodine helps regulate your body temperature, metabolism, heart rate, and also ensures that your baby’s thyroid hormone production is normal. Iodine is essential for developing your little one’s brain as well, when he or she is in the womb. It is also responsible for healthy birth weight and better cognitive functions as your baby grows up. So, find out more about why iodine is a necessary part of your pregnancy diet.

Importance of iodine

Iodine is important for the growth of the brain and the nervous system of your unborn child. Thyroid glands present in the neck region utilize iodine to produce thyroid hormone, which supports various functions including metabolism. The body needs this hormone for the following functions:

  • Bone development
  • Brain development
  • Metabolism
  • Growth
  • Healing

Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone.

Sign and symptoms of iodine deficiency

  • Increase in body weight
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Cold feeling
  • Slow heart rate
  • Problems related to learning and memory
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Heavy and irregular periods
  • Swollen neck

The thyroid gland is very active during pregnancy, to support the rapid growth of the foetus. Hence, the mother needs to increase the intake to support the needs of the unborn child. She has to get a sufficient amount of iodine to avoid the depletion of her iodine stores, which can negatively affect the iodine stores of the unborn child. Iodine deficiency can significantly hamper the IQ of your baby and even increase the risk of mortality.

Iodine-rich Indian foods you should know about

Pregnant or breastfeeding women might not get sufficient amounts of iodine through their diet, if they don’t include the following food items.

  • Eggs – Egg is a source of protein and several vitamins and minerals. And iodine is found in the egg yolk.
  • Seaweed – It is low in calories and rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. It is the best source of iodine and the amount of iodine depends on the type of seaweed.
  • Codfish or rohu – This is a good source of minerals and nutrients, including iodine.
  • Iodised salt – Both iodised and non-iodised salts are available in India these days. And as the name suggests, iodised salt is a good source of iodine and can be added to other food sources while preparing meals.
  • Shrimp – It is a protein-rich food that also contains iodine, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus.
  • Tuna or ahi – It is a rich source of iodine, potassium, iron, and B vitamins. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Prunes – Dried plums or prunes are a vegan source of iodine.
  • Lima beans– They are a vegan source of iodine and also provide fibre, magnesium, and folate.
  • Other iodine-rich foods– Medium-white potatoes with skin, bananas, corn, cranberries, green beans, strawberries, enriched white bread and chocolate ice-cream contain iodine.

Reasons for iodine deficiency in regular diet

Regular dietary sources in India contain a very minimal amount of iodine. Hence, pregnant and breastfeeding women might not get a sufficient quantity of iodine from food alone. Foods fortified with iodine, including fortified bread and iodised salts are ideal sources, but may not be able to fulfil the increased nutritional demands, when you are expecting.

As the nutritional requirement of iodine is higher in pregnant and breastfeeding women, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily oral iodine supplement. According to their recommendation, pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume around 250μg of iodine every day.

150μg per day of iodine supplement is considered safe. Along with this, you should also take iodine-rich Indian foods like low-fat milk products, eggs, seafood, and fortified bread. Taking the recommended dose of iodine will not lead to too much iodine in the body, as only a small amount of iodine can be stored in the body. The excess amount gets excreted.

Iodine is present as potassium iodide or sodium iodide in various dietary supplements. If you are pregnant and have a pre-existing thyroid condition, do consult your doctor before taking these iodine supplements to avoid unnecessary complications.