Yesterday I had someone ask me if he should avoid broccoli because he has hypothyroidism. He had read that cruciferous vegetables (discussed later in this post) negatively impact the health of his already poor-performing thyroid. Therein lies the inspiration for this posting. The short answer is no, cruciferous vegetables typically will not have a negative impact on your health; as a matter of fact, they can have a significantly positive impact on your health. But first, we have to determine what’s going on.
Some issues with thyroid result from auto-immune disorders, such as Grave’s Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. When an auto-immune disorder happens, there is usually nothing we could’ve done to prevent it. Some integrative and functional nutrition techniques can help us to better manage these conditions; but generally speaking, auto-immune conditions are very much genetic and not preventable. Today’s post is not about unpreventable stuff dealing with our thyroid; rather, I want to focus on things we have a bit of control over.
Let’s talk a bit about goiters. A goiter is basically an abnormally enlarged thyroid. Why should you care? Well, even if you don’t ever develop a goiter, having a dysfunctional thyroid can create a cascade of other health problems if untreated. Knowing how to prevent thyroid issues and give that little fella some TLC is rather important in terms of your overall health.
Wait – now you know that a goiter is a huge thyroid…but what is a thyroid? A thyroid is a small gland in the front part of your neck that basically regulates the rate at which your body burns energy (metabolism). Your thyroid produces hormones that send signals to little-bitty receptors throughout your body’s cells and tell them to crank your metabolism up or down depending on what is needed at any given time.
A few nutrients play rather critical roles in the health of our thyroid. The two MVPs when it comes to micronutrients and thyroid are iodine and selenium. Iodine is essential to the formation of thyroid hormones, and selenium is essential to form enzymes that activate thyroid hormones. Iodine and selenium do a lot of other really cool stuff in our bodies too, but today we’ll focus on the ol’ thyroid. One of the most common non-auto-immune causes of goiter around the world is iodine deficiency. In fact, pregnant mommas consuming inadequate iodine and/or selenium can impact the growth and development of their little ones in utero.
You may recognize iodine in its most common role, “iodized salt.” Nearly 100 years ago, experts realized that widespread iodine deficiency could be prevented quite easily if they simply added iodine to our salt. Easy peasy…or is it? The thing is, we have been told over and over and over to limit our intake of added salt to prevent high blood pressure (this is not completely true, and something that deserves an entirely different conversation for another day). Not only have we limited our intake of added salt, we have switched to other forms of salt like sea salt and/or Himalayan pink salt. These cool hipster salts (sea salt and Himalayan pink salt) don’t typically have added iodine. Therefore, goiter has been spotted making a comeback.
Some argue that cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, etc.) impair thyroid function because metabolizing these foods produces components that interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid, among other mechanisms. However, (and this is a BIG however), the impact of cruciferous vegetables on iodine uptake is only noted in cases of an already present iodine deficiency coupled with significantly large portions of cruciferous vegetables (several heaping cups a day). Furthermore, cooking cruciferous vegetables lessens their impact on iodine uptake anyhow. Lastly, (and deserving of another entire discussion) cruciferous vegetables have GIGANTIC benefits to our overall health, and should never be avoided by most of us.
Ok, so where do we find iodine and selenium anyhow? Seafood (especially wild-caught salmon, cod, tuna, sardines, and shrimp) are great sources of iodine; and, believe it or not, so are cow’s milk and strawberries. And here’s a fun fact – many of the same foods rich in iodine are also rich in selenium! Wild-caught salmon, cod, tuna, sardines, and shrimp are great sources of selenium. Some other sources of selenium include Brazil nuts (common in most cans of mixed nuts), sunflower seeds, beef, and barley.
Yet again, the bottom line here is that if you enjoy an abundance and variety of whole foods, you are quite likely to obtain all the nutrients you need without worry. If you are super-worried about your ability to obtain iodine, selenium, or any other nutrient, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you formulate a plan. Many multivitamins can help you achieve adequate intake of most micronutrients, but they shouldn’t be the complete solution without emphasis on consuming real, whole foods.
Lastly, if you suspect you have hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or goiter, get checked out by a physician. After that, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop strategies to better manage your condition!