Get The Facts: Iodized Salt

by in Food News & Trends, Grocery Shopping, March 25, 2011


With all the salt talk going on, we sometimes forget that the type of salt we use matters. In 1924 the government fortified salt with the mineral iodine for our health and well-being. Today, iodized salt  is being examined by the Japanese to possibly help protect against thyroid cancer as a result of recent radiation exposure. Here’s what you need to know about iodized salt.

What is iodine?
Iodine is a mineral that helps regulate thyroid function, which is responsible for producing important hormones responsible for regulating metabolism. These hormones are also important for normal growth and development, regulating body temperature, and creating protein.

What happens if you don’t get enough?
At the turn of the century, that’s just what happened in the United States. Lack of iodine caused folks to walk around with an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter. Iodine deficiency also causes weight gain, fatigue and a decreased body temperature. Iodine deficiency also affects children by causing mental and physical retardation.

Where’s it found?
In response to the widespread iodine deficiency in the early 1900s, the government started fortifying salt in 1924 with the mineral. The reason? It’s mainly found in saltwater fish and grains grown in iodine-rich soil (like along the coast), so people who lived in landlocked parts of the country weren’t getting enough.

The recommended daily amount of iodine is 150 micrograms per day. Although that doesn’t sound like a ton, we get most of our iodine from table salt. With the new dietary guidelines putting a limit on salt, here are some alternate sources you may consider adding to your diet.

  • Seaweed (1 gram- about 1 sheet or whole): 11 to 1,989% of daily recommended amount (depending on type of seaweed)
  • Baked cod (3 ounces): 66% of daily recommended amount
  • Low fat plain yogurt (1 cup): 50% of daily recommended amount
  • Iodized salt (1/4 teaspoon): 47% of daily recommended amount
  • Shrimp (3 ounces): 23% of daily recommended amount
  • Chocolate ice cream (1/2 cup): 20% of daily recommended amount
  • Enriched macaroni, cooked (1 cup): 18% of daily recommended amount
  • Large egg (1): 16% of daily recommended amount
  • Canned tune in oil (3 ounces): 11% of daily recommended amount

Want to include more sea vegetables into your diet? Katie tells us how.

So,  does it help protect against thyroid cancer?
So what’s all the fuss over iodized salt in Japan? Japanese authorities have suggested that folks living within 30-kilometers of the nuclear accidents take potassium iodide to help protect against thyroid cancer, which can be brought on by exposure to radiation. Instead of purchasing the recommended pill, many have turned to iodized salt. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that iodized salt cannot be taken in place of potassium iodide, and that excessive amounts of iodized salt (even a few tablespoons within a couple of hours) can lead to toxic effects.

Other Salts
Many chefs and other foodies may opt for kosher or sea salt instead of iodized salt. Each salt comes with its unique flavor, texture and nutritional benefits. (Take a walk through the various salts available at the markets). It’s important to remember that not all salt is fortified with iodine, so having at least your salt shaker filled with the iodized table version may be a safe bet. Or, make an effort to work the above iodine-rich foods into your diet.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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