I thought I was past the part of my pregnancy where I worry about what to eat and onto the part where I worry about what we’re going to do with the kid when she’s out and about. But I just managed to find another source of concern, one I could have allayed easily enough at the beginning: most pregnant women should use iodized salt for cooking and seasoning, and I don’t.
The vast majority Americans are using iodized salt without even thinking about it. We began adding iodine to much of our salt in the 1920s, after the draft during World War I revealed the extent to which hypothyroidism, a result of iodine deficiency, plagued the population. Thanks to the fortified salt the problem all but disappeared, which was an especially happy occurrence for women of childbearing age: hypothyroidism can make it difficult for a woman to conceive, and if she does conceive her baby’s brain development will be more or less severely impaired by her condition.
I came across this fact for the first time last week, and a worried little light bulb went off in my head. I checked the pantry, and sure enough the kosher salt I use for cooking and the shmancy sea salt I use for seasoning are not iodized. I cook almost everything I eat myself, so I wasn’t getting iodized salt from processed food or restaurants. Had I significantly lowered our daughter’s IQ or done even worse with my salt snobbery?
I checked my vitamins. The prenatal multivitamin I take now contains the recommended daily dose of iodine, but the fancier prescription vitamin I took during the all-important first trimester contained no iodine at all. I’m glad I switched, with my doctor’s approval, when we discovered that my insurance did not cover the prescription vitamin. Since there’s still something I don’t quite trust about getting what I need from a pill, I set about reviewing my diet for other potential sources of iodine.
Turning to Dairy for Iodine
Happily, since I’ve been loading up on yogurt, cheese, and milk, it turns out that dairy products are a good source of iodine. Some dairymen feed cows iodine supplements to stave off infection, and udders are usually cleaned with iodine before milking. (What is good for those of us who aren’t getting iodine in our salt may plague others; some studies suggest that adolescent acne can be caused or exacerbated by high levels of iodine in dairy.) Although one study out of Denmark seems to indicate that organic milk contains less iodine than regular, organic dairy products should still contain some iodine, and I haven’t been able to find specific information about the iodine content of organic dairy products in the United States.
Other Sources of Iodine
According to the American Thyroid Association, other common sources of dietary iodine are bread, eggs, saltwater fish, seaweed, shellfish, soy milk, and soy sauce. (Although vegetables grown in the right kind of soil can also be rich in iodine, you will not be surprised to hear that many of the vegetables we eat are grown in overfarmed, mineral-deficient soil.) Since I’ve been eating these things now and then in addition to my daily vitamins and all the dairy I rely on, I’m not too worried about having gotten enough iodine for my baby’s development. Nevertheless, switching to iodized salt when I found out I was expecting would have been easy and reassuring, if I had known to do it.
So I went out and bought a canister of iodized salt. I don’t quite know how to use it yet—the grains are so small and fluid that pinching fingers feel clumsy, I don’t own a salt shaker, and of course the degree of saltiness is different. But I'll get the hang of it soon enough.
About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.