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Rethinking the salt we eat

Iodized table salt appeared on US grocery store shelves on 01 May 1924 as a public health measure.

What type of salt graces your dining table? Your kitchen?

If you’re like many Americans, you may have migrated away from iodized salt to Kosher salt because of reports like this in Bon Appétit:

… salt with iodine tastes bad, and you shouldn’t use it. Kosher salt, on the other hand, is iodine-free, and you should use that instead. If you remember one thing, remember that, and everything you cook will taste better.

But guess what? Iodine is essential to normal thyroid function. There’s a reason many of us grew up consuming iodized salt: it helps prevent an iodine deficiency that can lead to goiter and hypothyroidism.

Prior to the 1920s, endemic iodine deficiency was prevalent in the Great Lakes, Appalachians, and Northwestern regions of the U.S., a geographic area known as the “goiter belt”, where 26%–70% of children had clinically apparent goiter.

In those regions, the soil was iodine deficient, which meant that locally-grown vegetables and produce (we didn’t import fruit and vegetables from Mexico then) would also be iodine deficient.

There was little debate over the severity of the situation in the goiter belt. The real problem was how to get iodine into the diets of those who needed it most, without incurring the wrath of food manufacturers, doctors, politicians, and the public at large.


Then in 1922, David Murray Cowie, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan, joined the goiter battle… Dr. Cowie’s “Eureka moment” came one evening while reading a long monograph from the Swiss health authorities (another part of the world where the soil is iodine deficient). The report described a plan to add, as a goiter preventive, a specific amount of sodium iodide or potassium iodide to each package of table and cooking salt sold in that country. Cowie correctly reasoned that since everybody consumed salt every day and if he could convince the salt manufacturers to agree to change their product, a major public health problem might be easily solved. This turned out to be not so simple, however, and it took another 2 years of intense lobbying, cajoling, and educating to even launch the idea.

On 01 May 1924, Michigan grocers introduced iodized table salt to their customers.

Within months, more than 90% of the table salt sold in Michigan was iodized. Seeing how popular this new product was, the Morton Salt Company of Chicago rolled out its iodized salt product in September and distributed it across the nation. Other US salt manufacturers followed suit.

Types of salt

Most Americans consume more than recommended daily levels of salt due to processed foods.

In the United States, well-stocked opponents have rebelled at the mention of any legal restrictions on what we put in our mouths, no matter how dangerous. Such activists are often aided and abetted by major food companies, which have huge bankrolls to lobby legislators against passing any regulations of our food chain. Despite plenty of warnings from distinguished and respected health authorities, ranging from the American Heart Association to the Institute of Medicine, the FDA has found the issue of regulating the salt content in food to be a complicated and political morass.

The salt used in food processing is generally not iodized in the United States. In addition. the Food and Drug Administration does not require iodine content be listed on food packaging.

In North America, salt fortification with iodine is mandated in Canada and some parts of Mexico, but only voluntary in the US such that only 52% of US table salt is iodized and only one-fifth of the total salt consumed in the US is iodized.

Iodine-rich foods include:

Symptoms of iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency is more common in women than in men. Obvious signs of deficiency include swelling of thyroid glands or a visible lump (goiter) on the front of the neck. Other signs include:

  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Feeling colder than usual
  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Learning and memory difficulties
  • Problems during pregnancy
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Thinning hair
  • Weight gain

#scitech, #medicine (102/365)
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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