So you stopped cooking with salt and avoid eating salty foods like it's the plague. Reducing salt has been a hot topic, promoting reduced risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attach, atherosclerosis, and even some cancers. According to the CDC, Americans consume 3,436 mg of sodium daily which is far too high for good health. The American Heart Association recommends we consume less than 1500 mg of sodium daily....that's about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Our bodies need about 180-500 mg of sodium to sustain life, far below the American Heart Association's recommendations making it easy to meet our minimum sodium needs. With such low sodium intake, are we getting enough iodine too?
Iodine is an essential mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormone which controls our metabolism. A deficiency in iodine can lead to a slowed metabolism, goiter, infertility, even improper bone development, brain development, and mental retardation in a growing fetus. In the 1920's the United States began adding iodine to table salt in order to prevent iodine deficiency. Today an iodine deficiency is very rare in the United States. Our bodies need about 150 micrograms daily, 220 micrograms for pregnant women, and 290 micrograms for breastfeeding women. 1/2 teaspoon of iodized salt has about 200 micrograms, 1 baked potato with the skin has about 60 micrograms, and 1 cup of milk has about 56 micrograms.
Research does show about 75-90% of the salt Americans consume comes from processed foods that do not contain iodized salt. Cutting back on processed foods is a great start to remove sodium from your diet without worrying about cutting out too much iodine. If you currently use sea salt look for brands that are also fortified with iodine to help increase your intake, and use it sparingly like regular table salt. You can also receive iodine from other food sources such as wild fish and shellfish, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil. Many multivitamins also contain iodine too. The American Thyroid Association recommends women of childbearing age, especially when pregnant and breastfeeding, supplement 150 micrograms of iodine daily; this is generally found in prenatal vitamins. It is always important to discuss supplements with you physician prior to taking them.
Americans are very unlikely to become iodine deficient when eating a well balanced diet. Restricting sodium could increase the risk of iodine deficiency, however many health benefits of reducing sodium far outweigh a high sodium diet. Cooking with minimal amounts of iodized salt, focusing on wild seafood, consuming adequate amounts of dairy and vegetables, and considering a multivitamin supplement with iodine can help reduce iodine deficiency risks.
To all my triathletes, marathoners, endurance athletes and heavy sweaters....these guidelines apply to the general population and do not address the likely need for you to supplement extra sodium in your diet. Replacing losses from sweat, especially in hot weather is critical. Not consuming adequate sodium and can lead to very serious health complications. If you exercise beyond 1 hour, sweat excessively, or have salt streaks on your body you will need additional sodium in your diet. Work with your physician and sports dietitian to determine your sodium needs and if adding a salt supplement is warranted during your training.