Published on December 12, 2007
Next time you're at the supermarket, make a point of looking for products containing iodised salt. They're better for you.
More and more local producers are adding iodised salt. Iodine may seem insignificant but not getting enough may lead to health problems, especially in infants.
"Adding iodine to table salt and processed food is how we make iodine more accessible to everyone, especially children," explains Health Department director-general Dr Narongsakdi Aungkasuvapala.
The department has entered into a "gentleman's agreement" with food producers for the addition of iodised salt.
Health officials have been battling for a long time to increase iodine consumption, especially among children in remote North and Northeast areas.
Iodine was added to school drinking water to help raise daily-consumption rates. However, this didn't do the trick. Consumption rates were still inadequate, according to a Public Health Ministry study.
The department finally turned to food producers for help.
A study of pregnant mothers admitted to hospitals in 15 provinces between 2000 and 2005 revealed 33 per cent of mothers showed iodine levels of fewer than 50 micrograms per litre. Another survey this year found 84 per cent of families were not consuming enough.
The recommended daily intake of iodine is 150 micrograms for adults, 100 micrograms for children and 250 microgram for pregnant women - enough for both mother and baby.
Iodine deficiencies during pregnancy and early infancy can result in mental retardation for the child. Such deficiencies can reduce IQ levels by 13 points in children. Low iodine intake in adults can cause reduced energy, numbness, weight gain, forgetfulness and depression.
A new and more practical method is to add iodine to salt, something which goes into every kitchen.
Among food producers adding iodised salt to their goods are Berli Jucker, Thai President Foods and Pepsi-Cola. So, we know some instant noodles, potato crisps and colas contain iodised salt.
The Thai Feed Mill Association and the Livestock Development Department will add iodised salt to animal feed as animals need iodine, too. This, of course, means healthy meat, milk and eggs for human consumption.
This is a good start. But, Prof Creswell Eastman, who has studied iodine deficiencies and promoted its addition to the diet throughout Asia and the Pacific, says more needs to be done.
Iodine must to be added to more food products, such as milk and cheese and cereals and bread, as it is in the West, he says.
"It doesn't change taste or add to the cost," says Pepsi-Cola's research and development director Oraphan Chuklin. From next year, all the company's products will contain iodine.
Department nutrition adviser Dr Sangsom Sinawat says companies not agreeing to help are simply afraid of change.
So the next step is to convince companies, like sauce producers, of the good they could be doing.
Many people in this country don't season food with salt. They use fish, soy or oyster sauces. There are many producers, and a lot is home made.
Some commercial brands add iodine and the department hopes the actions of the bigger brands will encourage smaller producers to follow suit.