Why “Iodized” Salt?
Purdue Coordinated Program in Dietetics
When shopping for salt, such a simple ingredient, anymore there seem to be more and more options. There is sea salt, Himalayan salt, kosher salt, flake salt, and the list goes on. The most generic salt, however, is iodized salt. It’s our table salt and is what we find in our salt shakers. But why “iodized” salt and what does that even mean?
To break it down, salt is a crystal like mineral composed of two elements, sodium and chloride. Being iodized indicates the salt has been fortified with the element iodine, which simply means a small amount of iodine has been added to salt. But still, why?
Iodine is a trace element found naturally at different levels in soil and seawater. It is not commonly found in high amounts in foods, but some foods it can be found are seaweed, various fish, and diary. Iodine is an essential micronutrient to our body. This means a small amount of it is required in our diet because our body is incapable of making it and it is required in our diet for proper body function. The thyroid gland stores iodine and depends on it to make many important hormones in the body that regulate vital body functions including breathing, heart rate, metabolism, growth, and functions in the nervous system.
Without enough iodine in the diet, a person may develop iodine deficiency leading to a range of issues, including hypothyroidism and cognitive issues. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which thyroid hormone levels are low, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, slow heart rate, and even the extreme of poor growth and mental development. Cognitive issues include having a low IQ (intelligence quotient), difficulty learning, and even mental disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent and easily preventable cause of brain damage.
Iodine deficiency can take a serious toll on the fetus in pregnant women. If the mother is deficient, she may experience a miscarriage, the child may be underweight at birth, and the child may experience impaired learning and behavioral issues.
Historically, the United States had been iodine deficient and the population experienced a range of health issues related to it. Switzerland also had been experiencing iodine deficiency and implemented a salt iodization program that was successful and found to be very effective. The U.S. followed lead in the 1920’s and implemented their own voluntary salt iodization program.
Adding iodine to table salt is both inexpensive and was found to be very effective. It has helped American’s to consume adequate amounts of iodine in the diet and to prevent deficiency. In fact, according to UNICEF, 120 countries now have salt iodization programs. Over the past decade, salt iodization programs have helped to halve the number of countries where iodine deficiency was a health issue.
So why “iodized” salt? Because adding even a small amount of iodine to such a common food product has helped to prevent iodine deficiency in the U.S. and around the world.