Iodine, An Equally Important Nutrient
The human body demands a well-rounded, highly nutritional diet in order to function. Although most health-nuts and casual dieters have heard of vitamins, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, critical minerals often fail to win the attention they deserve. Iodine, a critical part of a healthy diet that supports several key anatomical systems, needs more time in the limelight and a place on your plate.
What Is Iodine?
Iodine is an elemental mineral the human body needs to survive. However, unlike many other essential nutrients, like Vitamin D, the human body cannot produce iodine. We are all dependent on external sources – particularly food – to provide it.
What Does It Do?
So, you need iodine, but why? What does it really do? While we can’t provide as much information as your doctor can, we’ll help you learn a bit more about iodine here. Iodine helps keep your endocrine system, which produces and governs your hormones, operating at peak efficiency. Your thyroid in particular, which creates and manages hormones for several key bodily systems, relies on iodine. Your metabolism, your heart, your digestive system, your brain, your bones, and even your reproductive organs depend on your thyroid to release the correct triggers in order to function properly.
Iodine provides plenty of wonderful benefits, but without it, the most important health complication is a weakened thyroid. Without this critical gland orchestrating the body’s inner systems, things go haywire quickly. The brain may react first, protesting the absence of key hormones with fits of depression. Paired with fatigue, indigestion, and – in women – irregular bleeding, the situation quickly limits an individual’s ability to perform daily functions. All the while, serious risk factors for heart disease and several types of cancer growth. Quietly, the bones begin to weaken. Everything falls out of sync when the endocrine system fails.
The thyroid needs iodine, and when it’s deprived, it tries to continue doing its job, but the stress and constant demand wear it down. This leads to health complications like hypothyroidism when the thyroid begins to fail to meet its requirements. Effects can be long-lasting, and hypothyroidism requires medical treatment from a doctor in order to properly reverse or manage.
How Much Do You Need?
Your iodine needs actually fluctuate with age and circumstance, ranging from 90 micrograms to 290 micrograms per day. Young children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women see the biggest changes in daily iodine needs, as shown below:
Infants 0-6 months: 110 micrograms
Infants 7-12 months: 130 micrograms
Teenagers and adults: 150 micrograms
Pregnant women: 220 micrograms
Breastfeeding women: 290 micrograms
Beware of Salt
Table salt is reinforced with iodine. While sprinkling a little extra salt on your meal will help boost iodine levels, it is a poor compromise for your health. First of all, not all salt is iodized. Kosher salt, sea salt, and pink Himalayan salt have little or no iodine. Table salt doesn’t carry iodine naturally, either, but it’s intentionally added specifically to enhance the salt’s nutrition. Intentionally consuming salt to add iodine to your diet isn’t always the simplest or the tastiest option, and there are far greater consequences.
Americans get most of their sodium from processed foods from both restaurants and grocery stores. While potato chips and pretzels don’t hide their saltiness, essentially every other processed food – including bread and meat – carries an incredible amount of sodium. The vast majority of Americans already overindulge in sodium-laced products, and although table salt isn’t really at fault, adding table salt to a meal only makes the sodium overload worse. Too much salt affects the vascular and circulatory systems, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart disease. Ultimately, increasing salt intake to get more iodine simply isn’t a trade worth making.
There are a surprising number of foods with high iodine content, but not all iodine-rich foods are created equal. Although sweet treats like ice cream and frozen yogurt actually have plenty of iodine, they also have plenty of sugar and other less-than-healthy ingredients that outweigh the iodine content’s benefits. Here are some of the best iodine-rich foods that won’t take you to task on the scale:
- Cod and Tuna
- Shrimp and Seafood
- Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
- Soy Products
By far the best sources of iodine come from the sea. Seaweed in all its forms contains a great amount of iodine, and seafood like marine fish and shrimp follow the same pattern. Fish’s additional health benefits should put it near the top of the list for anyone seeking to increase their iodine intake via a healthy diet. For those allergic to seafood, or who prefer to avoid fish, dairy products and eggs can provide a steady source of dietary iodine. Vegans must turn to soy products and multivitamins to meet their nutritional needs. As with any food, these products should be integrated into a well-rounded diet.
Talk to Your Doctor
Always speak with your doctor before making any major dietary or lifestyle changes. Increasing iodine intake may interfere with other treatments or medicines. Speaking to your doctor will also give you the chance to discuss any symptoms of iodine deficiency. If you suspect you have thyroid issues, or you’re concerned about getting enough iodine during pregnancy, consult your doctor about iodine supplements and additional treatments. Although most medical professionals agree that the best source of nutrients is the food you eat, sometimes your body needs an extra boost, especially during times of stress and growth.
Iodine solves many frustrating symptoms stemming from a weakened thyroid. Consciously adding iodine-rich foods or supplements to your diet can help manage fatigue, mood, indigestion, and more. Just as your immune system needs Vitamin D to flourish, your thyroid needs iodine in order to keep your system on track. A little adjustment to your daily habits can reduce cancer risk and ward off long-term problems like bone deterioration and depression. Stop by the seafood aisle the next time you’re at the store, or treat yourself to some sushi (ideally norimaki)! It may be just the thing your body needs today.