DISCLAIMER: I am a mom, not a doctor. I am a hobby-researcher, not a scientist. Take the following information with a "grain of salt". And do your own research, too.
Sea salt is all the rage these days among real foodies. But, before you "jump ship" from using traditional table salt there is one important issue to consider.
Have you ever payed much attention to the label on sea salt that generally goes something like this, "WARNING: This salt does not contain iodine, an important nutrient". Have you stopped to think about what this means? And if it's important?
History of Iodized Salt
In the early 1920s men from Michigan and Wisconsin were less likely to be drafted into the Great War due to medical issues. What was the concern? Goiter. While goiter has been relatively unheard of in the U.S. in the past quarter century, in the early 20th century the area surrounding the Great Lakes was nicknamed the "goiter belt" due to its prevalence.
Concerned with this data, scientist and professor of pediatrics from the University of Michigan, David M. Cowie suggested a solution for iodine supplementation which he borrowed from the Swiss. The solution? Adding potassium iodide or sodium iodide to a commonly consumed substance: salt.
It took more than a little convincing to get salt companies and the American population on board, but by 1924 Morton Salt Company was distributing its iodized salt nationally. And we were consuming it, nationally. Since then it has been rare to find salt in the American household that did not contain iodine.
Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency
Iodine is extremely important for proper thyroid function. The list of symptoms caused by iodine deficiency is long and continues to grow as research continues to be done. According to Nancy Piccone in her article, The Silent Epidemic of Iodine Deficiency,
Recent evidence suggests... that iodine deficiency is linked to obesity, cognitive impairment, psychiatric disorders, fibromyalgia, and a variety of cancers. Paradoxically, another major consequence of mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency in older adults is hyperthyroidism (excessive thyroid function), especially in women. This is the result of rapidly growing thyroid gland nodules that over-produce thyroid hormone; it can trigger cardiac arrhythmias, osteoporosis, and muscle wasting.... Compelling data are emerging that link iodine deficiency to breast cancers and high rates of fibrocystic breast disease, two of the greatest concerns of older women in the US. (Source)Goiter is just one of many concerns with a lack of iodine in the diet. Iodine deficiency is no longer an issue from the past for many Americans. The epidemic is back. Today, just barely over 25 percent of normal, healthy adults get enough iodine to qualify as not having a deficiency. (Source) Most of us aren't even aware of the danger we are facing.
Causes of Iodine Deficiency in the American Diet
The cause of iodine deficiency is multi-fold. While what possibly brought you to this post was the mention of sea salt, the issue is complex.
Iodine does not naturally occur in plants. We get it from the sea and from the soil. Soil depletion is a contributing factor to a lack of iodine in the diet today. As you we continue to deplete our soil through poor husbandry practices, we continue to loose the nutritional value, including (but not limited to) less iodine.
To add this is the issue of environmental toxins. According to Nancy Piconne,
The danger of low dietary iodine is further compounded by your body’s decreased ability to utilize it, the result of contamination by a ubiquitous environmental toxin called perchlorate. Originally developed for explosives and rocket fuel, perchlorate now pervades ground water and food supplies throughout the US. It’s even used as a flavor-enhancer in certain foods....Perchlorate blocks the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb and utilize dietary iodine, an effect that is of concern when iodine intake drops off. (Source)In addition, in past years Americans have an increased consumption of processed foods and the salt used in these is unlikely to have iodine added. Additionally, when we do eat at home, the "iodized salt" itself has less iodine than is recommended. (Source) Also, when we do happen to dine at home we have a fear of salt due to the American Heart Associations warnings about salt consumption and are thus less likely to sprinkle on the much needed iodine. Add to this a new obsession with fancy salts and sea salts....
Additionally, as a culture we consume very little seafood. It seems that in a similar way that we have a fear of salt, we also have a fear of fish (or, perhaps, just a cultural dislike) due to the warnings against mercury and other contaminants.
These are just a few factors contributing to our lack of iodine in our diet today. As you can see, switching from iodized salt to sea salt is just one of the potential causes.
Does this mean I should stop using sea salt?
All this being said, I am not going to stop using sea salt. There are numerous minerals that one gets from consuming sea salt that do not come from iodized table salt. Plus, iodized table salt, like white flour and sugar is a highly processed, highly denatured, unnatural food.
However, if I depended on iodized salt for my iodine intake I would be very careful to make sure that removing iodized salt from my diet did not mean I was removing iodine.
There are plenty of natural food sources for iodine. Some of these include: seafoods (including fish, shellfish, and seaweed), food grown in iodine rich soil (particularly leafy greens), coconut products, black-strap molasses, and grass-fed dairy and meat. When you cut out iodized salt from your diet, just be sure that you are eating iodine rich foods instead.
Do you use sea salt regularly? What are your thoughts?
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