Category Archives: fish

iodine-rich foods include shrimp

Do You Need More Iodine?

Iodine is an essential nutrient

In order for your body to keep the thyroid functioning properly while maintaining a healthy metabolism you need iodine. This tiny little gland (located in the neck near the larynx) is part of the endocrine system. It is responsible for producing the hormones that regulate your body’s metabolic rate. It also supports digestive function, heart, muscle, and bone health as well as brain development. The catch is that the body doesn’t make iodine on its own, which means you have to get it through certain foods. Otherwise, you’ll be facing an iodine deficiency, which comes with some undesirable symptoms. So if you want to stay healthy, here’s what you should know about the role of iodine in the body–and how to make sure you get enough of this nutrient.

Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency

First, it’s important to know if you get enough iodine in your diet. Your doctor will be able to test you for iodine deficiency, but you can also pay attention to some telltale signs that you don’t have sufficient iodine in your body. In general, the symptoms all revolve around the thyroid. For example, you might notice goiter, which means your thyroid gland is enlarged.

In addition, if you have an iodine deficiency, you might also have low thyroid levels–or hypothyroidism. The symptoms of this condition include:

  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • muscle weakness
  • weight gain
  • slower heart rate
  • feeling cold (when others feel the temperature is comfortable or even warm)
  • frequent issues with constipation
  • depression

The symptoms of hypothyroidism in children include slow growth and mental delays. 

Best Food Sources of Iodine

You can prevent the symptoms of low iodine by eating foods rich in this nutrient.The ocean has lots of iodine, which means most seafood has it, too. In particular, you can find iodine in tuna, cod, shrimp, and seaweed. Sea salt, however, is not a rich source of iodine. Because of this, you may be tempted to simply use iodized table salt. Unfortunately, this is sodium chloride which has added iodide, not a naturally occurring, most beneficial form. So while it is recommended that you use sea salt rather than iodized table salt you need to be sure to include iodine rich foods in your diet or add it supplementally. 

Iodine-rich foods include:

  • sea vegetables (kombu, wakame, nori, dulse)
  • fish/seafood (tuna, cod, shrimp)
  • turkey breast
  • navy beans
  • yogurt
  • raw milk
  • eggs
  • potato (with the peel).

It is important to choose the best quality of these items possible in order to support optimal health. Remember to choose organic, pasture-raised, or free-range if possible to avoid added hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and genetically modified animal feed.

Household Exposures That Block Iodine

Another fact to consider is the role of halogens in the body. Halogens are a group of five chemically similar elements, including chlorine, bromine, astatine, fluorine, and iodine. However, since halogens are so alike chemically, they actually compete with each other in the body, which means they can block your body’s ability to absorb the iodine you get from food. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you get enough iodine and not too high a dose of the other halogens.

If you live in an area with city water you are being exposed to chlorine and fluorine through your water. These halogens compete with iodine for receptor sites on the thyroid. In order to remove chlorine and fluorine in your cooking, drinking, and bathing water you can add filters to your home* including showerhead and bathtub tap filters.

At Home Iodine Test

Now that you know how important iodine is you may be wondering if you have enough in your system (especially if you’re not eating iodine rich foods in your diet). One way to determine what your levels are is to do Iodine Patch Test:

  1. Begin in the morning after showering
  2. Using 2% Tincture of Iodine (easily available at drugstore) paint a 2” x 2” patch on the lower belly or upper thigh
  3. Note the time you painted the patch
  4. Observe the patch over the next 24 hours and record the following
    When the patch begins to lighten: _______ AM / PM
    When the patch disappears completely: ________ AM / PM
    Any description of the patch after 24 hours

The faster the patch disappears the higher your need for iodine is likely to be.

If the patch begins to slightly lighten after 24 hours this is considered a normal result.

If the patch disappears or almost disappears in under 24 hours you would want to increase iodine-rich foods and possibly consider adding supplemental iodine. You are encouraged to talk with a healthcare provider about your iodine levels and how much you need.

