Iodine deficiency is real (three out of four women aren't getting enough), but these simple strategies can help you up your levels.
Over three in four women aren't getting enough of an element that's critical for health, and nutrition-conscious women may be the most at risk.
The element is iodine, a word most women likely know from the classic Morton salt container—iodized salt has long been the primary place people get iodine. Thing is, fit women tend to eat less salt, either intentionally eschewing sodium in a quest for a healthier heart, or simply getting less of the stuff because their diets are largely clean and free of sodium-packed processed foods. Health-conscious women may also be more likely to choose trendy salt—pink Himalayan salt or other fancy options—most of which aren't iodized. Plus, iodine used to be added to flours used to bake commercial products, but most companies have stopped the practice, explains Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., an integrative physician and the author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. "This has cut our iodine intake in half," he says.
This is a big problem. "Low iodine levels will decrease thyroid function, making you feel tired, achy, and foggy," says Dr. Teitelbaum. "Iodine also plays an important role in decreasing breast cancer risk." Low iodine levels can also cause muscle pain, which may impact your ability to work out. So how do you boost levels?
Don't fear salt
The science of salt is infamously fickle. There are studies saying too much sodium increases the risk of heart disease, other studies saying too little can harm the heart, and still others saying there's no connection between the two things at all. Frustrating. But according to Dr. Teitelbaum, fit women tend to have more problems with low blood pressure. "Salt restriction in these cases is a disaster," he says. Unless you have a heart condition (in which case you should talk to your doctor about your salt intake), there's likely no need to intentionally cut back, and adding a dash of iodized salt to your lunchtime salad can also help you get enough sodium and keep your levels of iodine in a healthy zone.
Choose iodine-rich foods
Seaweed, including kelp, pulse, and nori, are all rich in the element, Dr. Teitelbaum says. Luckily, these foods are experiencing a boom right now; it's easy to find dried seaweed "chips" and flakes, and juices with sea greens added. (What are sea vegetables and how do you cook with them?) Cheese, cow's milk, eggs, frozen yogurt (score), ice cream (double score!), saltwater fish, shellfish, soy milk, soy sauce, and yogurt all likely contain it too.
Consider a supplement
The National Institutes of Health recommends that women get 150 mcg of iodine a day, a little more if they're pregnant. But Dr. Teitelbaum says that choosing a supplement or multivitamin with up to 200 mcg is safe. Getting too much iodine can also cause health issues like stomach pain, shortness of breath, and even more serious symptoms, though. So if you eat tons of sea greens and don't shy away from salt, ask your doctor before deciding to supplement.