Fish on Friday

There are parts of Europe, Switzerland and Bavaria for example, that are seriously iodine deficient. This used to be a problem. I wonder if fish on Friday ameliorated it: A three-ounce serving size of cod provides your body with 99 micrograms of iodine, or 66% of the recommended amount per day.

Thinking further, it wasn’t just Fridays: there were ~130 days a years when the Catholic Church banned flesh.


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45 Responses to Fish on Friday

  1. Michael Daxhammer says:

    As devout Bavarian Catholics my parents-in-law wouldn’t agree of course. But then again there were younger to middle-aged people with goiters as big as shit in Bavarian villages like in the 80s and 90s with some few exceptions along the Main or Danube with more local fish dishes.

    • j says:

      Inland freshwater fish contains little iodine. Iodine deficiency was severe in the mountains like Bavaria, Upper Austria, Switzerland – high valleys peopled by stereotypical “Cretins of the Alps”. I think the Pope did not cause this disease.

      • Michael Daxhammer says:

        Right, just saying that you didn’t have to go into high mountain villages to see the milder forms of iodine deficiency. Really widespread in Bavaria back than even in Northern parts. At least from what I saw and know of.

      • Michael Daxhammer says:

        Just looked up the German Wiki page for iodine deficiency with pretty surprising result: In Germany iodized salt was available since 1959 but was restricted for indicated medical treatment only until 1981 and was finally allowed as food additive in the food regulation law in 1989. The biggest study so far from Hampel et al (1995) found 72 µg/g iodine/creatinine ratio with deficiency grade 0: 17%; Grade 1: 25%; Grade 2: 17% and Grad 3: 2%. Over 100.000 thyroid surgeries/year until the end of 90s. Later studies from Hampel and Robert-Koch-Institute found much better average iodine excretion but still 27% grade 1 or worse.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      also what may have happened is people were given enough iodine to fix the visible part of iodine deficiency (goiters and obvious cretinism) but that may not be enough to fix less visible effects (slightly to moderately lower IQ).

  2. Michael Daxhammer says:

    And it’s really hard to believe from accounts and history that Bavaria was the poorhouse of Germany after the war receiving big Federal payments. There were rural areas like Upper Palatinate also known as Little or Bavarian Siberia with no road, electricity, sewer and running water up the 70s. Lots of boys in the army that couldn’t read or write. When you look at it now paying for most of other German states including diverse Berlin there had to be some magic dirt at work. Maybe iodine is a part of the story.

    • crew says:

      It’s not magic dirt, it’s magic chemicals.

      Now we know why ss-Africans are so dumb. Not enough magic chemicals. They need iodized salt and they will become rocket surgeons!

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        lack of nutrients needed for brain development will push people below their natural genetic limit whatever that limit might be

    • candid_observer says:

      It may be that the presence of cretinism increased selection for cognitive ability. Simply to maintain viability of the agricultural life these peoples pursued might have required a higher level of cognitive functioning due to genes to compensate for losses due to cretinism.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      maybe – i read somewhere mountainous regions get less iodine from rainfall cos faster runoff plus Bavaria is more inland so may have been more deficient than other regions?

  3. georgioxblog says:

    Beavers are largely extinct in Germany now, cause the Catholic church said Beavers are fish and so they ate them at “no-flesh days”

  4. dearieme says:

    As a youngster on my first trip to Germany (about 1960) I was astonished to see horses and oxen still in use on farms. I had seen only tractors in Britain.

    • Jim says:

      Visit the Amish country in Pennsylvania and you will still see farms being plowed with mules and horse-drawn carriages.

      • dearieme says:

        Fair enough. But I don’t think those Germans were an exotic religious minority.

        • Jim says:

          The Amish actually drive horse-drawn carriages on highways. When I first saw an Amish farmer plowing a field behind a mule I thought I must have gone through a space-time warp into the nineteenth century. Despite (or because of) their low-tech approach to farming their farms are fantastically neat looking. The growing plants are lined up in the fields like a military regiment and all the fences are in perfect condition.

  5. dearieme says:

    Anyway, if the fish-only days helped that would be a wonderful example of a market-rigging policy accidentally doing good.

  6. JRM says:

    “But among them there exists no private and separate land; nor are they permitted to remain more than one year in one place for the purpose of residence. They do not live much on corn, but subsist for the most part on milk and flesh, and are much [engaged] in hunting; which circumstance must, by the nature of their food, and by their daily exercise and the freedom of their life (for having from boyhood been accustomed to no employment, or discipline, they do nothing at all contrary to their inclination), both promote their strength and render them men of vast stature of body”

    So the Germanic tribes practiced an “eat george” strategy.

  7. pyrrhus says:

    I’ve read that 2/3 of the UK is iodine deficient. Whatever happened to iodized salt and multiple vitamins?

