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August 31, 2021

Have you heard of the low-Iodine diet?

Probably not.

If you have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, this is the diet you’re most likely to hear about.

But why is a low-iodine diet recommended by your doctor? and which cancer patients stand to benefit the most from one?

For answers to these questions and more keep reading.

Though a low-iodine diet is normally a temporary thing, you have to walk on eggshells to make sure you do it right, staying healthy and letting it be effective at the same time.

Below, we listed not only the foods you should avoid eating when on a low-iodine diet but also the best foods you can eat (and there are many)!

But before we dive into the foods that you should eat and the foods you should avoid, we’ll first explain what a low-iodine diet is and why you should follow one.

What is a Low-Iodine Diet, and Why Do People Go on It? 

Your body, especially the thyroid, naturally needs iodine to function properly. The thyroid gland needs iodine for the production of thyroid hormones, which help your body perform essential functions like the repair and growth of tissues and regulation of the metabolism.

You can find iodine in a variety of foods, like seafood, eggs, dairy products, and grains. Though it’s a vital mineral, sometimes it’s better to limit your intake of it.

People who suffer from conditions like follicular thyroid cancer or papillary thyroid cancer go on a temporary low-iodine diet before radioactive iodine therapy.

In this diet, people have to consume only 50 mcg or less of iodine on a daily basis, which is considered a small amount of iodine compared to the normal 150 mcg daily allowance.

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People go on this diet for just one to two weeks before receiving radioiodine, and they continue for one or two days after that. These numbers are adjustable depending on what your healthcare provider sees as appropriate for your condition.

The whole aim of this diet is to decrease the iodine stores in your body and make it ‘iodine hungry.’ Whether thyroid cells are cancerous or not, they feed on this mineral, and by cutting out iodine, you actually starve these cells. 

Once you start taking the RAI treatment, the starved thyroid cells will tend to feed on the RAI, which will eventually destroy them with its radioactivity. That makes the radioactive iodine treatment more effective.

Foods You Can Eat on a Low-Iodine Diet

Don’t be fooled by the strict nature of the low-iodine diet. There are still plenty of foods you can enjoy. Here are some of the main foods that you can include in this diet –

  • Fruits: avoid maraschino cherries and rhubarb
  • Vegetables: you can eat both raw and unsalted frozen ones (except peas)
  • Meats: fresh meats are all allowed with a daily intake of 170 grams — excess meat consumption isn’t recommended as they naturally contain iodine.
  • Eggs: yes to egg whites, no to egg yolks!
  • Grains and cereals: you can eat rice, couscous, quinoa, bulgur, cornmeal, plain wheat pasta, and oatmeal (but not instant oatmeal)
  • Salt-free crackers: matzo crackers, rice cakes, and crackers
  • Nuts: of course, unsalted nuts only.
  • Bread: homemade bread that is iodized salt, egg, and butter-free
  • Spreadable goods: jam, unsalted nut butter, and honey
  • Oils: vegetable oils are all allowed
  • Beverages: brewed tea, brewed coffee, fruit juice, and water
  • Kosher salt: make sure it has no added iodine
  • Spices and herbs: whether fresh or dried

If you’re not sure whether or not a product is allowed on your low-iodine diet, go ahead and check the list of ingredients. You won’t often find iodine on food labels, but if there’s any added salt, it’s probably iodized salt. 

Foods You Should Avoid on A Low-Iodine Diet

Foods for a low-iodine diet

It’s pretty obvious that the low-iodine diet can be a bit restrictive. You have to temporarily eliminate a lot of food groups that contain iodine or even increase your iodine absorption.

Though it may be challenging, try to eliminate these foods:

  • Seafood and related products: fresh and canned fish, sushi, shellfish, seaweed, and fish stock
  • Processed meats: bacon, salami, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, etc
  • Organ meats: liver, brain, heart, and all other organ meats
  • Egg yolks
  • Potato skin
  • Certain vegetarian products: fresh or canned lentils and beans, canned beans or lentils soups, instant mashed potatoes
  • Certain fruits like maraschino cherries and rhubarb
  • Soy foods: soy sauce, tofu, edamame beans, soy-based meats, etc
  • Dairy products: dairy-based products, such as milk, yogurt, butter, cream, ice cream, cheese, etc
  • Baked products: all commercially baked goods that contain milk, butter, eggs, or iodized salt
  • Homemade baked goods containing dairy products, eggs, or iodized salt
  • Dairy-based desserts and sweets like pudding, blackstrap molasses, and chocolate
  • Spreadable goods and condiments: including all salted nut butter, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce
  • Snacks: chips, pretzels, salted nuts, and all salted snack foods aren’t allowed.
  • Seasonings: alternative salts like onion salt, iodized table salt, and any salt mixes with iodized salt
  • Broths or soups: stock broth, bouillon cubes
  • Sauces: gravies and all sauces that contain iodized salt, butter, or milk
  • Certain supplements: such as cough syrups that contain Red Dye #3, mineral and vitamin supplements with iodine, or any herbal nutritional supplements with iodine
  • Milk and soy milk
  • Any food that contains Red Dye #3, agar-agar, carrageenan, alginates, and algin
  • Any drink that contains Red Dye #3

You should not consume any foods that contain Red Dye #3 like maraschino cherries, as those might contain too much iodine. When you’re on a low-iodine diet, it’s recommended not to eat takeaway food since it’s hard to know if any restaurant is using high-iodine ingredients.

Bottom Line 

Iodine is an essential mineral that we should consume 150 mcg of daily. However, in some cases (like thyroid cancer), it should be restricted to make the radioactive iodine treatment as effective as possible.

Now, we know this is all easier said than done, but we did our best to hand you a list of the foods you can’t eat, as well as a long menu of delicious, low-iodine foods you can enjoy while on a strictly low-iodine diet. 

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