Iodine: why it’s so important for children

Children who mostly eat natural unsalted foods could be at risk for low iodine levels, which can hinder growth and lead to a lower IQ. Extremely picky eaters and those on restrictive diets are also at risk.

The Background:
For decades, iodine deficiency in children has been viewed as an issue in developing nations because low levels of iodine in the food have contributed to lower IQ levels among children.

Why does iodine matter?
The body needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones, which help regulate growth, metabolism, heart rate, and a host of other vital functions. A lack of iodine can hinder the production of thyroid hormones and lead to hypothyroidism, which can cause problems like weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, tiredness, intolerance to cold, and depression. Iodine deficiency also results in stunted growth, intellectual impairment, and a lower level of intelligence, as measured by IQ.

Who is at risk?
The risk is greatest during a child’s first three years when vital growth and development occurs. Children who only eat vegan food or get a restricted diet for medical reasons may not be getting enough iodine. Highly picky eaters who only consume infant cereal, rice, or bananas could also have that problem. While newborns are often tested for iodine levels as part of their general health screenings shortly after birth, toddlers and young people are not.

Do you season with iodized salt?
In Thai cuisine, for example, salt is often being replaced by fish sauce. While fish sauce contains some iodine, a child would need to consume way too much fish sauce than what’s healthy to get the daily recommended amount. If you compare that with regular iodized salt, where half a teaspoon is plenty, fish sauce is not a good source. In a typical Western diet, iodine is readily found in dairy, bread products, and most processed foods, in addition to the iodized salt seasoning used in most dishes.

How to make sure kids get enough Iodine?
If you think your kids are at risk, speak to your pediatrician. Often, a half-teaspoon of iodized salt per day added to one meal is enough. Natural sources of iodine are seaweed, codfish, commercially produced dairy products, shrimp, tuna, and eggs. At Sprouts, we add iodized salt to our lunches to ensure that the children get enough of this precious salty treat.

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