Q: In trying to control my blood pressure without medications I quit using salt completely. Now my doctor says my iodine level is low and that I should either take pills or eat more salt! What will low iodine do to me? Are there foods I could eat instead of taking pills?
Answer: You’re caught in a pinch that is becoming more common. For generations of us, iodized salt was the only kind we had, and we ate plenty of it. Now high blood pressure is catching up to us.
There are more kinds of salt available, many of which don’t have any or enough iodine. We do need some iodine, but only about 150 micrograms a day is enough for most adults. Without it we don’t make enough thyroid hormones and our thyroid glands may enlarge. That’s goiter, which used to be very common before salt was iodized. Low thyroid hormone levels can affect adults’ thinking and our work ability. In children and infants it can affect the brain development and lead to mental disabilities. It might have something to do with a painful condition of cysts in women’s breasts.
There are supplements, but most people in the United States get enough from food. Seafood is generally the best source because sea water usually has iodine. Tuna, cod, shrimp and other marine fish are good. So is seaweed, if you like Japanese food or the seaweed wrapping on sushi.
Dairy products are also good sources of iodine, including yogurt and cheese. Whole grains contain iodine, and so do many fruits and vegetables. The amount in fruits and vegetables depends partly on how much was in the soil where they were grown, so it could be higher or lower.
If you want to get it from supplements, talk to your doctor about how much you need, because too much can have different side effects. And iodine supplements can interact with other medications, especially some for blood pressure.
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.