by F. Abeku Adams

Consistently, Ghanaians (Africans) have been told at different times in history that certain foods which were hitherto ‘traditional’ delicacies were not to be taken again for health reasons. We would then impulsively jump to the ‘good news’, stop consuming them and will subsequently kill the local industries whose survival depend on the production of such foods.

One typical example was the Coconut Oil issue, locally called ‘Kube angoa’. We were told the oil caused a number of health complications and must not be eaten. So Ghanaians, led by our health officers, ‘demonised’ the oil and successfully killed that erstwhile booming oil industry on which the economy of the Nzima people in the Western Region depended.

Over a decade after, research brought out the information that in fact the Coconut Oil rather has numerous health benefits, including the potency to fight cancer!

The collapse of the oil industry meant the rise in the consumption and the profits of frytol, dinor, Vega, and all the other oil brands imported or produced in Ghana by expatriates-owned companies.

Then again, some new campaign was launched not quite long about something called ‘IODINE’. It is now raging on that salt extracted from the sea must not be eaten until something called ‘iodine’ is added and that the absence of this abstract thing causes goitre -a thyroid gland functioning defect.

Again, all Ghanaians, led by our seemingly ‘zombish’ Ministry of Health, have stopped eating what is now derogatorily called ‘Raw Salt’. But I have my doubts, my suspicion and argument about this issue of Iodine-salt-goitre.

In fact I smell an economic conspiracy to cripple Ghanaian (African) local industries to eliminated competition to foreign goods and Ghanaians are being used without them knowing.

Firstly, I doubt the argument that salt from the sea lacks Iodine. For centuries, African cities and states have existed along the entire coastline of the continent and salt has been an essential component of their diets.

In the then Gold Coast (now Ghana), when the first merchant navigators led by Don Diego de Azambuja, arrived from Portugal in about 1471 at Elmina, the historical records has it that there existed a vibrant salt trade involving a number of Africa groups like the Eguafo, Etsifo, Fantsefo, and even the Mande People from Burkina and Mali.

In fact, some oral traditions have it that the present-day Akyenfo (Saltpond) in the Central Region of Ghana got its name from “nkyen” (salt) which was the primary trade commodity of the people.

So “Akyenfo” according to one bloc of historians means “the salt producers or salt traders” (there is however another bloc that traces it to the Akyem People).

Notwithstanding the diverse views, it is historical that Saltpond had been a major salt-producing centre in time past.

So the point is, from Keta to Axim, Ghanaians have been eating ‘raw salt’ for Centuries and if the salt truly lacks Iodine and thus causes goitre, then there must be some indicators -some empirical evidence on the ground. In science, the basic principle is that to prove something, a procedure must be laid down and followed.

And for the conclusion of Scientist A to be accepted as true, Scientist B must be able to reach the same conclusion if he uses the same procedure used by Scientist A or any other researcher thousands of miles away of hundreds of years after.

That is if a scientist in Makola in Ghana uses procedure 1234 ten years ago to reach conclusion Q, a scientist in Iceland must also be able to reach conclusion Q by the same procedure 1234 for conclusion Q to be accepted as universally true.

So, if the salt we have been eating for centuries lacks Iodine, then the best guinea pigs for the research on goitre must be the coastal dwellers from Keta to Axim like me (Cape Coaster).

For example, If anyone randomly picks ten people from Cape Coast, Elmina, Keta, Sekondi, Anomabo or Axim, a sizable number of the ten people must show signs of goitre (at least one person) to be able to build a premise that there must be something that these people are consuming in common that lacks iodine and hence the health defect before any scientific theory can be built.

the prevalence of goitre

Or as you walk through the streets of Cape Coast the prevalence of goitre must be evident. But I have lived virtually all my life in Cape Coast and hardly do I see these people with goitre in Elmina where salt production and consumption have been for centuries. (How many people have you seen with goitre so far in Cape Coast?)

Thus, in the test tube of common sense, there are questions to be asked about this farce about Iodine fairytale. Goitre “a disease of the thyroid gland is a condition which causes swelling at the back [and front] of the neck. The size of the swelling ranges from being very small to a visible one.

It might turn out to be a very large one.” Causes of Goitre include Iodine deficiency, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, Multinodular goiter, Solitary thyroid nodules, Thyroid cancer, Pregnancy, Inflammation of thyroid, Certain foods – e.g. turnips, Thyroid cyst etc.

The symptoms include a visible swelling at the base of your neck, Emotional problems, Loss of concentration, Irritability, Depression, a tight feeling in throat, Coughing, Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, difficult breathing etc. Iodine Deficiency (that is if there is anything like that in the world) is thus just one of the causes of goitre and NOT “The Cause”.

Again, the sources of Iodine include Sea vegetables, Yogurt, cow milk, egg, strawberries, Mozzarella cheese, Fish and Shellfish. In fact, according to experts, “sea vegetables are an excellent source of iodine”.

This brings up another big question. If fish, shellfish and Sea vegetables are “an excellent source of iodine” then how then could salt from the same sea which is the source of life to the fish and the sea vegetable lack Iodine?

