Iodine is a trace element found mostly in sea water and brine pools. The human body requires a small amount of it for optimum function of the thyroid gland but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently issued a policy statement that indicates one-third of all pregnant and breastfeeding women in the United States aren’t getting enough of it. Certain foods contain iodine but the AAP recommends supplements for women who test deficient for the vital nutrient.
Iodine is needed for production of thyroid hormones that govern health in adulthood and it’s equally important for a developing fetus. In addition to promoting fetal thyroid health, iodine protects against certain environmental threats, such as exposure to cigarette smoke and nitrates. A deficiency of iodine can impair fetal brain development, stunt growth, and cause physical deformities such as bulging eyes and goiters. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers iodine deficiency the single greatest preventable cause of mental retardation in children around the world.
Iodine is abundant in seafood but many pregnant women avoid seafood due to concerns of mercury contamination. People living inland, far from the sea, are more likely to suffer iodine deficiencies due to difficulty in obtaining iodine-rich seafoods.
The importance of iodine is well documented. In 1924, the US government approached the Morton Salt Company, the largest supplier of table salt in the US, with the request to add iodine to their product. This “iodized” salt was instrumental in reducing the number of iodine-deficient diseases across the US and is widely available today.
Iodized salt is rarely used in processed foods and most restaurants don’t use it either. Instead, kosher salt is popular in the food industry because it does not contain additives such as iodine, does not impart a mineral-like flavor, and because kosher salt flakes dissolve faster than smaller hard grains of table salt. Sea salts are a widespread culinary trend and, in spite of being derived from sea water, sea salt doesn’t always contain iodine.
Salt and iodine have become so interconnected in the food industry that most salt labels will clearly state whether or not iodine has been added. Eating more salt to increase intake of iodine is not advised. Iodine supplements supply a healthy daily dosage without risk of cardiovascular complications associated with a high sodium diet.
Iodine occurs naturally in edible seaweeds and dairy products such as eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Fruits and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soils have more natural iodine in them than other fresh produce. Look for strawberries, bananas, prunes, lima beans and green peas for natural sources of iodine. Grains and grain products are good sources of dietary iodine, too.
The AAP recommends women pregnant or planning to become pregnant get a blood test for iodine deficiency. If deficient, the academy recommends supplements that supply up to 1,100 micrograms of potassium iodide a day.
- “Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women May Be Deficient in Iodine; AAP Recommends Supplements (press release).” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. May 26, 2014. Web. Jun 15, 2014.
- “Iodine: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” NIH Health Information. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Jun 24, 2011. Web. Jun 15, 2014.