Goitrogens are substances in food that can wreak havoc on the function of your thyroid gland. Goitrogens get their name from “goiter,” which is what an enlarged thyroid gland is called.
You might have never heard of the words “goiter” or “goitrogenic” but if you’ve been affected by thyroid problems, you’ll definitely want to adjust what you eat in order to support the health of your thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is one of the largest in the endocrine system and is found in your neck, below some cartilage. It’s shaped like a butterfly in healthy people, and lies up against the trachea and larynx. Your thyroid controls how your body responds to other hormones, makes certain proteins, and controls how fast your body uses energy.
It influences your body temperature, mood, and your metabolic rate. It produces triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (sometimes called T4). It also produces calcitronin, which has a role in calcium homeostasis. In other words, it’s pretty important that it works properly.
Cruciferous foods tend to be high in goitrogens but other foods can be high as well.
Top 11 Goitrogenic Foods
- Bok Choy
- Brussel sprouts
- Mustard and Mustard greens
- Soy (anything)
Foods with Smaller Amounts of Goitrogens
- Bamboo shoots
- Pine Nuts
- Sweet Potatoes
- Wheat and other gluten-containing grains
Should You Avoid These Foods?
As mentioned, just because these foods are high in goitrogens doesn’t mean you should avoid them; in fact, the benefits far outweigh the downsides (except for soy). If you want to have broccoli once or twice a week, go ahead! Just make sure you don’t eat it raw; cooking reduces the goitrogenic substances by up to a third, except for soy and millet. Don’t eat several foods off the list in one day; they have a cumulative effect.
Anyone without thyroid problems should be able to eat goitrogenic foods in moderation without issue. Only people with thyroid issues should avoid these foods or eat them in very small amounts.
One way to offset the effects is to eat foods high in iodine along with them.
Other Causes of Goiter
Goitrogen ingestion isn’t the only cause of goiters; in fact, it’s only one of many. The most common cause is iodine deficiency, particularly in countries that don’t use iodized salt. Worldwide, more than two billion people are affected by iodine deficiency. The U.S. FDA recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 micrograms of iodine per day.
Other causes include congenital hypothyroidism, adverse drug reactions, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, pituitary disease, Graves’ disease (aka Basedow syndrome), thyroiditis, thyroid cancer, benign thyroid neoplasms, and thyroid hormone insensitivity.
The condition of enlarged thyroid is most common among women.
There are several foods that will support thyroid health. Among them are those high in iodine and tyrosine.
Foods Rich In Iodine
Iodine is the most important element in thyroid health. Most goiters are caused when the thyroid enlarges in an effort to pull more iodine in out of the bloodstream. For most people with goiters, a diet high in iodine is the most common treatment.
Foods that are high in iodine include kelp and other sea vegetables, fennel, Jerusalem artichokes, cow’s milk, eggs, and raisins. If you currently use sea salt or other fancy salt, check to see if it has been iodized. Sprinkling iodized salt on your foods is the easiest way to get a bit of iodine in each meal.
Foods Rich in Tyrosine
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is found in a lot of goitrogenic foods like wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. It’s important to get tyrosine without those goitrogenic properties tagging along. Some good sources include pumpkin seeds, beef, fish, dairy products, eggs, bananas, avocados, poultry, and almonds.
These animal-based foods high in protein also tend to be good sources of Vitamin B12 and selenium, which are also important for thyroid health. Salmon, high in tyrosine, are also excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and can help with proper thyroid function.
Non-Cruciferous Veggies and Fruit
If you’ve got thyroid issues, some of the best foods you can eat (aside from those already mentioned) include non-cruciferous vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit, in general, tend to contain high amounts of antioxidants, especially when eaten fresh.
Antioxidants help protect your body against damage from free radicals. Most also have high amounts of electrolytes like potassium and sodium, which contribute to the movement of fluid in body tissues.
Squash, tomato, bell peppers, green beans, peas, cucumber, asparagus, eggplant, carrots, and celery are all great examples of non-goitrogenic vegetables to enjoy.
Most fruit is high in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. Some non-goitrogenic fruits you should eat include mangoes, citrus fruits, blueberries, dark-skinned grapes, pomegranates, guavas, cherries, apricots, apples, pineapples, and kiwis.
Goitrogens and Paleo
People who follow a Paleo diet already avoid a few of the goitrogenic foods like soy and peanuts, but what about the other foods?
Chances are, if you eat Paleo-style, your diet is rich in selenium and tyrosine, iodine, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients. Eat lots of fish, meat, poultry, and eggs, and enjoy some yogurt and grass-fed butter, if you don’t have issues with dairy products.
If you have access to raw milk, you might want to consider adding it to your diet. Definitely continue to avoid wheat and soy! Add in all the other downsides (inflammatory properties, gluten issues, and endocrine disruption (from soy) and there are really no good reasons to eat either of them.
[Editor’s Note for 100’s of Paleo & Thyroid-friendly recipes, make sure to check out our Paleohacks cookbook bundle.]
“When It Rains It Pours” by Howard Markel, MD
Non-Goitrogenic Foods by Sirah Dubois