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Food and Thyroid Function: The Goitrogen Debate

Do Goitrogens Hurt Your Thyroid?

“Eat your vegetables!” A common phrase that is being said by parents all over the world, but one that individuals with low thyroid function have struggled with because of the ongoing debate over goitrogenic foods. So, should individuals with thyroid dysfunction avoid these substances or should they do like they’ve been told and eat their vegetables?

This is a topic that many have struggled with over the years and most are beginning to reevaluate. It is hard when you are presented with something potentially harmful, but helpful at the same time. Let’s start from the beginning.

What are Goitrogenic Foods?

Goitrogenic foods, often referred to as simply “goitrogens”, are substances, either food or otherwise, that slow the production of thyroid hormones by lowering iodine uptake. This can lead to an increase in the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) causing the thyroid to become enlarged (goiter).

The foods that are classified as goitrogens include many vegetables such as,

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

This list is by no means exhaustive and a quick google search will confirm that, but this simple list is a good start.

Should You Eat Goitrogenic Foods?

Here’s where the debate happens. Some physicians say yes while others say no. So what’s the real answer? Moderation. You can eat these foods in moderation. The George Mateljan Foundation states, “Over the past 50 years … researchers have determined that there are no such ‘negative’ substances in food, but only health supportive nutrients that are not a good match for certain individuals because of their unique health history and health status. Five decades of research have also determined that certain nutrients — like tyrosine, iodine, and selenium — play a unique role in thyroid health.”

In addition to the supportive nutrients in these foods, certain goitrogenic foods such as cabbages, radishes, broccoli, and kale boost your glutathione levels. Glutathione is an extremely important and powerful antioxidant with the ability to detoxify numerous toxic metals within the body and prevent damage to important cellular components.

So moderation truly is key when it comes to these foods.

Is Anything Off Limits?

So obviously if you’ve been avoiding these goitrogenic veggies, you may now, in moderation, join the paleo and juicing crazes, and if you’ve been stuffing your face to its capacity with these vegetables, it may be time to back off just a little, but does this mean that all food is now open to you? Not exactly.

There are still certain foods/ingredients that should be avoided for the sake of your thyroid. This includes,

  • Bromine – a food additive that can hinder thyroid function.
  • Fluoride – an additive in water and various products that disrupt thyroid function.
  • Non-fermented Soy – may alter hormone function and studies have shown that soy phytoestrogens are endocrine disruptors.

Is This the End of the Debate?

While this seems to settle things, this is probably not the last time we’ll hear of the goitrogen debate, but for now rest assured that you can enjoy your veggies in small amounts while reaping the benefits.

About the Author

Naomi Parker

Patient Advocate

Naomi Parker is a patient advocate that is enthralled by the medical field. Hypothyroidism became a topic of interest over the last few years while she worked amongst alternative medicine doctors as a front office assistant. She believes that information is key and strives to become better informed so as to help others achieve success and wellness.

Naomi has written various articles concerning hypothyroidism including information on diagnostics and treatment. She enjoys learning alongside others and passing on vital information regarding this condition. Naomi is actively monitoring and writing for the National Academy of Hypothyroidism both on the site and social media.

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