Salt Sea or Iodized Table Salt: Why should we use iodized salt?

Is sea salt a healthier choice than iodized salt?

I've read many articles recently extolling the virtues of Sea Salt, and claiming for a variety of reasons, that Sea Salt is a healthier choice then plain old iodized salt. Sea salt does have a larger crystal, and sits on the surface of the food This can make your food seem saltier at first, because you taste the salt sooner, and may, in fact, encourage you to eat less salt.

This theory only applies to salt added after cooking, though. A teaspoon of salt is still a teaspoon of salt, regardless of it's origins, and whether it has been iodized or is natural or flavored sea salt. I agree wholeheartedly that cutting down our salt intake is a healthy choice, but claiming that one salt is healthier than another requires some research.

Raw Sea Salt

Raw Sea Salt from alibaba.com
Raw Sea Salt from alibaba.com

What is iodine, and where does it come from?

Iodine is an element in family of chemicals called halogens, which readily combine with other elements to form salts.

At room temperature, iodine is a shiny, black, nonmetallic crystal. When heated, Iodine becomes a violet-colored mist with an odor similar to chlorine. Pure Iodine is toxic, but dissolved in alcohol (tincture of iodine), it is commonly used as an antiseptic.

Iodine occurs in a compound form, most commonly potassium iodide, and is found in seawater, soil, and rocks. In Chile, the world's largest producer of commercial iodine, it is found as sodium iodate, a naturally-occurring impurity in sodium nitrate deposits.

Iodine also occurs naturally in some foods - kelp, and salt-water fish and shellfish. Milk, egg yolks, watercress, and some fruits also contain small amounts of iodine.

A markerAguas Blancas Iodine Mines, Antofagasta, Chile -
Aguas Blancas, Antofagasta, Antofagasta Region, Chile
[get directions]

Why is iodine added to salt?

The short answer, is that iodine prevents goiter - an unsightly and painful swelling of the throat and neck caused by nodules in the thyroid gland - but how did iodine come to be added to table salt?

What causes Goiter?

Goiter can be caused by over-production of thyroid hormone, as in Grave's disease. Hashimoto's disease, which causes the thyroid gland to produce too little hormone, also causes goiter. Goiter is most commonly caused, though, by a lack of iodine in the diet.

Most plants and animals require a small amount of iodine for normal growth. Man and other mammals concentrate iodine in the thyroid gland, where it helps regulate the metabolism. Without enough iodine, a person's growth may be stunted, and they are at risk of developing goiters.

Treatment of Goiter

Goiter has been with us for as long as diseases have been recorded in history. The ancient Chinese were the first to find an effective treatment, using kelp (seaweed) and burnt sea-sponge. Though no-one understood how kelp and sea sponges cured these swellings, the practice was well established by the Middle Ages.

This treatment was so effective, it gradually made its way to every country where people were affected by goiter.

In the 1800s, goiter was a common ailment, sometimes referred to as a "poor man's disease," as it occurred frequently in poorer areas, and was thought to be linked to poor diet or bad water. Goiter was most common in women and children, especially pregnant women. In extreme cases, very large swellings could make swallowing and even breathing very difficult for the sufferer.

The development of better antiseptics and anesthetics in the 1800s led to surgical treatment of goiter. At first, surgeons removed the whole thyroid gland with, as they soon discovered, disastrous results. The patients survived, but removing the whole gland led to extreme drying of the skin, hair loss, premature aging, depression, and rapid weight gain.

These side effects led surgeons to attempt removing only the nodules that invaded the thyroid gland. They were sometimes unable to save the whole gland, but even a partial gland enabled the patient to make a full recovery.

Science paves the way for the prevention of goiter

  • In 1814 J. J. Colin discovered that iodine reacts with starch, producing a brilliant blue color, allowing iodine to be detected in minute quantities.
  • In 1819, Jean-Baptiste Dumas proved that the sea-sponges used to treat goiter contained iodine.
  • By 1820, iodine had been discovered in kelp.
  • In the mid-1800s, French chemist, Jean Boussingault, suggested that iodine compounds might be used to cure goiter after a young doctor asked him to analyze samples of salts used by South American Indians to treat goiter, and Boussingault found iodine in the salts.
  • Despite these advances, goiters were still epidemic in areas where the soil was lacking in key minerals. Without iodine in the soil, it never enters the food chain and therefore never enters the human body.
  • Though the search for a cure continued, researchers and doctors began to look for cost-effective ways to prevent goiter. The solution seems obvious now - to prevent goiter, a way needed to be found to introduce iodine into everyone's diet. The mechanism for delivery took a while longer to be discovered, though.
  • David Marine, a pathologist from Johns Hopkins who was interested in goiters, revived French chemist Jean Baptiste Boussingault's ideas. Boussingault had noticed in the 1830s that goiters simply did not occur in areas where people used crude sea salt that was naturally rich in iodine.
  • As almost everyone had at least a modicum of table salt in their diets. Since the amount of iodine needed to prevent goiters was so tiny, Marine reasoned that adding iodine to table salt would be a perfect solution - cost effective and efficient.
  • In 1924, Dr. David Cowie, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan, enlisted the American salt manufacturers to introduce iodized salt, effectively eliminating goiter in North America, and preventing all other symptoms of iodine deficiency.

