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Got Milk Alternatives? Get More Iodine!

If you replace dairy milk with nondairy, you may be low on this brain nutrient.

Daria-Yakovleva/Pixabay, used with permission.
Source: Daria-Yakovleva/Pixabay, used with permission.

Researchers have tested alternative nondairy milk products made from almonds, soy, coconut, oats, rice, hazelnuts, and hemp for their iodine levels. Tthe results, published in a September 2017 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, indicate these products are sorely lacking in this mineral which, among other functions, is essential for fetal brain development.

For those on a low-iodine diet, nondairy milk alternatives are a great substitute for dairy milk and in fact is encouraged as part of a temporary diet, for instance, while preparing for a radioactive iodine test or treatment. But the key word is temporary. For everyone else, regular use of alternative milk products could result in an iodine deficiency. All but one brand nondairy milk products tested in this study were unfortified; the unfortified varieties contained only negligible amounts of iodine, while the brand that produced fortified nondairy soy, oat, and rice drinks provided just over half the amount of iodine found in dairy milk.

Iodine, which is absorbed in the thyroid gland, is also necessary for normal growth, energy production, hormone production, nerve and muscle function, new blood cell production, body temperature regulation, and more. The recommended daily amount of iodine for adult men and non-pregnant, non-lactating women is 150 mcg a day, an amount most people in the United States are easily able to obtain from the average diet, especially if they consume milk (which provides 56 mcg per cup reduced-fat variety) and other dairy products. However, iodine amounts are not listed on nutrition labels on foods, so make sure you’re getting enough iodine from other sources if you avoid drinking dairy milk, and also if you follow a low-sodium diet, since iodized salt is another top source of iodine in the American diet.

Other sources of iodine (amount per serving) include:

  • Egg yolks (24 mcg)
  • Fish and shellfish, including canned fish and imitation shellfish (17 to 99 mcg)
  • Seaweed products such as nori (used to make sushi wraps and rolls) and sea vegetables like kelp, hiziki, and kombu (16 to 2,984 mcg)
  • Dairy products other than milk, such as yogurt, ice cream, and cheese (12 to 75 mcg)
  • Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables (3 to 14 mcg)

If you are concerned, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant and your need for iodine increases, speak to your health care providers about your need for iodine.


Bath SC, Hill S, Infante HG, Elghul S. Iodine concentration of milk-alternative drinks available in the UK in comparison with cows’ milk. British Journal of Nutrition. First published online September 26, 2017.

NIH Patient Information Center. Low-Iodine Diet: Preparing to Receive Radioactive Iodine

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: Iodine. Updated June 24, 2011. Accessed September 29, 2017.

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