Let me bring this argument low: provided you are cooking and you put crab and fish in the soup on fire then after 30 minutes of boiling I come, fetch out the fish from the soup with ladle and tell you the tomato and the other ingredients did not enter the fish so only the crab has the taste of tomato.

How would you receive it? So, how could fish and shellfish from the sea be rich in iodine and the salt produced from the sea water itself lack it? The sea, from my deduction, is thus an ocean of iodine and swimming in it can even boost the iodine presence in humans.

In fact, other researches indicate that the water we drink even contains some small amount of iodine. The vegetables like ‘Kontomire’ and the cereals like sorghum we eat everyday contribute some amount of iodine. So in real essence we hardly lack iodine in our body as Africans so goitre in Africa might be caused by some other factors except iodine deficiency.

Remember there are so far ten causes and iodine deficiency is just one and the fact that iodine deficiency causes goitre in the temperate does not mean salt in Africa also lacks iodine.

We should not forget that salt production in Africa is mostly done the natural way and due to the absence of high temperature in the temperate salt, if must be produced, must be done the artificial way which could lead to the lost of iodine.

So if someone eats salt produced in Canada and gets goitre, it cannot be the same in Ghana. What disturbs me is the disproportional emphasis placed on salt to the neglect of the other factors.

The argument is that salt gets easily absorbed into the blood stream but I think this excuse is a nonstarter.

From my small observation I have realised goitre is prevalent in women (In fact I am yet to see a man with goitre) so the other causes of goitre like pregnancy and depression must be researched further and solution found.

It is obvious mankind is getting obsessively over indulgent with chemicals and it is never safe to take in chemicals.

What we are not being told is the truth that “accidental overdose of iodine from medications or supplement in amounts exceeding one gram may cause burning in the mouth, throat (sore throat) and stomach and/or abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dirarrhea, weak pulse and coma.”

Revelatory is the fact that “in certain circumstances, excessive consumption of iodine can actually inhibit the synthesis of the thyroid hormones, thereby leading to the development of goitre and hypothyroid…papillary cancer and iodermia ( a serious skin reaction)” -iodine itself causes goitre!

So on the contrary, the so-called iodated salt we are being compelled to consume is actually poisonous with serious health threats. Professional doctors even make the mistakes of leaving surgical cutleries in the stomach of patients so the probability of those adding iodine to the salt overdosing it and rather causing more health complications is high.

iodine from food sources

However, “it is difficult to take in too much iodine from food sources alone” like raw ‘unchemicalised’ sea salt like the one from Keta, Saltpond, Elmina and other places.

One renowned Gold Coast writer, Kobina Sekyi in his hilarious comedy, “The Blinkards”, says “to be educated to the natural way of living is a blessing”. Let us stick to our natural way of living when it comes to food and save ourselves the health hazards.

I thus, from my research and observations, consider the campaign for the so-called “iodated salt” as an attack on the local salt industry -an economic conspiracy to enable the centralisation and monopolisation of the salt profit in the hands of the few rich business men.

Let me use a simple illustration to try to make you get what I am saying;

• Provided in the year 1990 twenty people were locally producing and selling salt at Keta and 100 people were consuming the ‘raw salt’ and thus there was a direct market.

• In 2000 the ‘raw salt’ was ‘demonised’ and people were told not to eat because it lacks “iodine” so the market got drastically reduced from 100people to 3people.

• Then a company mushrooms up in Accra claiming to have the scientific magic of adding something called “iodine”, produced chemically in a laboratory somewhere, to the salt so all the ‘raw salt’ producers should now sell their produce to the company and not directly on the market.

• Now, because the uncritical consumer’s mind has been polluted against the wholesomeness of the ‘raw salt’, the producer in Keta is compelled to sell his produce to the company claiming to have “iodine’.

• And because the company knows the ‘raw salt’ producer in Keta now cannot sell directly to the market, it now dictates the price at which it will buy the ‘raw salt’ from the local producer. That is, the company now comes to wield the purchasing power to determine what the local producer gets for his salt.

• This Company then grinds the ‘raw salt’ and allegedly adds the magic of ‘iodine’ to it and sells it back to the people and makes excess profit, more than 500% of what the local ‘raw salt’ producer gets.

• And because most Ghanaians don’t have the capital to set up industries to add the so-called ‘iodine’ to the salt, gradually, foreigners in the name of foreign investment will monopolise the Salt profit in the country and the Ghanaian coast-bound salt producer will join the likes of the Cocoa and Coffee farmers in Africa who toil but never have the right to determine the prices of their sweat…

Pathetically, many Ghanaians will shout “does it matter?” “It’s all the same since the same Ghanaians will work in these companies!”.

But do we want to be perpetually labourers in our own land or the controllers of the wealth of our land? Are we this infantile to be contented with being just “hewers of wood and fetchers of water” and continue to eat the cramps that fall from the table? Are we not going to stand up and take the wheels of the economy of our land? “political freedom is meaningless unless it is of a nature which enables the country which has obtained it to maintain its economic freedom”.

F. Abeku Adams (Africanhero is the Immediate Past President, National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) University of Cape Coast Secretariat

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