"Help keep your family goiter free"

People ask, "If I need iodine, should I go back to iodized salt?"

First of all, how did this notion of iodized salt originate?

In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the FBI, Marlon Brando and Doris Day were born, and Calvin Coolidge was elected President of the United States. Half of American households had a car, while 1 in 4 Americans were illiterate.

In the 1920s, cities were a fraction of their current size and a third of the U.S. population, or 36 million people, lived in small rural communities.

Goiters were also wildly prevalent in 1924. Up to a third of the population in some areas of the country, particularly the Midwest, suffered from goiters, thyroid glands that enlarged due to lack of iodine.

Goiters were not only unsightly, but sometimes grotesque, causing a visible bulge in the front of the neck. Occasionally, they would grow so big that it compressed adjacent structures, like the trachea, and would have to be surgically removed. Goiters were commonly associated with thyroid dysfunction, especially low thyoid or hypothyroidism, that resulted in low IQ's in schoolchildren, debilitation in adults. Women of childbearing age delivered retarded children.

So iodine deficiency in early 20th century America was a big problem. How to solve this enormous public health problem in a large nation without television, few radios, no internet, with a largely rural and often illiterate population?

Thus was iodized salt born, a simple, technologically available solution that could be implemented on a large scale nationwide at low cost. The FDA chose this route in 1924, figuring that it was the best way to ensure that most Americans could obtain sufficient iodine through liberal use of iodized salt. Public health officials urged Americans to use salt. Morton's salt label proudly bore the slogan "Help keep your family goiter free!"

It worked. Goiters largely became a thing of the past.

How about today? The American Heart Association recommends limiting salt, recently announcing that they would like to limit intake to 1500 mg per day. The American Medical Association has been lobbying the FDA to set lower salt limit guidelines. The FDA has been clamping down on food manufacturers to reduce the quantity of salt in processed foods.

Why limit salt? The concern is that there are segments of the population (not all) that are salt sensitive, particularly African Americans, people with certain genetic forms of high blood pressure, conditions that cause water retention, and any degree of heart or kidney failure. Salt in these peoplem, in fact, can be disastrous.
So adding iodine to salt was the solution to epidemic goiter. And it worked.

But salt is not a perfect solution, just one that served its purpose back in 1924. What we need is a 21st century solution.
You will find that in the various iodine supplements at your health food store. My favorite is kelp--inexpensive, available, and a form that mimics the way Japanese people obtain iodine (though by eating seaweed, rather than with tablets).

Image of kelp courtesy Wikipedia

Comments (10) -

  • Anna

    5/1/2009 3:44:00 PM |

    I hadn't used iodized salt in more than 15 years.  In recent years I have only purchased various sea salts, usually as unrefined as possible.  There are traces of iodine in unrefined sea salts, but probably not enough.

    I've also heard that another cause of lowered iodine intake in recent years is a decline in the use of  iodine-based disinfectants when cleaning food manufacturing machines and equipment.  Traces of residual iodine would go into the food during processing, apparently.  Not sure what disinfectants are used instead now.

    So I also have increasingly incorporated kelp into my cooking and seasoning.  I began with sprinkling kelp granules on our morning eggs with a bit of sea salt and ground black pepper, for instance, or adding kelp granules to homemade vinaigrettes, salad dressings, and sauces.  It sort of looks like medium grind black pepper, but without the spiciness.  

    Additionally, I keep a jar of Ao Nori Flakes (natural sea vegetables) in my seasoning cupboard and I use it liberally like one might use finely chopped parsley or chives to add a bit of green garnish in soups, mashed cauliflower, etc.  No one even needs to know it's sea vegetables instead of minced parsley, if you catch my drift.

    Toasted nori is a great snack, and can be cut or torn up to use as wrappers or platforms for other foods.   Kids often love nori, especially if introduced at a young age.  

    Some specialty grocery stores (such as Whole Foods or ethnic markets) may stock fresh sea vegetables in the chill case (often stocked with fresh chilled pickles and raw sauerkraut).  The sea vegetables are packaged with salt crystals for longer storage, but the salt should be rinsed off before using.  Sea vegetables make a great salad accompaniment to seafood or sashimi, but if that's too exotic, try tossing just a small amount of chopped colorful sea vegetable into an ordinary tossed salad at first to get used to the soft-crunchy  texture (sort of like a good traditional raw sauerkraut's texture).  

    Last, but not least, dried seaweed/sea vegetable kombu is very good for adding iodine to broths.  These larger dried sea leaves keep very well in a cupboard for a long time, and are easy to toss into simmering water to create a delicious, nutritious broth for seafood  recipes.  The kombu leaves are removed and discarded after the broth is made.

