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Cruciferous Veggies – Friend or Foe?

Filed in Hypothyroidism | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/22/2015


My entire career has been built on my respect for research and its value, however every so often when I read articles that are based on research studies, it takes me back to that old adage – a little knowledge/information can be a dangerous thing. It can be that studies examine very small populations, and then provide statements, that when taken out of context, may be misleading.

It’s frustrating when I read an article that shares information about some of the most wonderful foods on the planet – cruciferous vegetables – and then the message associates them primarily with the rather negative term “goitrogens”. It’s difficult enough to get people to eat veggies to begin with in this country. That’s a sad fact unto itself. Just let someone who already is struggling with greens on their plate read an article about possible issues with “goitrogenic foods” – all bets are off. No more veggies for those people! Boy are they relieved! And that’s a really sad thing.

This blog is specifically written for you if you’re learning to love broccoli, kale, cabbage, spinach and other foods considered goitrogenic (bet you didn’t realize strawberries and peaches are in that family too!). This is also for the very well-intentioned nutritionally oriented person out there that is overwhelmed by so much information about what is “good” to eat. It certainly can be very confusing!

So let’s take a closer look. The definition of “goitrogen” is technically – any substance that could potentially lead to a goiter – and not always foods, by the way. A goiter is that swollen area of the neck that happens when the thyroid gland is enlarged. In many cases it appears when a person is severely iodine deficient, a condition that is actually rare these days due to accessible thyroid testing. The goitrogenic foods are called that because it’s possible for them to inhibit the body’s iodine metabolism under certain circumstances. Actually, more accurately, some of the enzymatic nutrients they contain, once converted in the body, could have an effect on iodine uptake.

Hypothyroidism is a common issue today, and here’s the confusing part. One cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. So in these cases, it would be logical to limit your intake of anything that might decrease your ability to absorb iodine, at least until you have your iodine/thyroid situation understood and under control. However, the impact that cruciferous veggies might have on your iodine is extremely minimal when you eat them in moderation (the key word!).

And hypothyroidism can commonly be the result of an autoimmune response against the thyroid like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. In those cases, iodine deficiency isn’t even your issue. Healing your immune system will be your action plan and there are other factors to consider as well. If you suspect a thyroid issue, please consult an integrative practitioner for a well-rounded program.

If you don’t have an iodine deficiency or if you’re managing your diagnosis of hypothyroidism well, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne who wrote the book “The Paleo Approach” feels that the research doesn’t justify avoiding these vitality packed foods. Keep in mind that steaming your cruciferous veggies reduces the enzymes responsible for the goitrogenic effect by two thirds. And you might consider increasing your intake of iodine rich foods like seaweed to help balance your system.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, well-respected vegan, author and medical doctor, states that “it would be almost impossible to consume enough cruciferous to harm the thyroid”. He goes on to say that “a person would have to consume an insane amount of cruciferous to have a negative effect on thyroid function”. We’re back to that very appropriate word – for almost any situation – MODERATION.

Recognizing the nutrients available in our foods and balancing our intake goes a long way toward eliminating the “bad food” vs. “good food” concept when it comes to Mother Nature’s offerings. Instead we can strive to support our bodies by providing whole food nutrients in the best, most delicious, and beautiful combinations. Cruciferous (goitrogenic) veggies have been found to deliver substantial anti-cancerous properties, along with numerous other beneficial nutrients. Not the least of them is fiber, which is so essential in my favorite function – digestion!

There’s an old term that fits perfectly in this situation. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!”

It comes back to listening to our own bodies, and focusing not so much on what there is to fear, but instead on how we can create health and vitality, one mouthful at a time.