Clearly, we all need sufficient levels of iodine in order to stay healthy. Now that you know how to determine if your levels are low, consider eating more iodine-rich foods to make sure you’re not missing out on this important nutrient.





Your Food – Fortified With Fish


As the Food Ingredient Guru I advocate reading the food label.  It’s your best line of defense against all of the chemical cr@p that manufacturers insist in stuffing into your food.  If you or someone in your family has a food allergy it becomes imperative that you read the label because you need to pay attention to those ingredients that may cause a serious or life threatening reaction.

In my case it’s fish and seafood.  For me it’s not just a food intolerance (sometimes called a food sensitivity).  It’s an actual full-blown food allergy.  I have an epi-pen.  And as much as I advocate and believe in the power of fish oil for health, I can’t take it myself.

While fish itself is generally easy to avoid sometimes it gets added to food under the guise of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.  Now we’ve all heard that omega-3s are good for us (they are) and that we don’t get enough of them (most of us don’t).  Manufacturers want to capitalize on this and they add omega-3s to the food, fortifying it*, and displaying this information in big bold letters on the front of the package.  But that’s not the whole story.

There are three different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids.  ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  ALA comes from plant sources, such as flax, olive oil, walnuts, and soy.  EPA and DHA come from fish, with the best sources being cold water fatty fish like sardines and salmon.

Omega-3 fortified products can include milk, yogurt, eggs, juices, bread products, baby food, peanut butter, protein bars, protein shakes, and more.  While ALA, or vegetable-sourced omega 3s, are cheaper, that doesn’t always mean that that’s what the manufacturers are using in their food.

Recently I was doing in a client’s pantry and came across this jar of peanut butter.  Looking at the label we can see that the omega-3 was is from fish (because is says DHA and EPA on the front).  In the ingredient panel (sorry for the fuzzy photo) it lists anchovy and sardine oils as well as tilapia gelatin.  I’m not sure why the tilapia gelatin is there except for some sort of binder, but as a source of omega-3 it’s not a great one.  For someone with a food allergy the difference between vegetarian and animal sources of omega-3 could potentially be huge.

It is also important to note that farm raised fish, such as tilapia, have been shown to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids.  We already get too many of these in our modern diet and they’re known to be more detrimental to cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.  This is because farm raised fish are eating corn and soy (both probably genetically modified by the way) instead of beneficial algae.  When fish eat algae they can convert it into the omega-3 fatty acids we need.  When they eat corn and soy they can’t and so wind up with the higher omega-6 levels.


Another issue to be aware of is that when we add omega-3s to our food by fortifying it, studies appear to show that the fortified versions don’t have the same beneficial effect as the original, whole food source.  Additionally, the amount of omega-3s in fortified foods may not reach the levels needed to truly have a beneficial effect on your health.  Once again, manufacturers are capitalizing on buzz words and media focus to add something to their food products in an attempt to convince you to buy.  Unfortunately it may not provide the health benefits that you think it will.

The solution?  Stay informed, read the label, and eat real food.

*Quick reminder:  Fortified foods are those that have an added substance that was never in there to begin with (like omega 3s in peanut butter).  Enriched foods are those that have ingredients removed during processing added back (usually chemically synthesized versions).

September - cholesterol awareness month

September Is Cholesterol Awareness Month – Part 2

More about cholesterol

In part one of this series of articles for Cholesterol Awareness Month, we learned some of the important facts that we need to know about cholesterol and how it can affect our health.  In part two we’re going to learn about some healthy foods to add to the diet which can help to reduce cholesterol and support better overall health.

Good for you food choices

Let’s start by remembering that if a label says the product is low-fat or fat-free this often means it’s been adulterated with chemicals that are probably not good for your health.  For optimal health it’s important to avoid a highly processed SAD (Standard American Diet) plan and instead eat real, whole foods which are delicious as well as nutritious.

