Food BioSystems DTP Exploring the impact of plant-based diets on iodine intake in the UK population.

The UK does not have a programme of salt iodisation and so iodine intake is dependent on individual food choice. Restricting or replacing milk may lead to iodine deficiency, as milk is the main source of iodine in the UK and most milk-alternatives are not fortified with iodine. This is a concern as iodine is essential for brain development. We want to explore how a shift in dietary patterns to be more plant-based might affect iodine intake at a population level, and how to assess risk of deficiency at an individual level. 

Start date

1 October 2020


4 years

Application deadline

Funding source


Funding information

This project is part of the FoodBioSystems BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), it will be funded subject to a competition to identify the strongest applicants. Due to restrictions on the funding, this studentship is only open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years.

The FoodBioSystems DTP is a collaboration between the University of Reading, Cranfield University, Queen’s University Belfast, Aberystwyth University, Surrey University and Brunel University London. Our vision is to develop the next generation of highly skilled UK Agri-Food bioscientists with expertise spanning the entire food value chain. We have over 60 Associate and Affiliate partners. To find out more about us and the training programme we offer all our postgraduate researchers please visit


Iodine deficiency has been demonstrated in UK women of childbearing age and pregnant women – a concern as mild-to-moderate deficiency is associated with lower IQ which can affect individual and population economic potential. Though there is iodine-sufficiency in the general population, this is dependent on individual food choice as there is no salt-iodisation programme in the UK. The main dietary source of iodine is dairy, providing 51% and 33% of children’s and adult intake (NDNS 2016). Vegans are at risk of deficiency and this is relevant as vegan diets are increasingly popular, with over 250,000 participants in “Veganuary” in 2019.

The EAT-Lancet diet for environmental sustainability and health includes limits for dairy intake and the UK Eatwell guide now includes dairy-alternative drinks alongside milk. While many milk-alternatives are fortified with calcium, we have shown that most are not iodine-fortified and provide <2% of milk-iodine concentration1. Some companies now fortify milk-alternative drinks with iodine, but it is not known whether the iodine is as available as that from cows’ milk. Furthermore, other dairy alternatives (for example, yoghurt and cheese) are not fortified with iodine, thus limiting dietary iodine sources in plant-based diets. It is therefore important to model the impact a reduction in dairy intake would have on iodine intake (while accounting for intake of other sources of iodine, such as fish and eggs). As dietary patterns shift to be plant-based it will become increasingly important to be able to identify individuals in the population who are at risk of iodine deficiency. However, there is currently no suitable method for assessing iodine status in an individual, and therefore there is a need to develop a suitable tool.

The overarching aim of this PhD project is to evaluate the impact of plant-based diets on iodine intake and status in the UK. The PhD will include three main projects: (i) dietary modelling of the impact of reducing dairy-product consumption on iodine intake using cross-sectional, national food consumption surveys and several reduction scenarios; (ii) development and validation of a tool (which will be developed into an app) to assess iodine intake, in a group of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans; and (iii) a study of the bioavailability of iodine in milk-alternative drinks through the running of a randomized, crossover balance study in consumers of iodine-fortified drinks.

The student will receive training in a wide range of skills, including laboratory analysis (of both urine and milk samples), data modelling, statistical analysis and dietary assessment methods. The project will include gaining experience in subject recruitment and running human studies. The student will have the opportunity to work with LGC (for laboratory training in milk analysis and speciation) and to visit Oatly (manufacturer of plant-based drink fortified with iodine).


University of Surrey: Dr Sarah Bath

Queen’s University Belfast: Professor Jayne Woodside and Dr Anne Nugent

Related links

Apply for a FoodBioSystems PhD

Eligibility criteria

This project would be suitable for students with a first-class honours degree in nutrition, food science or a closely related science. The student should have basic laboratory and statistical analysis skills, though full training will be provided. The student will be recruiting participants to a human study and therefore needs to have good communication and organisational skills.

Due to restrictions on funding, this studentship is only open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years.

Applicants should have fluent written and spoken English.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the Surrey-based FoodBioSystems DTP Studentship, you will need to submit two applications to be considered for funding under the FoodBioSystems BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) between the University of Surrey and the University of Reading.

Please follow the process below to help you prepare and submit your application.

Apply for a place on the PhD course

Two separate applications will need to be submitted:

Please make sure you indicate on your application to the University of Surrey that you are applying for the Surrey-based FoodBioSystems DTP Studentship scheme. You are also advised to ensure that you include your degree transcripts and references in the application – not providing these documents can slow the process down.

University of Reading Application:

Complete the Reading FoodBioSystems DTP PhD Application Form and email the application form to More information can be found on the Reading website.

University of Surrey Application:

Students will also need to apply through the Surrey Biosciences and Medicine PhD course pages. Applicants do not need to prepare a separate research proposal, however, should submit their Reading application form in its place. Please make it clear on your application that you are applying for funding through the FoodBioSystem DTP.

Deadline: Your studentship application both at Surrey and Reading, must be submitted by 5:00pm GMT 6 March 2020.

Main interview period: 9 – 19 March 2020


Application deadline

Contact details

Sarah Bath
23 AY 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 683631
  • Nutritional science
  • The University of Surrey
  • Queen’s University Belfast

Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.