Be cautious of the goitrogens!

Nutrition Expert: Sana saiyed, practicing clinical Dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Mumbai

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. Your thyroid lies below your Adam’s apple, along the front of the windpipe. Goitrogens are naturally-occurring chemicals found in many plant-based foods. 

What is thyroiditis?

Inflammation of the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. Thyroid inflammation can occur for many reasons. It initially causes a leak of hormones that results in symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). 

 Over time, the inflammation impairs thyroid hormone production, resulting in underactivity (hypothyroidism). There may be no symptoms.

Consuming high amounts of goitrogens on a regular basis may have an impact on your thyroid health, so it’s worth understanding how they affect thyroid function and whether or not it makes sense to limit your intake of goitrogenic foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, strawberries, and others.(1)

How Goitrogens Can Affect the Thyroid

Foods that contain goitrogens are able to disrupt thyroid function by inhibiting your body’s ability to use iodine. More specifically, goitrogens can block the process by which iodine is incorporated into the key thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).(2)

They also inhibit the actual release of thyroid hormone by your thyroid gland and disrupt the peripheral conversion of the thyroid storage hormone T4 into the active thyroid hormone T3.

In very large quantities, goitrogens can cause goiter or an enlarged thyroid. They can also act like antithyroid drugs, slowing down your underactive thyroid and potentially causing hypothyroidism.

oitrogenic foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, and most experts do not recommend that anyone—including patients with thyroid disease—avoid eating them. However, there are a few sensible guidelines to consider if you have an underactive thyroid or are worried about goitrogens in your diet.

Here’s what you can do to minimize the risk of negative effects:

  • Cook goitrogenic vegetables: Steaming, cooking, or fermenting can reduce the levels of goitrogens. If you like fresh spinach or kale in smoothies, try blanching the veggies and then storing them in the freezer for later use.
  • Increase your iodine and selenium intake: Getting enough iodine and selenium can help reduce the effects of goitrogens; iodine deficiency is a well-known risk factor for thyroid dysfunction, though it is rare for people living in the United States to be deficient. Good dietary sources of iodine include seaweed—such as kelp, kombu, or nori—and iodized salt. (Less than half a teaspoon of iodized salt covers your daily iodine requirement.) Great sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, fish, meat, sunflower seeds, tofu, baked beans, Portobello mushrooms, whole grain pasta, and cheese.
  • Switch it up: Eating a variety of foods—non-goitrogenic as well as goitrogenic—will help limit the number of goitrogens you consume and ensure that you get a healthy assortment of vitamins and minerals.

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