11 Foods That Affect Your Thyroid Health

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[Editor's Note: For more information, come check out Sean Croxton's free online event, The Thyroid Sessions.]

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
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard and Mustard greens
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Soy (anything)
  • Turnips

Foods with Smaller Amounts of Goitrogens

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Millet
  • Peaches
  • Peanuts
  • Pears
  • Pine Nuts
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • 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.

Thryoid-Supporting Foods

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 Rick 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: Again, for more thyroid health information, come check out The Thyroid Sessions.]

Sources:

When It Rains It Pours” by Howard Markel, MD

Non-Goitrogenic Foods by Sirah Dubois

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Rebecca Maclary

Rebecca MacLary is a fitness and nutrition writer who has lived a Paleo lifestyle since January 2012. She enthusiastically recommends a diet based on whole, real foods and an active lifestyle for the best possible health. Along with cooking and testing new Paleo recipes, she loves weight training and reads peer-reviewed studies on nutrition, exercise, and health in her spare time.

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13 Comments

  • avatar

    I have been eating Paleo since June 5th and feel so better than I have in years (I’ve been gluten and dairy intolerance for years and have arthritis inflammation issues as well). I have been noticing a big dip in energy levels in the afternoons and this article has shed some light on this topic for me. I am on thyroid medication and I typically add kale to my eggs for breakfast and then I have a salad for lunch with spinach as the base. Could the combination of these two items, probably every day of the week, be contributing to my lack of afternoon energy?

    • avatar

      I began Paleo a few days later, June 9. Eating a lot of spinach has actually made me more energetic, rather than less. Maybe the potassium and magnesium are having more of an effect on me than the goitergens. It’s nice to be 30 and look and feel 20 if not 15.

  • avatar

    Hey Dave,
    What are you thoughts on gelatine?
    Is there evidence that it’s pro-thyroid?

  • avatar

    This is a little bit over the top. i eat Kale or spinach almost daily in my smoothies. My kids LIVE on broccoli and cauliflower – they have several vegetable servings daily of such listed vegetables. I live on Brussel sprouts. Being told to avoid certain vegetables is downright silly. Yes, they do contain goitrogens. Common sense tells me that if my kids are willing to eat many of these vegetables daily, they should – they come from nature after all. I will certainly not stop them. They also have kale and spinach in the morning for smoothies before school… I have very healthy kids – the strongest I know – the most alert with 0 behavioral problems. Today in a sea of fast foods and other c@ap I see children eat – I dare not eliminate the good stuff or even slow down. I myself still weigh my high school weight – run everyday and do Iyengar to keep my thyroids and everything else in check. I’m 45 and look 35. That’s common sense!

  • avatar

    Thanks much for this article! While my thyroid levels are in normal limits by using synthroid , I would love to get the amount decreased because I’m eating the right goods for my body.

  • avatar

    Radishes are on both lists. Which list should radishes be on?

  • avatar

    is the type of thyroid problem you have significant? I am hypo thyroid. Do same rules apply for hypo & hyper?

  • avatar

    […] [Paleo Hacks] The Top 11 Foods That Affect Your Thyroid Health […]

  • avatar

    The list of “don’t eat” just keeps getting longer. Well, I don’t have a goiter. I have low thyroid, but I have a liquid iodine supplement. I will eat these vegetables that I love so dearly, some cooked, some raw, and I will just take more iodine. I’m sure that paleo guy way back then didn’t say, “hey wait, there is a lump in my neck, perhaps I won’t eat this.” Thanks for the info.

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    […] or thyroid gland, is one of the largest endocrine glands in your body, hence the importance of your thyroid health. It’s located in your neck below the thyroid cartilage. It’s responsible for how your body […]

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    I think it may differ for some folks, because eliminationg these foods has helped me tramendously; eating them causing my energy to crash for days (feel terrible). If they do not bother you then great, but it really does bother some people so to each its own. Just test your own body and see how it affects you. Do not discourage anyone from eating or not eating them. We’ve all been taught they are good for you, but just maybe not for all of us.

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