For many years, I was unaware of what the best salt to purchase was. I had noticed in the supermarket that table salt was either iodised or not, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I assumed it was related to flavor. Many years down the track, I was introduced to Himalayan rock salt and that became my new standard choice for salt. Little did I know that the salt that we choose can affect more than our heart health!
I then began to study nutrition and dietetics at University and it was there that I found out the importance of iodine in our diet.
It was discovered in 1830 that iodine helped to reduce the occurrence of goiters and since then, iodine deficiency has also been linked to brain function disorders and in extreme cases cretinism. It is also recognized that low iodine intake can lead to low brain development in children which can affect a child’s capacity to concentrate and work . It has also been linked to stillbirths and miscarriages . The mandatory introduction of fortification of food with iodine began in 2009 in Australia .
Interestingly, prior to the mandatory fortification of iodine in food, the dairy industry had been inadvertently boosting our iodine intake. They had been cleaning the cow’s udders with iodine which was then transferred to milk in small amounts. This practice has all but stopped now, which has reduced the iodine content of milk.
Even so, studies undertaken by the government had shown that iodine in our food and water supply was not enough to meet our requirements for iodine. This is where the government stepped in and decided that mandatory fortification of foods was important .
If you are anything like I was, iodine was not something I realised I needed to be aware of as an important element in my diet. In addition, I have stopped using table salt, iodised or not, and I don’t eat store bought breakfast cereals or store bought bread. Each of these items are part of the mandatory fortification of food with iodine.
So the question remains, are those of us who are not consuming iodised salt or fortified foods at risk of deficiency?
According to Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ) the answer is a resounding YES . To make it more personal, it is likely to be a problem if we are not purposefully boosting our iodine intake by some other means. The Australian government has made it easy for the general public to meet their requirements, but the rest of us who choose to eat in a different way need to be more purposeful. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women have higher requirements than teenagers (14+) and adults.
Boosting your Iodine intake
You have probably heard it said that we should be eating seafood or oily fish 2-3 times a week to meet our omega 3 requirements . Well this advice has the additional benefit of providing a boost to our iodine intake as well. Oysters are also a good source of iodine, which is great if you love oysters, but not so great if you can’t stand them. Nori is another option for those who like sushi. Some people add crushed Nori to their salt. I haven't tried this, so I cannot comment on the flavour. Others put it in their homemade bread.
If you are one of those people who doesn’t like seafood, then it is still possible to meet your requirements. The best non-seafood options include milk and eggs. Two glasses of milk a day will help boost your intake to around 42% of your requirements for most people . Two eggs will provide nearly 30% of requirements . The Nutrition Australia website provides a good summary of what foods contain iodine and the approximate quantities.
Fruit and vegetables absorb iodine from the soil, but if the soil is depleted of iodine as it is in parts of Australia, then the content may be quite low. If you are growing your own vegetables, a good idea to help boost the iodine content of the soil and thus the vegetables, is to add in some seaweed to the soil. That way the plants can absorb the iodine from the seaweed and boost your iodine intake. If you don’t have easy access to seaweed, there are organic fertilizers on the market that are seaweed based and contain iodine.
After considering these tips, if you feel that you may still be lacking in iodine, pay a visit to your local doctor and have a test done to see if you are deficient. A visit to your local dietitian can also help to assess your intake to determine where changes can be made.
Remember, that if you are pregnant or breast feeding, your iodine needs are elevated and more care needs to be taken.
 WHO, "Sustaining the elimination of Iodine Deficiency Disorders," 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.who.int/nmh/iodine/en/. [Accessed 3 July 2016].
 FSANZ, "Iodine Fortification," June 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/iodinefort/Pages/default.aspx. [Accessed 3 July 2016].
 FSANZ, "Consideration of Mandatory Fortification with Iodine - A short guide to the development of a food standard for Australia and New Zealand," FSANZ, 2006.
 Heart Foundation, "Healthy Hearts Position Statement - Fish & Seafood," October 2015. [Online]. Available: https://heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/main/Programs/PRO-169_Fish_and_seafood_position_statement.pdf. [Accessed 4 July 2016].
 Nutrition Australia. (2010, June). Iodine Facts. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from Nutrition Australai: http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/iodine-facts