Iodine is an important nutrient no one should be without. Our soil used to contain adequate amounts of iodine and other important minerals, but commercial farming methods have depleted our once fertile soils.
Iodine deficiency is a common problem in the U.S., even though all refined table salt has iodine added to it. This is because fortified, white table salt is highly refined and contains mostly sodium chloride with most of the trace minerals removed and synthetic iodine added back in, and our bodies have a difficult time absorbing it. Although a lot of real food folks are switching to sea salt, which does contain a great deal of trace minerals we are missing in our diets, there isn’t enough iodine in sea salt to provide what humans need.
Other reasons for iodine deficiency are due to the high consumption of processed foods in the U.S. As well as being deficient in nutrients, these foods actually block the uptake of iodine in our bodies when we eat them. These foods are goitrogens, which means they block the uptake of iodine in the body.
Soy, found in proliferation in our industrial food supply in many, many products like cereals, crackers, chips, bread, cookies, breads, baby formula, sauces, dressings, marinades, and even canned soups. It is also fed to livestock animals and birds slaughtered for meat on the commercial market – cattle, poultry, and pigs. When you go out to just about any restaurant, the oil used to cook your food and to pour over your salad is soybean oil.
Water supply and many food products also contain halogens such as chlorine, fluoride, bromine and perchlorate (rocket fuel). Most commercial beverages like soft drinks, energy drinks, coffee and some dairy beverages contain at least one of these halides. If you eat a diet heavy in processed foods from the commercial market, the chances of you consuming a lot of substances that are completely deficient in iodine and also blocks the uptake of iodine is quite high.
Natural goitrogens such as cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and others may inhibit the uptake of thyroid if auto-immune diseases are present. But these foods are fine to consume and won’t interfere with iodine absorption if fermented or cooked and eaten with healthy fats such as butter, ghee, lard, tallow, olive oil, or coconut oil.
Why we need iodine for health
When iodine is combined with the amino acid tyrosine, it produces important thyroid hormones that control the synthesis of enzyme and proteins in our bodies, regulate metabolism, and are critical for developing nervous and skeletal systems of growing fetuses. Because unborn children are so dependent on this mineral for growth and development, pregnant mothers especially need regular intake of iodine. Miscarriage is another common side-effect of iodine deficiency.
Iodine regulates our thyroid and other hormonal function. Without it, low thyroid function will occur. It is necessary for the activation of thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
Iodine deficiency can cause weight gain, fatigue, low energy, and depression. Low iodine stores in the body are also connected with arrested mental development (mental retardation), and neurodevelopment disorders in children, fibrocystic breast disease and fibroids, enlargment of the thyroid gland, increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer, and mental and physical compromise in adults.
Real food sources of iodine
Even though this important mineral is no longer found in our soil in abundance, there are still real food sources where we can get iodine such as animal products that come from healthy animals on pasture, especially in areas where commercial farming has not taken over, and also in seafood. Our bodies can’t produce iodine by themselves, so we must obtain this nutrient regularly, but in moderation, from our diet:
- Seafood such as fish like herring, whiting, haddock, and mollusks like clams, mussels, oysters, snails, octopus, squid
- Butter, milk, and other dairy products (raw is best) from cows on pasture eating grass from iodine-rich soil – especially near the sea
- Fruits and Vegetables grown by the sea, including coconut products
- Blackstrap molasses
- Sea vegetables such as dulse, nori, kelp, wakame, and dried kelp
- Fermented or cultured vegetables (see video recipes below)
Obtaining iodine from real foods such as those listed above is much safer than taking iodine supplements. This can be especially dangerous for pregnant women and can trigger allergic responses in the body. Taking inorganic iodine can cause toxicity (especially heavy metal) since iodine is prone to combining with protein, which is how it destroys bacteria (also a protein).
Placing any iodine supplement in your mouth causes it to mix with the protein found there, in your esophagus, stomach, and all throughout the body. The result is irritation, allergies, and other issues. Those with a normal thyroid can experience a reduction in the synthesis of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 when taking large, sudden doses of iodine.
It is important to exercise extreme caution when using iodine supplements. Many women with unknown thyroid issues have Hashimoto’s, an auto-immune disorder. Iodine can turn any auto-immune disease into hyperthyroid quickly. Iodine supplementation can also significantly increase heavy metal toxicity in those who have mercury issues.
Here is a recipe for traditional Japanese Kombu, a variety of kelp. It is one of the most abundant sources of iodine. Eat it as a side dish or condiment with foods or add to soups, stocks, casseroles, or other one-pot meals. Add this food to a pot of cooking beans to make them more digestible.
- 1 oz. kombu, soaked in a bit of filtered water
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sake
- 1 tbsp sucanat or rapadura
- 1 tbsp naturally fermented soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp black or white sprouted sesame seeds
- Slice rehydrated kombu into thin strips.
- In a small mixing bowl, place kombu, vinegar and sake in and blend together.
- Transfer mixture to a small saucepan and fill with enough filtered water to cover. Place a lid on the saucepan and heat to a boil.
- Reduce and simmer until the kombu is tender.
- Add sesame oil, rapadura or suacanat, and soy sauce. Continue until the liquid has evaporated. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.
Fermented or cultured vegetables are also a good source of iodine, especially when you use seaweed or other sea vegetables such as dulse, nori, or kelp. Fermenting increases digestibility and bio-availability of all nutrients in food.
Here’s an informative video showing how to prepare these powerhouses of nutrients from Renegade Health and Donna Gates from Body Ecology:
This post is part of Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday carnival/link festival.