Omega 3 fatty acids

These are excellent for heart health.  Unfortunately our modern diet tends to be very high in omega 6s and does not include nearly enough omega 3s 

  • cold water fatty fish – such as salmon, tuna, and sardines,
  • walnuts
  • flax seeds


Adding fiber to your diet is a great idea not only for cardiac health but also for gut health.  Helping to form bulk for your stools it also provides prebiotics, the food that the probiotics in your gut need to live.  

  • Whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, oatmeal (old fashioned rolled oats, oat groats, or steel-cut, NOT instant)
  • Legumes – beans, lentils, chickpeas

Note: if you’re not used to eating fiber start slow as too much can cause intestinal distress.  

Olive oil 

A delicious way to cook, dress salads, or create a dipping sauce, olive oil is a heart-healthy food that you want to make sure is part of your pantry.  Be sure to choose extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil as many “light” olive oils are highly processed and don’t have the same benefits.


Sadly these days most people think that salad counts as a vegetable.  But what they’re really eating is nutritionally deficient iceberg lettuce with a few pieces of other vegetables, croutons, candy-coated nuts or dried fruit, and drowned in chemically laden, high-calorie dressing.  

If you’re going to have some vegetables why not have a real vegetable packed with nutrients.   Colorful, tasty, and good-for-you.

  • avocados (high in monounsaturated fats)
  • brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts(high in fiber and phytonutrients)
  • tomatoes (lycopene is great for reducing LDL)
  • sweet potatoes (high in beta-carotene and fiber)


Found in a number of delicious foods this category of antioxidants is highly supportive of heart health and a very delicious way to support lowering your cholesterol.  

  • Green tea
  • red wine
  • grape juice
  • cocoa products (such as dark chocolate or cocoa powder) – due to caffeine and/or sugars these need to be eaten in moderation

How much to eat

The following are appropriate serving sizes for the foods referenced above. Food journaling is a good way to monitor how much and when you are eating so you can build your nutritional plan to incorporate more of these foods:

Protein – 6-8 ounces of animal protein / 12-24 ounces of vegetable protein
Leafy Greens – 3-4 cups per day
Colorful veggies – 2-3 cups per day
Complex Carbs – .5-1.5 whole grains / 2-3 medium root vegetables
Fruit – .5-1.5 cups
Booster foods – 2-4 tablespoons (seaweeds, greens powders, nutritional yeast, seeds, spices, and herbs)
Liquids – 1-3 cups per day (nourishing broth, green tea)

note: 3 tablespoons = 1 teaspoon

Check out Part Three – heart-healthy recipes.

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On My Mind Monday 04.22.13

on my mind -- what's in the news

It’s never the same two weeks in a row. A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health. Here’s what’s on my mind.

Potato chips are addictive – We’ve all seen the ad that promises, “Bet you can’t eat just one.”  Now it turns out that there may be something to it.  A new study scanned the brains of mice while they ate different foods including potato chips as a means of understanding why people overeat, especially on snack foods.  It turns out that even though the mice consumed chow with the same caloric and fat content as chips, when they ate the chips they engaged in hyperphagia.  This is a state where the subject gorges, or over consumes, past the point of satiety.  The study found that, “chronic intake of a high-fat diet decreases the rewarding effect of food, leading to disorganization of the feeding pattern which eventually results in overweight.”  Furthermore, it appeared that eating potato chips (and, the resultant overfeeding behavior) was correlated with a reduction in brain activity as related to sleep.

Cook Your Cupboard – A new project by NPR that seeks to help people who are on pantry overload.  You know…those oddball jars you bought in a moment of inspired indecision at the ethnic market.  Or that strangely eclectic gift basket you received for on occasion or another and there are  a few stragglers left over.  Now you can plan the online version of Chopped in your home with your own basket of goodies.  [ed. note: before you use them be sure to #ReadTheLabel.]

