Are You Getting Enough Iodine in Your Diet From Real Food?

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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
  • Eggs
  • Fermented or cultured vegetables (see video recipes below)

Iodine supplementation

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.

Kombu recipe

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Slice rehydrated kombu into thin strips.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, place kombu, vinegar and sake in and blend together.
  3. 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.
  4. Reduce and simmer until the kombu is tender.
  5. 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:

Part I

Part II

Part III

This post is part of Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday carnival/link festival.

12 Comments

  • November 29, 2011 - 7:12 PM | Permalink

    Raine, this subject is so important! I’m so glad you wrote this. As you mentioned, iodine deficiency is very common, and I think it’s one of the environmental factors involved with autism. From all of the research I’ve done, for most children, autism appears to be caused by genetic predisposition combined with certain environmental assaults (that are different for everyone and make it so complex). Some of these assaults are toxins, others are nutrient deficiencies. Iodine is so important for the thyroid and proper brain developmental. I think there are many reasons children need to get proper amounts of iodine. Thanks for sharing this information – I’ll share it with others!

    • November 30, 2011 - 6:12 PM | Permalink

      Hi Julie – thanks for your comments and for sharing this post with others. It’s disappointing how common these problems are and how unable and unwilling medical and health professionals are to properly deal with these issues. I am grateful to have people like you out there helping to work and educate people about real food and nutrition to improve health problems, and especially working with children and their families. Thanks for all you do!

  • November 29, 2011 - 7:59 PM | Permalink

    This is a very important post, and something everybody should understand. So many of the endless diseases people take drugs for are a direct result of malnutrition, and iodine deficiency is so common.

    Your suggestions are superb, and that recipe for Kombu is something I will happily try.

    • November 30, 2011 - 6:10 PM | Permalink

      Thanks for your comments, Stanley, as always. It’s so sad how much malnutrition we’ve endured at the hands of the corrupt food industries and government proponents of those industries. With our work, we can change all of that. :)

  • susan
    November 30, 2011 - 8:27 PM | Permalink

    thanks for this post! regarding the recipe, i’m wondering if coconut aminos would work instead of the soy sauce for those of us avoiding soy?

  • November 30, 2011 - 8:35 PM | Permalink

    Susan – how funny that you bring up the coconut aminos, I was just in the health food store about an hour ago and noticed those on the shelf. I’ve never used those before, but I was very curious about them. It might be worth a try. If you use it, I’d love to hear about your results.

  • Pingback: Sunday Snippets: December 4, 2011 — Real Food Forager

  • December 4, 2011 - 8:55 PM | Permalink

    I actually never realized that iodine supplements are dangerous or that table salt actually contains synthetic iodine. My mother always gets after me for switching to sea salt claiming “it doesn’t contain iodine” but I point out that it does. So table salt contains fake iodine while sea salt doesn’t contain enough. Very interesting.
    Thanks for pointing out the seriousness of iodine deficiency, people really need to realize that their health problems could indeed be caused by a nutrient deficiency. All thanks to Big Food propaganda making table salt look like the only source of iodine.

  • Nancy Cronk
    January 30, 2013 - 9:25 AM | Permalink

    Too much iodine can be a real problem, too. Because of a thyroid issue, my Dr. told me to stay away from iodized salt, and all other sources of iodine. He never told me to stay away from soy.

  • January 30, 2013 - 10:06 AM | Permalink

    Nancy – if you are eating real food sources of iodine, you really can’t overdose on it. Thyroid problems are often due to a lack of iodine, unless you are hyperthyroid…but in that case, natural food sources, not supplements (which can be toxic) should be used. Iodized salt is a problem not just for people who are hyperthyroid, but because it’s mostly sodium chloride and doesn’t contain trace minerals that the body needs. You should be using sea salt. See the natural, real food sources of iodine in the post, those are what you should be eating (and no, your doctor won’t communicate about the importance of these foods for your health). When we rely upon the advise of doctors to keep us well, we often wind up being sicker than we were when we first went in for help.

    Most doctors don’t understand nutrition and don’t recognize the need of the human body for iodine. They also don’t understand the problems with soy. Any doctor that doesn’t warn about the dangers of soy or who encourages their patients to consume soy is very misguided and is doing their patients a disservice.

    Soy is problematic on many levels – but for thyroid problems, soy is a goitrogen and if you haven’t been told to avoid it, it’s likely to be in many foods you are eating unless you avoid processed foods and eat a traditional, whole-foods diet that you prepare mostly at home from real ingredients. Please

  • January 30, 2013 - 4:50 PM | Permalink

    Do you have any information regarding iodine supplementation of garden soil?

    My company produces a trace mineral enhanced organic fertilizer, which I of course use on my personal garden as well as my test garden. I am planning on spraying some of my raised beds with a VERY dilute solution of iodine and water. I will then plant certain leafy green veggies in those beds and compare their growth and taste to similar veggies grown without iodine.

    I may also use some of the liquid iodine as a foliar spray to further increase the iodine concentrations in those plants.

    Any info you could pass along would be helpful.

    Michael

  • February 22, 2014 - 3:31 AM | Permalink

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