Is Sea Salt better than iodized table salt?

Today, the conditions that cause goiter - the lack of iodine in the soil, or lack of access to a marine-based iodine-rich diet - have been negated by the simple introduction of iodized table salt.

We still need to avoid processed foods. They are high in sodium to which, interestingly, no iodine has been added. Iodine is only required to be added to table salt.

Any virtue Sea Salt may have, beyond its obvious cachet as a "natural" product, hinges on its iodine content. Some forms of raw sea salt are iodine rich, and these should be chosen above all others. Fancy, flavored salts and exotic "designer" salts may add piquancy to our food, but unless they add necessary iodine to our diets, they are a far less health-conscious choice than plain table salt, regardless of how much they cost, or how much or little we use.

Do you prefer sea salt or Iodized salt

  • Natural all the way! I prefer sea salt
  • I use iodized salt.
  • I believe there's a place for both - I use both iodized salt and sea salt
See results without voting

© 2011 RedElf

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23 comments

Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 5 years ago from Canada's 'California'

Another great subject, and one that we should review again! The last time I read about iodine was in school LOL!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

This is a really interesting hub. I was kind of skeptical about sea salt and its health benefits. I mean, salt is salt and too much is bad for you. I think I will continue using regular salt now. Thanks!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much, Enelle. It's always good to review essential health info.

Iodine rich is the key, Jeannieinabottle :D ...and it is good to be skeptical. Also why pay so much for fancy stuff when the regular is just as good?


tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA

This was an interesting look at salt. I have often wondered why there was such a fuss in the first place. Thanks for clearing that up. Great hub!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much, tl - I think a lot of it is hype and salesmanship, but some of the exotic ones are quite tasty. Watch out for the iodine content, though :D


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I always use iodine salt because I have a bit a problem with my thyroids. This was a very explicit hub and very interesting, especially to me. Thank you.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Hi RedElf - good hub. I use Cornish Sea Salt over here as it is local and coming directly from the sea it has naturally occurring iodine in it. It may cost a little more and seem a bit overhyped but every body needs iodine so it makes sense.

We all need to look after our bodies and the best way to do that is with the right fuel ... i.e. the right food. But of course, everything in moderation.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Hi Elle (RedElf) - Enjoyed this article comparing sea salt and iodized table salt. Caused me to once again look up info on one of our "old" medical staples we became familiar with in the nuclear medical business - "Lugol's Solution," long a common anti-microbial and anti-fungal. We used to keep it around for use as a thyroid gland radioactive iodine uptake blocker. Thanks for a fun article.

Gus :-)))


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Greetings, friend Hh, though I drastically reduced my salt intake MANY years ago while pregnant with my son, I seem to be getting enough iodine to keep my thyroid balanced. You are most welcome!


Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 5 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

elf, great info on salt. I thought I was doing better using sea salt. Now I know

Tina


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks, Angie - buying local is always best, and iodine rich sea salt is wonderful - lucky you!

Gus, you have lived in some interesting times :D Happy to have piqued your interest. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

Granny's House, as long as the salt is iodized, you golden! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.


kenneth3watson profile image

kenneth3watson 5 years ago from Washington, USA

I think people should understand the importance of iodized salt, so they can secure their own health and others.


Albert Street profile image

Albert Street 5 years ago from Northern USA

Very Interesting article. I always wondered why Iodine has been added to salt. This was very informative information. I enjoyed reading about your research.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Albert Street, I read about goiter as a child. My granny was a nurse, and she had experience of the condition, coming from England. Fascinating story, isn't it.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Hi, kenneth3watson. I'm with you on that!


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

Thank you for this informative hub. It was very interesting to read, especially since I had read a book that criticized iodine, calling it dangerous. Now I understand the good intentions of those who decided it should be put into table salt. :)


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Yes, Silver Poet, it was an inexpensive and effective way to administer the MINISCULE and safe amount of iodine needed to prevent goiter in those whose diet did not contain enough iodine. As long as one gets enough from other sources, it is perfectly sensible to choose a non-iodized salt.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

I got on sea salt years ago and someone acted as if it was a miracle cure which it isn't but I do like it best, the course type, although I have both. The course since I watch my salt has like a burst flavor to the tongue and I don't cook with it and if any just sprinkle over food needing it. I read there is enough iodine from salts they put in everything, canned and frozen foods and I mean everything, already, so we have no fear there I am sure. Good for all to know, my grandmother had a horrible looking neck from removed goiters


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

They can leave terrible scars, Jackie. Actually many foods with added salt do not use iodized salt, but some do. It's good to have alternative, natural sources, and some sea salts are naturally iodized - which is very nice.


fit2day profile image

fit2day 5 years ago

I remember having a psychology class and hearing about goiters, those things are horrendous. I personally use sea salt, simply because I have a huge container of it and don't use it nearly as much.

I would say that sea salt is over-hyped to the point that many companies process it just like regular salt and at the end of the day, too much salt is too much salt.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

You got that right, fit2day - too much salt is too much salt.


butterflystar profile image

butterflystar 5 years ago from A Place of Success :)

Great Hub! I usually buy sea salt, but I supplement with Kelp a natural form of iodine, only thing is you have to be careful not to have to much iodine because your thyroid gets over active.. from my experience :)


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks for that insight, butterflystar! Always good to know about a potential downside.

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