Iodized Salt vs Sea Salt

Usually we do recipes on Nosh, but sometimes we stray into educational food topics. Today is just such a day. The first thing you need to do is go to your cupboard or pantry and check your salt. Is it iodized (table salt is available in both iodized and non-iodized)? If it says its not, or says nothing at all, you may have a problem. I'll explain in a few moments, but your not alone, especially with the recent culinary craze of using sea salts in lieu of traditional table salts (sea salts have little or no iodine unless its specifically added). In fact, the reasons we use iodized salts have long been eroded from the public consciousness, that you may not even have ever received a primer from your parents in why we add iodine to the most used food in America, salt.

It's really complicated, and I'll try to cover as much as I can. First and foremost, you may be receiving plenty of iodine through eating fish, tropical fruits, or other methods (like kelp). However if you aren't a big fish or fruit eater, then its very likely the majority of your dietary iodine comes only through the salts in foods you eat. Unfortunately almost all processed foods utilize non-iodized salt because its slightly cheaper on a larger scale, and because some people have allergies to iodine. Many products that in the past contained some level of iodine have been replaced with alternative synthetic or natural ingredients that yield better products (e.g. bromide bread), but could leave you in an iodine deficit.

An example of a non-iodized sea salt.
What's iodine? It's an element necessary to the human body which you're most likely familiar to as the yellow stuff swabbed on our arms before receiving a shot. It's a common element in our seas, and when mankind lived near the banks of oceans and rivers, and consumed food from these same regions, we never had a problem, because our diets were rich in iodine. However as humans spread around the world, migrating, many of us settled into regions without adequate amounts of iodine in our food and water supply. In the U.S., the Goiter Belt is an area around the Great Lakes and in the Appalachian mountains where individuals were prone to Goiter, a disease which enlarged the thyroids of individuals. A scientific discovery by a French doctor, later used in Switzerland during the early 20th century cured the disease almost instantly when they sprayed salt supplies with iodine. As a result, by 1907, the U.S. quickly followed suit (after a quiet test on girls in Michigan schools), and what was an epidemic in the world was soon forgotten (many parts of the world still suffer from iodine deficiency). In fact, not only did it cure goiters, but it was found to prevent cretinism (a mild form of retardation), even increasing the intelligence of the U.S. population by an entire factor of intelligence. This isn't some homeopathic magic voo-doo, but scientifically tested, medically proven facts, that used to be mainstream medicine curing everything from diabetes to hypothyroidism and breast cancer.

Recently, a doctor in the Goiter Belt of  North Carolina (Jorge Flechas M.D.) found iodine reversed diabetes, and reduced his patients reliance on insulin and diabetic drugs. He chose to pursue the standard medical protocol for proving these results by utilizing other doctors to either confirm or reject his initial results. In additional to proving the effectiveness of iodine, he confirmed historical precedents set by physicians prior to the modern for profit health-care systems in effect today.

A advertisement from India celebrating the benefits of iodine.
However, iodine is dirt cheap. Commercialization of drugs to cure diabetes or thyroid become the backbone of large pharmaceuticals responsible to investors more than the care of citizens. Not to villainize the medical complex, because many miracles come from it, but sometimes cheap cures take a backseat to profitable patented pills. Then there was the culinary craze of the last twenty five years which created a demand for sea-salt that many people declared healthier than traditional table salt . However, this also meant many people were now giving up their only source of the one mineral that their body needed the most: iodine. It should be noted, these days, you can purchase sea-salt that has been iodized. It may still be difficult to find at local retailers, but they are available through online retailers. The problem of course is, many of us still do not even know that we need it.

So how do you know if your iodine deficient? Generally speaking, its believed most of us who are living in an industrialized nation have some level of iodine deficiency. Even if you consume iodized salt, some individuals may require additional amounts. You can speak to your doctor for a Iodine Load Test, or there are some obvious signs and symptoms which could indicate an issue. Symptoms like a low body temperature, cold hands or feet, or swelling of the thyroid area of the neck, could suggest you're iodine deficient. Unfortunately deficiency doesn't happen overnight, and if you think you've gone for a long period of time without a proper diet of the recommended daily allowance, you may wish to speak to your health-care provider. Administration of higher doses of iodine and/or thyroid medicine may be necessary for a period of months or years to overcome deficits.

This is important especially if you cook for others, such as children. It can effect their intelligence, their performance in school, and their overall health. Especially with recent heart campaigns to reduce salt in peoples' diets, we must continue to remember we are what we eat.

For myself, I try to make sure anytime I add salt to a recipe or even when eating out, that it's iodized. I don't add additional salt if I know it's not, and I continue to try reduce my consumption of products that I know do not have iodized salt in it. Though I'm not a big seafood eater, I love tropical fruits like pineapple and I also include a iodine supplement of 50 mg a day as a part of my diet.

I don't claim iodized salt is a cure for anything, nor can I say that iodine will be a miracle  for anyone. All I hope to do is to educate you on why and how we add this nutrient to our food supply. It's up to you to decide if you can benefit from this information.


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