 Bluefin Tuna Almost Extinct  – Overfishing, illegal fishing, and the rise of sushi have contributed to the severe reduction in population numbers of Bluefin Tuna in the Pacific Northwest.  If we are to stop destroying species we need to be more mindful of our impact on our environment.  If you eat fish consider downloading the Seafood Watch App from Monterey Bay Aquarium which will help you make ocean friendly choices for seafood and sushi.

Speaking of Sushi – Many people around the world eat bugs. Oddly enough when we look at the global map of entomophagy we see that it mostly occurs in the southern hemisphere. There have been an increasing number of articles about eating bugs and how they are more environmentally friendly to raise, a more concentrated source of protein, a better use of resources, and pound-for-pound, an inexpensive source of food.  Now a young group of entrepreneurs has come up with the idea of repackaging various insects into a more sushi-looking form to sidestep the squeamishness many people face when seeing something on their plate with legs, wings and antennae.  While not an acceptable food source for those who are vegetarian, vegan, or kosher, it will be interesting to see if this concept takes off.

Pruning tomatoes, cucumbers and melons = this video clearly shows and explains how and why to prune for best results in the garden.  If you haven’t started your vegetable garden it’s not too late, this is a great time of year and when you’re enjoying the bounty of the season you’ll be glad you planted food.

We have a rather challenging situation in our back yard with a lot of shade, sunny areas that have, in years past, burned the plants once they get to a certain point in the season, and several pine trees that make for very acidic soil.  So this year I’m trying an experiment and growing  my tomatoes in pots.  This will give me the flexibility to move them around and find just the right location as well as having better control of the soil.

Need help figuring out how to clean out and clean up YOUR pantry?
Schedule a Pantry Party with Mira.

photo: alvimann

On My Mind Monday 10.8.12

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

MSG Wastewater As Fertilizer – I was stunned recently when I read that the wastewater from MSG production could be used as a fertilizer for corn.  Knowing how bad MSG is for human consumption it is startling to realize that it may be creeping into our diet in other ways.  I have as yet been unable to determine if it is allowable for use on organic corn.

Eat Fish Low In Mercury for Heart Health – We all know we’re supposed to eat more fish.  It’s good for our heart, it’s good for overall health.  But fish, especially some of the larger fish like shark, king mackerel, and swordfish, tend to be high in mercury which we need to avoid.  Check out the Food and Water Watch Seafood Guide for tips about making healthier seafood choices.

Here’s a cartoon that I find amusing about this issue (with thanks to The Deconstructionist Zone):

Differences in taste sensitivity – According to this article obese children and adolescents have less taste sensitivity which can lead to obesity.  This is the exact opposite of other research which shows that those who have more or highly sensitive tastebuds, supertasters, can be obese.  While this is confusing it does show that how we taste can have an effect on our ability to enjoy our food and ultimately on our weight.  But enjoyment of food is, and should be, about more than just taste.  Learning to enjoy the smell, the setting, the textures, the experience of our food is important.  Learning to eat mindfully is a habit we should cultivate.

Berries can slow cognitive decline – Apparently eating between one half to one cup of berries per week over an extended period of time (up to 2.5 years in the study) appear to have a positive effect.  This is believed to be attributable to the anthocyanins.  Whatever the reason, it’s delicious and easy to do.  Just be sure to choose organic blueberries and strawberries whenever possible to avoid pesticides.

What I’m Reading:

The Winky-Eyed Jesus and Other Undescribables – Scott Wayland’s entertaining description of his cross country human-powered recumbent bicycle journey across the United States.

But I Need Milk For Calcium, Don’t I?

I have some clients who need to avoid dairy products.  Invariably when they find this out their first question is “Don’t I have to drink milk to get calcium?” or “But how will I get my calcium?”

Calcium is important in the diet, not only for healthy bones and teeth, but also to support nerve and muscle health as well as for blood clotting.  However it doesn’t just come from cows (or goats or sheep or camels or any other milk giving mammal).

