Iodine Deficiency: What You Need to Know

baked bread

News flash: bakers in Australia and New Zealand are now using iodized salt in their baked goods. Why is this news? And why should we care? Apparently, most of us are not getting the amount of iodine we need for healthy thyroid function. What does the thyroid do? And what is iodine’s function?

You might be wondering where we would get iodine in our daily diet. Most of us get most of our iodine through table salt, iodized table salt, that is. If you’re like me and use sea salt or kosher salt, you’re not getting your iodine from salt. So, what’s the big deal about iodine? While iodine deficiency is not considered a problem in the United States, some doctors and nutritionists argue otherwise. Purnendu K. Dasgupta, PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Arlington believes that even people who use iodine-fortified table salt may be at risk for iodine deficiency:

“Dasgupta and colleagues recently tested 88 samples of iodized salt and found that 47 of them, or 53%, did not meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations for iodine levels.”

There are specific groups that are vulnerable to iodine deficiency: pregnant and nursing women, babies, and young children. I have a particular interest in iodine because I’m interested in all of those categories. I’ve just recently been pregnant, am now nursing my formerly premature baby girl. To add to my interest is the fact that because my baby was born prematurely, she has a slight case of hypothyroidism. Now, that’s my specific case. However, it’s in researching and talking with others about this issue that I discovered the importance of iodine.

Boston University Medical Center endocrinologist Elizabeth Pearce, MD claims that almost half of pregnant and nursing women are not getting enough iodine:

“In her latest study, published in May 2007, sampled breast milk from 47% of nursing mothers did not contain sufficient iodine to meet their infants’ nutritional needs.”

What are the consequences of iodine deficiency?

Goiter. The thyroid grows abnormally (develops a goiter) as it tries to keep up with demand for thyroid hormone production. People who have goiters may have problems with choking and difficulty breathing in some cases.

Hypothyroidism. Iodine is essential for the production of the thyroid hormone.

Pregnancy-related problems. Iodine deficiency in the mother has been associated with miscarriages, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and congenital abnormalities in babies. Children of mothers with severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can have mental retardation and problems with growth, hearing, and speech. Some studies show that even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy could be related to lower intelligence in children. However, studies also show that it can be corrected if detected early enough. One study showed that having children eat two eggs daily could increase their IQ by 20 percent.

The recommended daily allowance is 220 mg iodine a day for pregnant women and 290 mg for nursing moms. Everyone else should have about 150 mg each day.

How do we get the amount we need, especially if we’re not using iodized salt? Here are some foods that are rich in iodine and that may be a tastier way to include iodine in our diet.

Iodized table salt
Saltwater fish
Cow’s milk
Seaweed (including kelp, dulce, nori)
Frozen yogurt
Soy milk
Ice cream
Soy sauce
Iodine-containing multivitamins

As I mentioned before, it can be corrected. And it’s always nice when something can be corrected by eating great tasting food!

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