If You Have an Underactive Thyroid, Follow These Tips to Limit Goitrogen-Rich Foods

Registered Dietician

| 3 min read

The thyroid is a very important gland that helps control the body’s hormones. If you have hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), you can help thyroid function properly by limiting foods that are rich in goitrogen.
Note that I did not say avoid, just that you should limit foods that have goitrogen, or sometimes simply cooking them can help break down the compound. Many foods that contain goitrogen are good for the body for different reasons, so it doesn’t mean they can’t be part of an underactive thyroid diet.

What is Goitrogen?

Goitrogens are compounds naturally found in some foods that make it more difficult for the thyroid gland to create hormones. These chemicals can interfere with thyroid function in different ways:
  • Some compounds induce antibodies that react with the thyroid
  • They may also interfere with the absorption of iodine
  • Others interfere with an enzyme, thyroid peroxidase, which helps the thyroid work normally
Either way, the end result is that the thyroid is not able to produce enough of the hormones it needs to regulate metabolism. You can see how this is important information for those who have hypothyroidism. With any thyroid disorder, an enlarged thyroid may also occur, causing a goiter, which is a swelling or enlargement of the thyroid gland. For others with a healthy thyroid, the body simply compensates and makes more of the hormones it needs for normal function.

Tips to Limit Goitrogen

Ironically, many of the foods that contain goitrogen are really good for you. Even if you have hypothyroidism, you do not have to avoid these foods altogether, you just have to limit the amounts or be sure to cook them to help breakdown the goitrogen in these foods.
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, turnips and collards contain goitrogen. By simply cooking or steaming these vegetables, you break down the goitrogen so that they are safer for a hypothyroid diet. These foods have too many nutritional benefits (including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber), so don’t pass them by. Just cook them well and limit their consumption in raw form if you have hypothyroidism.
  • Soy products (isoflavones) also have goitrogen. Products like soybeans, soy milk, soy yogurt, and tofu are some of these foods. By cooking soy foods or choosing fermented soy products like miso, tempeh, and soy sauce, there will be less goitrogen to impede the thyroid.
Another way to boost thyroid function is to choose iodine-rich foods as a regular part of the diet. These include fish, seafood, kelp and seaweed. Goitrogen is known to impede iodine absorption, which is needed for normal thyroid function and to avoid goiters, so it’s important to include these foods.
I suffer from hypothyroidism and I try to follow these rules for myself. You can do it, too.
Photo Credit: sweetbeetandgreenbean

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