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An Update On Goitrogenic Foods And Their Impact On Thyroid Health

Published June 24 2013

For a number of years I had advised people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to avoid goitrogenic foods.  This includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, and other goitrogenic foods.  In fact, in the past I have even written some articles about avoiding goitrogenic foods.  However, recently my stance has changed, as while I’m still cautious about people with hypothyroid conditions consuming large amounts of raw goitrogenic foods, in most cases it is fine for people with these conditions to consume normal amounts of these foods.

But why has my stance changed?  Well, I guess I should begin by discussing why many natural healthcare professionals recommend for people to avoid goitrogenic foods.  Goitrogenic foods can potentially inhibit iodine metabolism.  And as you probably already know, iodine is necessary for the formation of thyroid hormone.  In the past, when attending numerous seminars on thyroid health, I was taught by some well known and respected healthcare professionals that goitrogenic foods should be avoided by people who have hypothyroidism.  And from that point on I started advising my patients with hypothyroid conditions to avoid such foods.

What Does The Research Show?

While I feel fortunate to have learned from other experts about natural thyroid health, and wouldn’t have restored my health back to normal and have been able to help others who have thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions without the knowledge I have gained from these healthcare professionals, the truth is that there is a lot more that we don’t know than we do know.  I don’t like admitting when I don’t know something, or admitting that I was wrong, but the latter holds true when it comes to goitrogenic foods.  While I greatly value the opinion of certain healthcare professionals, whenever something related to thyroid health is brought up and is controversial, I now always question whether this information is based on research, experience, or a combination of both.

When it comes to goitrogenic foods, there is no research out there I’m aware of which shows that goitrogenic foods consumed in “normal” amounts inhibits thyroid activity.  The key word is “normal”, as if someone eats large amounts of raw goitrogenic foods, then perhaps this will cause problems with thyroid function.  But remember we’re talking about healthy foods when referring to the cruciferous vegetables, and other so-called goitrogenic foods such as spinach, strawberries, and peaches.

Some may read this and claim that eating normal amounts of goitrogenic foods at one time worsened their hypothyroid condition.  Well, all I can say is that over the past year I haven’t informed my patients to completely avoid these foods, and I really haven’t noticed any negative changes since.  However, as I mentioned earlier,  goitrogenic foods can potentially inhibit iodine metabolism.  As a result, if someone is already iodine deficient then there is a greater chance of someone having problems with goitrogenic foods.  I realize this may pose a problem, as many people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease are understandably cautious about consuming iodine.

What Is Considered To Be A “Normal Amount” Of Goitrogenic Foods?

If you have a hypothyroid condition, then your next question might be “how much of these foods can I eat on a daily basis without it causing a problem with thyroid function?”  The truth is I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone has the answer to this.  First of all, everyone is different, and so one person might be able to eat five or six servings of raw goitrogenic foods daily over a prolonged period of time and not have a problem, whereas someone else might only be able to eat a couple of servings per day.  I typically recommend one or two servings of these foods per day, and once again, I haven’t experienced any problems with my patients.  Also, keep in mind that cooking these foods may help them to lose some of their goitrogenic activity.  So consider steaming broccoli, cauliflower, and other foods.  But once again, even one or two servings per day of raw goitrogenic foods should be fine for most people with hypothyroid conditions.

What about soy?  Well, soy is goitrogenic, and I definitely recommend for people to try to avoid unfermented soy.  However, this isn’t only due to the effects it has on the thyroid gland, but it also can have other negative aspects on one’s health.  Fermented soy is preferable, although this is still considered to be goitrogenic.  And so I would still not recommend eating large amounts of these foods.

In summary, eating “normal” amounts of goitrogenic foods shouldn’t inhibit thyroid function. As a result, most people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis shouldn’t be concerned about eating a couple of servings of these foods each day.  However, since goitrogenic foods can affect iodine metabolism, having an iodine deficiency may increase the likelihood of having these foods affect one’s thyroid health.  Also keep in mind that cooking goitrogenic foods can potentially decreased the goitrogenic activity, although if someone has hypothyroidism I still would be cautious about eating large amounts of these foods, whether cooked or raw.