There are many good reasons to holiday somewhere hot, sunny and by the sea. Here are three: vitamin D, selenium and iodine.
Everyone knows that vitamin D is made by skin in the presence of sunlight, and that deficiency is a serious concern in the UK. Less well known are the worryingly low levels of both selenium and iodine, and the implications of this for health.
There is a very good chance you are deficient in at least one of these minerals, though you wouldn’t know it. Take iodine. This trace element is a component of thyroid hormone, and iodine deficiency is a major cause of hypothyroidism worldwide, with around 2 billion individuals across the globe thought to have insufficient intake. For once, human meddling is not to blame – deficiency was brought about by glaciation during the last Ice Age and soil erosion, resulting in most of the iodine on this planet being washed out to sea. In 2011 the Lancet reported the findings of a study of 664 schoolgirls across the UK. Mild iodine deficiency was found in 51% of those participants, moderate deficiency in 16% and severe deficiency in 1%. The worst affected area was Belfast, where deficiency was prevalent in 85% of participants. Girls were studied because babies in the womb are particularly susceptible to iodine deficiency as it can affect brain development and in severe cases result in cretinism and stunted growth.
Then there is selenium. As far back as 1997, a study in the British Medical Journal claimed it was ‘time to act’ on the worrying depletion of selenium levels in the soil. The dietary intake of selenium in the UK has fallen over the last 25 years and now the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published in 2011, found that the majority of people, across all age groups, had intakes of selenium below recommended levels. Lack of selenium in the diet is linked to cancer (it plays an essential role in the immune system), cardiovascular disease, thyroid disruption and infertility.
The interesting thing about iodine and selenium is that they work together – both these trace elements are required for thyroid function and immune function. Without them, thyroid hormone metabolism is impaired. Both are seriously deficient in the UK population. Both are found in seafood and fish which, oddly, we eat very little of.
So on day 2 of our Puglia food fest, with breakfast and a refreshing swim over, we make tracks to Monopoli, our intended venue for lunch. Monopoli is a stunning port town, and now one of my favourite places in Puglia. And being a fishing village meant only one thing: seafood, my favourite food.
Monopoli has bars and restaurants a-plenty, a great beach, two ports, lovely old white-washed buildings, marbled streets and a charming harbour. Near the harbour was our destination, a restaurant called Il Guazetto. And it was here that we indulged our lust for all things fishy in spectacular fashion. We were by the sea and lord did we intend to make the most of it. For starters we both had insalata di mare – the freshest imaginable seafood salad, consisting of octopus, squid and prawns with a julienne of carrots and fagiolini – thin green beans. There was no going back: continuing with this theme Mr Cross chose, for his second course, zuppa di mare: a euphoria of mussels, clams, oyster, crab, prawn and mormora in a fishy, herby tomato sauce. I did eye this enviously but only until the arrival of my glorious seafood grill, consisting of giant prawns, hake, sea bass and squid. A crisp mixed salad was all that was needed in the way of a side dish.
As you’d expect, everything tasted intensely fresh, and of the sea. What I love about fish is that it is so compatible with human nutritional requirements. Even seaweed gives us vital nutrients. In an earlier form, we humans were sea creatures, so this compatibility is not so surprising. A mix of seafood such as the one we so enjoyed provides protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc and of course generous amounts of iodine and selenium.
Needless to say the rest of the afternoon was spent in a nearby bar, staring silently at the sea and digesting all this lovely food. High protein food fills you up nicely: no evening meal was required.
Zimmermann, M., Jooste, P.L. & Pandav, C. (2008) Iodine deficiency disorders. The Lancet, 372(9645):1251-62.
Vanderpump, M.P.J., Lazurus, J.H., Smyth, P.P. et al (2011) Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross-sectional survey. The Lancet, 377(9782):2007-2012.
Rayman, M.P. (1997) Dietary selenium: Time to act. British Medical Journal, 314:387-88.
Jackson, M.J., Broome, C.S. & McArdle, F. (2003) Marginal dietary selenium intakes in the UK: are there functional consequences? Journal of Nutrition, 133(5) 1557S-1559S.