    More information about how to use kelp, nori, sea vegetable, and kombu is easy to find online, too (the WAPF website www.westonaprice.org  is also a good resource).  Using these items regularly in your cooking adds a delicious slightly savory accent as well as iodine and other trace nutrients to your diet.  Strange as "seaweed" might seem at first, only the fresh sea vegetables and nori will even be noticed by your family members, and even nori isn't so exotic with the rise in familiarity with sushi and sushi-like rolls.   The kelp granules, flaked dried sea vegetable, and kombu can be your secret if necessary  Wink.

    Nori and kelp granules can be often be found with the Asian foods on the international or ethnic aisle of conventional grocery stores. Kelp granules are sometimes stocked with spices, herbs, and seasonings, too.  More variety of choices may be found at specialty grocers.  I like the Ohsawa brand (Japanese, family-owned, traditionally prepared foods, distributed in the US by Gold Mine Natural Food Co. of San Diego - no affiliation to either company-just a customer).

    Kelp can also be taken in tablets or gelatin capsules for those who wish to take more or not use it in cooking.  That form of kelp is usually stocked in vitamin and supplement departments.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/1/2009 4:59:00 PM |


    Thanks for the great advice, Anna.

    My mother was Japanese, so I can tell you that I, too, find it easy to add a variety of seaweed products to meals. I'm impressed with your seaweed enthusiasm!

  • Marisa

    5/1/2009 7:30:00 PM |

    Thank you Anna for all that information!  I have been trying to incorporate more kelp and sea vegetables into our family's diet - but for another reason.  Many autism-boards believe that algin found in seaweed chelates heavy metals, and it's also been suggested that kelp will battle the strep virus.  Although our family's experience is anecdotal, we are seeing tremendous grounds with our child.  She wouldn't eat the kelp tablets (in gelatin form), but readily makes her own dipping sauce for boiled eggs (mixing wheat-free soy sauce with kelp granules and Gomasio - sesame seeds mixed with sea vegetables).  There is also a liquid-kelp form I got when we were exposed to the strep virus; I put a dropper-ful into a shot of juice.

    I am so excited that there are people like Anna who is living the life and willing to share, and Dr. Davis who is putting himself out there and sharing this information.  18 mos ago I didn't know that heart disease was reversible.  And I was exhausted caring for a child that was mildly on the the spectrum.  Now, through radically changing our diets (including supplementation), not only is my health on the up-and-up, but my child is recovered and says and does amazing things.

    From the bottom of my heart I thank you.  - M

  • Anonymous

    5/1/2009 9:03:00 PM |

    Great post on Iodine.

    How much Iodine is safe and how much should be taken daily?


  • Trinkwasser

    5/22/2009 12:08:06 PM |

    Big thanks to Anna from over here in the UK too. In Wales we have Laver bread made from seaweed and here on the east coast we get samphire (glasswort) which is like saline asparagus but has a short season (damn, I'm drooling now!)

    Following your post I've discovered a source of different sea vegetables and (dried) seaweed with which I'm currently experimenting. Tasty stuff!

  • Sherrie

    5/27/2009 12:23:55 AM |

    My doctor has me take it in liquid form, I buy it here in Australia from a compounding chemist and it contains important minerals for thyroid health each 5ml dose has 15mg zinc, 100mcg chromium, 100mcg
    selenium, 150mcg molybdenum, 100mcg iodine, 2.5mg manganese, 2mg boron. Doesn't taste the nicest in juice though Smile

  • michael

    6/28/2009 6:45:37 PM |

    Many thanks for your advice Anna, I am very interested in alternative health.

  • Anonymous

    7/31/2009 2:56:24 AM |

    I was surprised to learn that food processors use plain salt without iodine.

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2010 1:59:25 PM |

    Been eating sea veggies, cereal grains, vegggies, etc since the late 70's, along with occasional wild foods (I live in rural area). I began with the Macrobiotic way of life, and have morphed it to suit my needs, as well, that diet has made important evolutionary steps over the decades. I have recently incorporated fish oil, due to my medittranean heritage, i.e. hyperlipdemia, so my hdl's are 39, my ldl's 135, and tri's 80, cholesterol 198. I suspect fish oil (using Now foods Molecularly Distilled 4k-6k IU's) with intake of 5-6 days a week, ought to improve the next blood report stats.

    Here is a site I use, for sea vegatbles.


  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 10:22:09 PM |

    So iodine deficiency in early 20th century America was a big problem. How to solve this enormous public health problem in a large nation without television, few radios, no internet, with a largely rural and often illiterate population?