If you're thinking about cutting back on your consumption of table salt, it may be a good idea to boost your intake of iodine-rich foods while you're at it. In the typical American diet, iodized table salt is the primary source of iodine, a mineral that is essential to good health.
There's no doubt that most Americans eat far too much salt. On average we consume 10 grams of the stuff daily, the amount in 2 teaspoons and double the 5 grams per day recommended by the World Health Organization.
Excess salt intake has been linked to a number of health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Because salt increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, consuming too much can weaken bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Although table salt contains two minerals -- sodium and chloride -- it's the sodium that is responsible for most of the negative effects. Healthy adults require less than 500 milligrams of sodium daily, the amount in just a quarter teaspoon of salt.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting consumption of processed foods is an excellent way to curb sodium consumption. While only about 12 percent of the sodium in the typical American diet occurs naturally in food, approximately 77 percent of our sodium intake comes from highly processed items, such as chips and crackers, and preprepared foods, including canned soups and frozen dinners.
Iodized salt is a fortified table salt, introduced in the U.S. in the 1920s to reduce the epidemic of thyroid goiter due to low iodine intake in some parts of the country. Although its high sodium content contributes to a variety of health concerns, the iodine in this type of salt still serves an important purpose.
The mineral is essential for proper production of thyroid hormones. Thanks to the widespread use of iodized table salt, thyroid goiters are far less common in the U.S. today than they were a century ago.
As more people shy away from using iodized table salt in an effort to reduce sodium intake, iodine deficiency is once again becoming a concern. Recent research suggests that Americans are consuming less iodine than they did 30 years ago.
While a teaspoon of iodized salt typically offers around 400 micrograms of iodine, more than enough to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the content may vary.
Even if you regularly consume lots of salty, processed foods, there's no guarantee you're getting enough iodine for good health. Although a diet rich in processed foods may be loaded with sodium, there's no guarantee it provides adequate levels of iodine, since manufacturers may prepare foods with non-iodized salt.
Adequate iodine intake is import for good health at every stage of life. It's critical for pregnant women, since a deficiency of the mineral in pregnancy can lead to mental retardation in newborns.
Iodine is required for normal brain development in infants and children. A growing body of scientific evidence supports a link between iodine deficiency and attention deficit disorders.
Infants ages six months and younger need at least 110 micrograms of iodine daily, while those ages seven months to 12 months require at least 130 micrograms daily. The RDA for children ages 1 to 8 years is 90 micrograms of iodine; and 120 micrograms for those ages 9 to 13 years.
For adults, the RDA for iodine is 150 micrograms. Pregnant women need more of the mineral, with an RDA of 220 micrograms.
Since most of the Earth's iodine is found in oceans, most types of seafood are excellent sources of the mineral. In addition to fish and shrimp, foods rich in iodine include sea vegetables, such as kelp, wakame and nori, the seaweed used to make sushi.
Certain cheeses, including cheddar and cottage cheese, are good sources of iodine. Some foods, such as breads and breakfast cereals, are fortified with the mineral.