Pass the salt, please

By • Published: December 20th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Many people try to go easy on the salt or avoid the salt shaker altogether to be healthy. But a shake of iodized salt on your food can actually be vital to your health.

Pick up a container of salt in the U.S. and you will almost certainly see the word “iodized,” but few people realize the importance of iodine in the diet.

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormone, but it doesn’t make iodine on its own. Iodine is an element present naturally in soil and seawater, so in order to get it in your body, you need to ingest it.

Although some foods are high in iodine, like dairy products, seafood and meat, it can be a challenge to get enough of it without iodized salt.

What happens to the body without enough iodine? Most commonly, a lack of iodine can lead to a swelling of the thyroid gland at the base of the neck, called a goiter. In the most severe cases, mothers with severe iodine deficiencies during pregnancy can give birth to children with mental retardation and stunted growth.

Before the 1920s, iodine deficiency was a common problem in parts of the U.S. and Canada, specifically around the Great Lakes, Appalachia, and the northwestern U.S. Because of this, the area earned the nickname the “goiter belt.”

But iodine deficiency was virtually eliminated in the U.S. after Morton’s Salt developed iodized salt in 1924 to ensure people got their needed dose of iodine. However, some experts are concerned that Americans’ use of iodized salt has decreased and thyroid deficiencies could return.

The Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Dietary Allowance for iodine in adult men and women at 150 micrograms per day. One teaspoon of iodized salt contains approximately 400 micrograms of iodine.

So here’s some food for thought: Be sparing with the salt, but don’t pass on it altogether.