Milk-alternative drinks do not replace the iodine in cows’ milk


September 26, 2017


University of Surrey


of milk-alternative drinks may be at of risk iodine deficiency, according to
the findings of a new study.

Consumers of
milk-alternative drinks may be at of risk iodine deficiency, according to the
findings of a new study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

In the first study of its
kind in the United Kingdom, researchers from the University of Surrey examined
the iodine content of 47 milk-alternative drinks (including soya, almond,
coconut, oat, rice, hazelnut and hemp, but excluding those marketed specifically
at infants and children) and compared it with that of cows’ milk.

Researchers discovered
that the majority of milk-alternative drinks did not have adequate levels of
iodine, with concentration levels found to be around 2% of that found in cows’
milk. Cows’ milk and dairy products are the main source of iodine in the UK
diet however findings from the study show that most milk-alternative drinks are
not an adequate substitute.

Iodine is required to
make thyroid hormones, and is particularly important during pregnancy as it is
essential for normal fetal brain development. Previous research in this area by
the University of Surrey has shown that low iodine status in pregnant mothers
is linked to lower IQ and reading scores in their children (up to 9 years of

Margaret Rayman,
Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “Many
people are unaware of the need for this vital dietary mineral and it is
important that people who consume milk-alternative drinks realise that they
will not be replacing the iodine from cows’ milk which is the main UK source of
iodine. This is particularly important for pregnant women and those planning a

“A glass of a
milk-alternative drink would only provide around 2 mcg of iodine which is a
very small proportion of the adult recommended iodine intake of 150 mcg/day. In
pregnancy, that recommendation goes up to 200 mcg/day.”

Dr Sarah Bath, Lecturer
in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Surrey and registered
dietitian, said: “Milk-alternative drinks are increasingly being used as a
replacement for cows’ milk for a number of reasons that obviously include
allergy or intolerance to cows’ milk.

“Worryingly, most
milk-alternative drinks are not fortified with iodine and their iodine content
is very low. If avoiding milk and dairy products, consumers need to ensure that
they have iodine from other dietary sources, where possible. More information
on good iodine sources such as white fish can be found in the British Dietetic
Association Iodine Food Fact Sheet. If considering taking an iodine supplement,
they should avoid kelp which can provide excessive amounts of iodine.”

The milk-alternative
samples were analysed at LGC, the UK’s National Measurement Laboratory for
chemical and bio-measurement. Dr Sarah Hill, Science Leader in Inorganic
Analysis at LGC said: “Reliable methods to test food samples for minerals,
such as iodine, are invaluable to nutrition research. As a metrology institute,
one of our key missions is the provision of reference methods and materials
that underpin validation of field laboratory measurements. This ensures that
high quality data are generated to support

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Journal Reference:

1.    Sarah C. Bath, Sarah
Hill, Heidi Goenaga Infante, Sarah Elghul, Carolina J. Nezianya, Margaret P.
Rayman. Iodine concentration of milk-alternative drinks available in the UK
in comparison with cows’ milk
. British Journal of Nutrition, 2017; 1
DOI: 10.1017/S0007114517002136