Iodine - Casey Giltner

If you’ve looked at any dessert menu, chocolate selection or even pantry shelf lately, you’ve likely noticed that sea salt has taken the country by storm. Trader Joe’s has stocked its spice section with Himalayan Pink Crystals, Target sells quaint glass jars with delicate corks full of thick white flakes from the Mediterranean and Whole Food’s selection includes everything from smoked to roasted to rock salts. The flavor and health benefits of these avant-garde morsels have become common points of discussion between nutritionists, epicureans and home cooks alike. However, as households stray from the classic blue cylinders of Morton’s table salt, some people have raised concerns about the potential harm replacing iodized salt may bring.

Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable brain damage worldwide, and can lead to mental retardation, growth and developmental abnormalities, hypothyroidism, and goiters. Iodine levels in soil vary greatly and are especially low in inland and mountainous areas, which leads to tremendous variability in the nutrient availability from plant and animal sources. To combat deficiency, the US began to fortify table salt with iodine in the 1920s, because of its accessibility across all socioeconomic strata. Rates of goiter, the first sign of iodine deficiency, leveled off almost immediately, and iodine levels stabilized across the nation. People often assume that, because sodium intake is so high in the US, iodine needs are easily met. However, the processed food industry - the leading source of sodium in American consumers - doesn’t use iodized salt, so the majority of salt intake is lacking in this essential nutrient. 

Nevertheless, switching out sea salt for iodized salt may not be as detrimental as some think. Traditional table salt is highly refined, heat and chemically treated, stripped of trace minerals and doctored with anti-caking agents. Unrefined sea salt is the result of evaporating sea water and collecting the salt that remains. This also retains essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and (surprise!) iodine. Because of these and a plethora of other elements and minerals, sea salt provides more electrolyte balance than its mineral-poor counterpart, helping to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, nerve transmission, and to a lesser extent, alkalinity and blood sugar. The richer, more complete sea salt also lends a stronger flavor, leading to less overall sodium consumption.

For those that have made the switch to sea salt, it’s easy to get a little extra iodine in your diet through food sources. Dried seaweed is an incredibly rich source of iodine, with ¼ ounce providing 3000% of the daily recommended intake. A little goes a long way, so try cooking beans or soup with a quarter-inch piece of Kombu and removing it before you eat; rehydrate a little Arame and toss it in your next salad; snack on toasted Nori (which is easy to find at Trader Joe’s and Costco), or pick up a jar of Seaweed Gomasio, a salt and sesame seed blend with small, unnoticeable flakes of different seaweeds that can replace table or sea salt on any dish. If seaweed scares you, have no fear. Seafood (especially cod and lobster), milk, egg yolks, cranberries, baked potatoes and plain yogurt are all good sources of iodine.

Happy Eating!