Salt: It's not all bad

Constantly tired and don’t know why? Here’s one thing to check. Adequate growth and energy depend on an adequate intake of iodine. An expansion of gourmet salts and the dietary goal of avoiding salt may contribute to iodine deficiency.

It’s an old story that is making a comeback. The landlocked states of the U.S. Midwest are sometimes called the “goiter belt.” What does this mean? Iodine deficiency used to be common in populations without regular access to saltwater fish and other sources of the nutrient iodine. People developed thick growths on their necks which are called “goiters,” an early sign of iodine deficiency. Pregnant women were at increased risk of giving birth to babies with cretinism (mental retardation, growth failure, and hearing loss).

Both in the U.S. and Canada, iodine deficiency had become a major public health problem in the early 1900s. Researchers and policy makers searched for a food that could carry this mineral to the broad population in safe amounts. They decided on adding iodine to salt. Iodizing salt is mandatory in Canada and optional in the U.S. Iodized salt has helped to make the term “goiter belt” one for nutrition texts as goiter and cretinism due to iodine deficiency in babies became uncommon.

But in today’s world of gourmet salt, sea salt, and also recommendations to avoid excess salt whenever possible, iodine shortages are popping up again. We lost another source of iodine in the diet when milk storage tanks were no longer cleaned with an iodine solution.

Why should you care about iodine in your diet or that of your family? Iodine regulates the thyroid gland, which regulates energy levels. Without iodine, thyroid levels don’t support the metabolic processes of brain, muscle, heart, and kidneys. Iodine is a part of thyroid hormone which also helps to regulate growth.

How can you ensure that you and your family are getting enough iodine to support growth and energy?

  • When you buy salt, buy the package labeled “iodized.”
  • Sea salt may not have much iodine. The purest salt flavors probably mean that traces of metally-tasting minerals are minimal. My sea salt container of “crystals formed by sea and sun” does not list the minerals in those crystals—all that is described on the bright golden package is the romance of “sea and sun” and the wonderful flavors elicited by the coarse sea salt crystals when I sprinkle them on my foods.
  • Seafoods and sea weed (think sushi wrappers) contain iodine.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain variable amounts of iodine, depending on the soil, water, and fertilizing materials used to grow them. My excellent data base doesn’t even list iodine in food (and it lists over 40 other nutrients including 9 kinds of sugar alcohol) because the data on food is not good enough to use in analysis of individual foods. There is too much variation. So the best information we have comes from population studies and averages.
  • If you take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, check to see that it contains iodine. 150 micrograms is the Daily Value for adults. The Tolerable Upper Level (think top limit for safe use) is 1100 micrograms. A supplement containing the DV is unlikely to be dangerous to health, even if you eat a lot of seafood.

Bottom line? We all need iodine, especially those of us living in the Midwestern states of the U.S. One simple thing we can do is to buy iodized salt when we do buy salt.