Iodine is critical for the health of your thyroid, and therefore the health of the whole body. The thyroid is a tiny gland in the throat that has the big job of coordinating your metabolism. Two key hormones it produces (T3 and T4 in the diagram below) contain iodine. If you become deficient, you run the risk of all sorts of disorders from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism to goiter.
Many of us are most familiar with iodine from the yucky iodized salt in the supermarket. Here's the thing about the yucky salt: you don't have to eat if you get enough iodine in your diet. You can use better-tasting, non-iodized sea salt. In fact, you can get all the iodine you need from a healthy, balanced diet. You just have to know how to get it!
Iodine is abundantly available in all seafood, especially seaweed and kelp. So even if you avoid fish and shellfish, you can get plenty of iodine from sea vegetables. It also naturally occurs in soil, but we can't count on most produce as a significant dietary source because the amounts vary so widely from region to region.
Once upon a time, people living in the middle of the U.S. didn't have access to ocean fish. Lake fish is not a good source of iodine; it must come from salt water. On top of that, the soil in the Midwest is very low in iodine. In the 19th century and into the start of the 20th, many Midwesterners developed thyroid disorders. Then the U.S. government started adding iodine to table salt, and that problem was solved.
Unfortunately, now many people think that supplements (either pills or iodized salt) are the best or only ways to get iodine. But we didn't evolve to have to take supplements. How did people maintain healthy thyroid glands before supplementation? Easy: through seafood.
If you eat sea vegetables or salt water fish once or twice a week, you are likely getting enough iodine in your diet. It is abundant in fresh, frozen, dried, and canned products. So if all you can afford is dolphin-safe, low-mercury skipjack tuna in a can and packets of dried seaweed from Super 88, you can still meet your iodine needs that way. There will be recipes for grain-free "sushi" rolls and seaweed salads on this blog in the future.
If you find yourself craving seafood, one reason may be that your body is looking for an iodine boost. If you live in the Midwest and don't have easy access to ocean fish, or if you hate all seafood including seaweed and kelp, then you are a candidate for supplementation. Otherwise, just get it from food!
In my next post, I'm going to give you a wonderful, easy iodine-rich recipe for salmon with crispy skin, with a balsamic glaze. Yum!