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Why women need iodine – and how to get more of it (hint: ice cream)

Blog post | 30 Oct 2017

More than 4 in 10 women could be deficient in iodine, a mineral essential in pregnancy for healthy brain development in babies, reports a study by the University of Sydney and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research. 

Iodine is a trace mineral found in marine (not freshwater) seafood, seaweed, iodised salt and bread, and even ice cream. All bread, other than organic bread, is fortified with iodine in Australia. 

Lead researcher Dr Jenny Gunton says the findings are concerning. “Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy must get enough iodine in their diet,” she says. “Iodine is essential for growth, and is critical in forming healthy brains in babies.”’ 

Iodine deficiency is recognised globally as the single most preventable cause of mental delays. It’s also linked with miscarriage and stillbirth. 

Iodine levels are measured in micrograms per litre (ug/L). The researchers looked at how much iodine was detected in female participants’ urine. The median iodine level (or, the mid-point in the range of results) among the women was 117ug/L. This is well below the National Health and Medical Research Council’s recommendation of 250ug/L for pregnant or lactating women.

It’s important for women to get enough iodine even before they conceive, as a baby’s brain will start growing before a woman knows she's pregnant. Dr Gunton advises that women contemplating pregnancy should start taking a pregnancy multivitamin (containing iodine) before they try to get pregnant.

Fill up on these good food sources of iodine, as well:   

  • oysters
  • tinned salmon
  • bread (made with iodised salt)
  • steamed snapper
  • cheddar cheese
  • eggs
  • ice cream

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