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If using salt, use iodised salt

12/2021, 18.03.2021

Although considerable progress has been made in improving iodine supply, many adults and adolescents still consume too little iodine. One of the few sources rich in iodine is iodised table salt.

Since the mid-1980s, iodine intake in Germany has improved through the use of iodised salt. However, current data from the Robert-Koch-Institute (RKI) show that the populations' iodine intake is still not ideal. Almost 30 percent of adults and 44 percent of children are at risk of not consuming enough iodine. A major reason for this could be that too little iodised table salt is used in the food industry. This is suggested by model calculations performed by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "Less salt is good for us, but no iodised salt at all is not," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the BfR. "This principle should apply both in our own kitchens and in food production."

Link to BfR2GO, the BfR’s science magazine (pages 2 and 11): PDF-File (5.4 MB)

According to current data from the RKI's national health surveys, the German population's iodine intake could still be improved. In children and young people, there is even a decreasing trend. For women of childbearing age, the risk of insufficient iodine intake is particularly high. A good iodine supply is particularly crucial for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers because this trace element is important for the child's physical and mental development - even before birth.

In Germany, manufacturers can themselves decide whether to use iodised table salt in their products. A study carried out by the Justus-Liebig-University Giessen indicates that significantly less iodised salt has been used for processed foods in recent years, especially for bread and baked goods. Moreover, the results show that only about 30 percent of industrially and handcrafted products contain iodised salt. However, according to the BfR's model calculations, a good iodine supply is only possible if around 40 percent of these foods are produced with iodised salt.

Iodine is essential and crucial for the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play a key role in controlling metabolism and are necessary for normal growth, bone formation and the development of the nervous system. If too little iodine is ingested over a long period of time, this may lead to hypothyroidism, with symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain and an enlarged thyroid (goitre).

Iodine must be consumed as part of the normal diet. However, since the soil in Germany contains only low amounts of this trace element, the natural iodine concentration of plant-based agricultural products is accordingly low. Only few foods contain the element in relevant quantities. These include sea fish and seafood as well as foods enriched with iodised salt. Those who consciously eat foods containing iodine usually have an adequate iodine intake.

Tips for a good iodine intake:

  • Use iodised salt for cooking and during meals at the table.  
  • Regarding pre-packed foods and ready meals preferably use those that contain "iodised salt" in the list of ingredients.
  • Ask whether iodised salt is contained in loose items such as bread, cheese and sausage.
  • Consume milk and dairy products daily.
  • Consume sea fish once or twice a week.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and German federal states ("Laender") on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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