Of milk’s 13 essential nutrients, there is one that doesn’t grab many headlines but should be a key reason why people keep dairy in their diet. While protein, calcium, potassium, vitamins A and D, and other nutrients may garner interest among people, iodine is certainly no less significant.
In fact, iodine’s research-based benefits continue to emerge, especially during crucial periods of the lifespan, such as the first 1,000 days from conception to a child’s second birthday when iodine plays a vital role in brain development and future cognitive potential.
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found the majority of pregnant women evaluated in the U.S. weren’t meeting iodine consumption recommendations. What’s more concerning is research shows even mild forms of iodine insufficiency can impact a baby’s IQ.
The good news is dairy can be part of a solution.
A study funded by National Dairy Council (NDC) found pregnant women consuming the equivalent of two to three servings a day of dairy foods had indicators of better iodine consumption.
A recent literature review also conducted by NDC on iodine’s benefits reiterated its important role in brain health and cognition. And the World Health Organization identified iodine deficiency as the most preventable cause of intellectual disability in the world.
These unique benefits hold great potential for people who are pregnant or in their child-bearing years, providing new reasons to keep milk and dairy foods top of mind.
Iodine is a mineral that is necessary for thyroid function. It gained attention in the 1920s when goiter, or thyroid enlargement due to iodine deficiency, became prevalent in the Midwest among school-aged children. This is what led to iodine making its way into table salt, which essentially helped eradicate goiter.
However, we have seen a rise in iodine deficiency in the last decade as people have been limiting their dietary salt or using non-iodized specialty salts and not eating enough nutritious sources of iodine, such as dairy foods, seafood, or eggs. This is especially showing up in pregnant women, where iodine needs are 50% higher, putting them at greater risk for deficiency.
Iodine is naturally present in dairy foods mostly through a cow’s diet, with plants absorbing it via soil. Although farmers also use iodine teat dips, research has shown this process results in a negligible amount showing up in milk.
While some plant-based dairy alternatives are fortified with iodine, studies indicate these amounts are much lower than what is provided through cow’s milk. Additionally, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Page 129) states people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may elevate their risk of iodine deficiency.
Thankfully, a diet including dairy foods is an easy way to take a necessary preventative measure that can help benefit brain development and future IQ, setting every child on a pathway to lifelong wellness.