Should We Be Buying Iodized Salt?

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Should We Be Buying Iodized Salt?
Photo – LoggaWiggler –

The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of the iodization of salt in order to prevent and control iodine deficiency disorders. However, with the changing times and the accessibility of iodine-rich food even in far flung areas, do we really need iodized salt in our diets? What is the current iodine status of the general US population and how does iodized salt play into that?

How Important Is Iodine?

The World Health Organization cites iodine as “essential for healthy brain development in the fetus and young child”. This is why mothers are often at risk for iodine deficiency and therefore require more iodine in their diet. One of the public health goals is to reduce salt intake while increasing iodine intake, which is why iodizing salt has been an important program to prevent iodine deficiency in the population. However, iodizing salt has been done since the 1920s; are we sure that this is the right course of action? As it turns out, perhaps it is not.[1]

Iodine Status In The US Population

Assessing the iodine measurements of the population is usually done through urine measurements; this kind of test measures dietary iodine intake because 90 percent of dietary iodine is excreted through the urine. Spot measurements are a good way to assess a population’s iodine status but 24-hour measurements are more exact and accurate. According to monitoring by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the US population has been iodine sufficient since 1971. You read that right, 1971! There were some periods between 1971 and 2000 wherein iodine levels became unstable, which is why there was continued support for iodization of salt, but the NHANES reports that these levels have been stable since 2000. [2]

Other Places With Stable Iodine Levels

One of the areas of the world with good iodine levels is Asia, specifically Japan. The Japanese population has good iodine levels because kelp or seaweed is a regular inclusion in their diet (kelp is used in sushi, soups, and a variety of Japanese dishes). In fact, some places in Japan suffer from too much iodine intake because of too much seaweed intake (which has also led to problems with their thyroid). [3]

Similar to the US, Europe in general doesn’t face an iodine deficiency crisis in their population, although minor populations or “subpopulations” like pregnant women can. But this varies per country. In Switzerland, over 80% of households use iodized salt. However in Britain the figure is only 5%. It was in 2011 that reports were made that Britain could face severe iodine deficiency in their population because of low iodine intake – a reflection of the data on the use of iodized salt per household.

More data still needs to be researched and published in order to get a bigger picture of the world’s iodine levels, but if anything, the US is a good example. If your country has good access to iodized salt and food, you probably won’t be at risk for iodine insufficiency. However, at risk populations include those living in places with iodine-deficient soils (e.g. mountainous areas and river valleys), people who have diets that include food that interferes with iodine uptake (e.g. soy, cassava, cruciferous vegetables), and as previously mentioned, pregnant women. Use this kind of data in order to assess if you need iodized salt or not in your diet. [2]

Further Reading:

Amazing Facts About Iodine


[1] World Health Organization. Iodization of salt for the prevention and control of iodine deficiency disorders.

[2] National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.

[3] Fuse, Y., Shishiba, Y., and Irie, M. (2015). Japan’s iodine status – too high or just right?

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