Most people think calcium is synonymous with milk.  They’ve been so sold by the Milk Producers Federation that they feel they’ve gotta “get milk.”  However, milk, and other dairy products, are not the only way to add calcium to the diet.

For those who can’t drink milk there are alternatives such as almond, soy, oat, hemp, and rice.  And while the calcium and protein content of alternative milks vary (and is mostly added) it’s important to remember that there are ways to get calcium without drinking milk, eating other dairy products, or drinking alternative milks.

As a means of comparison, whole milk provides 110 mg of calcium per 100 gram serving.

Other sources of calcium include:

sesame seeds – 989 mg per 100 g
sardines – 382 mg per 100 g
almonds – 266 mg per 100 g
flax seeds – 255 mg per 100 g
turnip greens – 190 mg per 100 g
brazil nuts – 160 mg per 100 g
collard greens – 140 mg per 100 g
spinach – 99 mg per 100 g

photo: Stefan Kühn


Pacific threadfins in cage | photo: Haplochromis

A recent article on NPR spoke about some of the challenges facing the idea of acquaculture – in other words, farming fish.  As our appetite for fish grows it creates a market for those who want to sell it.  However producers want to sell their product the fastest, most efficient way possible at the highest possible profit.  That means starting to tinker with the food chain.

Leaving aside the issue of the horror of GMO fish here are some objections to what appears to be happening in aquaculture.  It is important to start by pointing out that this is not to oppose sustainable aquaculture;  where fish are grown in an environment that allows them to flourish symbiotically with plants, insects, other fish and aquatic life.  The objection is to the concept of huge aqua-farms; the marine equivalent of confined feedlot operations for meat animals.  The animals are fed the cheapest, most efficient product to make them get fat faster so they can be sold quickly thereby increasing profit.  No real effort is made to raise the animal humanely or sustainably, just profitably.

  1. A direct quote from the article says, “A salmon gets more nutrients from a fish in the wild than it would eating something else.”  Well that certainly makes sense.  So why would we want to feed them anything else?
  2. [Scientists] are looking into new fish feed using renewable sources, such as biofuel co-products, poultry by-products, soybeans and so on.”  Excuse me?  First, go back and read statement one above.  Then stop and think about what this says.  Biofuel co-products?  These are already fed to cattle contributing to their ill health.  And when they try to feed it to pigs the pigs don’t like it.  Poultry by-products?  As far as I know poultry is not fish and I do not believe that fish should eat poultry guts, bones, skin, and feathers all mulched up into some sort of gloppy muck and then dried into pellets.  And the concept of feeding animals not fit for human consumption to other animals makes no sense either if the animal you are feeding it to will eventually be consumed. Soybeans?  We eat too many of them as it is in this country and the vast majority of what we eat is contaminated by GMO.  This doesn’t even begin to take into consideration those people who are allergic to soy.  They may quite possibly now be allergic to farmed fish which I’m sure is not going to be labeled ‘this fish was fed soy.’  And so on is another statement that bothers me; it is such a blanket, open ended concept that there’s no telling what they’ll decide to feed the fish.  As long as it’s cheap and makes profit I am sure it will somehow be deemed appropriate to feed to the fish.
  3. One of the challenges [they] face is getting a fish to eat something unfamiliar.” Then why do it?  I don’t think it’s healthy for the fish.  And if it’s not healthy for the fish, ultimately it will not be healthy for us.  There is lots of evidence showing that grass fed is healthier both for cows that are raised that way and for those who eat those cows.  But in this country we persist in raising corn-fed beef, creating unhealthy fatty cows that we then slaughter and eat.  Now we want to do this with fish which is touted as a heart-healthy food?  I do not believe it will be as healthy a food after it has been force fed an unnatural diet.
If you eat seafood you want to print out a copy of the Seafood Watch created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; it lets you know which fish were raised in an environmentally friendly manner.