    • j says:

      Surprisingly, iodine deficiency is widespread in Europe (and Israel) even today.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        as well as deficiency some things (according to wiki) interfere with iodine as well iirc flouride is one, bromide (in US bread), chloride, lead etc

    • gwern says:

      Iodizing salt worked because it was a marketing gimmick by a few big salt manufacturers at a time where wealth & thus salt consumption was increasing drastically via canned or preserved or prepared foods. Morton’s etc didn’t introduce iodization because they cared about cretinism or that many American cannon fodders couldn’t fit into their uniform’s collars due to goiters, it was just a marketing tactic to label their salt ‘Now Iodized‘! at a time where vitamins were wildly popular because they were being discovered on a practically daily basis and proving to be silver bullets for all sorts of things. Better yet, iodization is dirt cheap, on the order of pennies or a dollar per ton, so the switch was almost free. Thus American salt quickly flipped over to iodized (despite this killing, possibly, dozens or hundreds of iodine-insufficient people through thyroid shock), and other countries have eventually followed, wealth and intelligence and corruption permitting (eg Pakistan, last I heard, is largely uniodized, for reasons similar to the polio problems).

      As it happens, iodine is a silver bullet. Since then, it has become a victim of its own success: iodization is long-since forgotten and boring so now marketing and trendiness has moved towards ‘Himalayan rock sea salt’ (with minimal iodine content and certainly not supplemented, that would be unnatural) so ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’; people have been trying to minimize salt intake and have been moving to upscale food which is fresh or makes a point of using ‘sea salt’, so they’re not getting much iodine there; and the importance has largely been forgotten (when was the last time you saw someone with a goiter? in France or Switzerland or China, there used to be whole villages of cretins), so while iodine hasn’t experienced the perverse backlash & defections of the anti-vaxxers it is generally ignored – women might know they should look into iron supplements, but even pregnant women (where iodine sufficiency is by far the most important, post-natal supplementation of iodine is much less useful) don’t make it a top priority to get a lot of iodine. Hence, population surveys indicate lots of people are iodine-insufficient even in the US or UK where the problem should’ve been permanently solved a century ago.

      • Johnny Caustic says:

        Cardiologist Dr. William Davis mentioned on his blog a few years ago that he had started seeing quite a few patients with goiters in the last few years. They resolve when he puts them on iodine. (I think his practice is in Milwaukee.)

      • Yudi says:

        Where did you learn all this information? Have any books been written about iodization?

        • Reziac says:

          There’s lots of research on the topic, mostly peripheral to thyroid research. (see there The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism) is a good place to start.

          Incidentally, don’t overdo the iodine (eating kelp is overdoing it)… that can blow out your thyroid.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          various NGOs have been running iodine supplement programs in Africa for years but i think people assumed Western countries were fixed ages ago once the visible signs (goiters) were fixed

    • Bob says:

      Interesting, considering that cod and haddock, both high in iodine, are used for fish and chips.

      Does deep frying the fish eliminate the iodine?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      UK didn’t do iodized salt, they added iodine to animal feed so it got into the milk.

      trouble is
      – EU halved the amount allowed to add
      – anti-fat fad put young women off dairy
      – skimmed milk? (dunno where the iodine resides)
      – switch from iodine to chlorine to sterilize dairy equipment

  8. Smithie says:

    Supposedly, a lot of the religious abstentions of meat (at least Lent, Buddhism, and sacred cows) as well as cannibalism (for religious purposes, sometimes) have their origin in scarcity, and, by that logic, 130 days shows some serious scarcity in Medieval Europe.

    Makes me wonder about Sikhs, who I believe, do not have any forbidden meats. Perhaps the lack of prohibition shows their old military prowess.

  9. othmar häle says:

    At least in my area, the border between Austria and Switzerland right at Lake Constance fish was never eaten. Practically nobody could afford meat some 50 years ago, everyone ate riebel (corn meal porridge fried in a pan). Even though meat was not readily available people started eating fish only from the end of the 70´s.

    • dearieme says:

      Lucky you. We ate so much salmon and trout that we got rather fed up with it.

      Happily it turned out that I could enjoy lots of plaice and shrimps, and cod and haddock too. And kippers. I have a soft spot for mackerel. I don’t suppose the Swiss/Austrian border would suit me.

    • j says:

      In Hungary, a coastless country, we had an Admiral but no seafood. Wounds were disinfected with iodine tincture, so we children may have received enough iodine. Is iodine absorbed by the skin? We were little cretins. sure, but nobody noticed.

  10. Greying Wanderer says:

    if i was in my 20s and thinking about an outdoors career that didn’t involve fun stuff like being shot at i’d start a seaweed farm.

  11. Old fogey says:

    Not eating meat was considered to be a penance. It still is to me.

  12. Ben Kurtz says:

    What about the freshwater fishes?

  13. Archandsuperior says:

    Not sure I follow your reasoning. I buy that substituting saltwater fish for meat could prevent iodine deficiency. But throughout most of history, who would be rich enough to even be able to choose? I wouldn’t think that anyone but the very richest few percent would have to agonize over the choice. In a subsistence agriculture economy I would think that the majority of people are eating grain-based gruel most of the time.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Large-scale sea-fishing started around 1000 A.D., and much of Europe switched from fresh to salt-water fish. Mostly cod. I’d guess that ocean-fish catch ( for everybody) was over a quarter million tons. For comparison, net grain output of England in 1300 might have been 1.5 million tons.

      • Archandsuperior says:

        So there was enough decent grub for people to be choosy. I am surprised.

        Hmm, could you compare isotope ratios of skeletons from Lithuania or Scandanavia, where paganism held on for a long time, with isotope ratios from the rest of Europe? Or maybe you wouldn’t have to go that far if the mineral deficiencies leave obvious skeletal traces.

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