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Are you familiar with the low-iodine diet? If not, let us enlighten you. This particular diet is commonly recommended by doctors for individuals diagnosed with thyroid cancer. But what exactly is a low-iodine diet, and who benefits from it the most?

In this article, we will provide you with detailed answers to these questions and more.

Although a low-iodine diet is typically temporary, it is crucial to follow it correctly in order to maintain your health and maximize its effectiveness.

We will not only outline the foods you should avoid while on this diet but also present you with a wide range of delicious and nutritious alternatives.

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 Follow It?

Iodine is one of the vital minerals that your body needs to perform many critical functions. Most importantly, it’s used by your thyroid glands to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones assist your body in different functions, such as helping in tissue repair function and regulating your metabolism.

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Low-Iodine Diet Guide | What You Should and Shouldn’t Eat 5

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.

Generally, a low-iodine diet is a diet that provides an individual with 50 mcg (micrograms) of iodine (or even less) on a daily basis.

Why People Follow This Diet!

People who suffer from conditions like follicular thyroid cancer or papillary thyroid cancer go on a temporary low-iodine diet before RAI (Radioactive Iodine) therapy.

Following this diet allows you to reduce the amount of iodine in the body, which can help improve the effectiveness of this treatment.

As mentioned already, people have to consume only 50 mcg or less of iodine daily while following this diet. It’s about one-third of the daily recommended amount of iodine for adults.

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.

Are there Any Other Benefits of a Diet Low in Iodine?

Yes, the following are a couple of other benefits that you can reap by following a low-iodine diet.

Potential Reduction in Blood Pressure

Following a low-iodine diet can help you reduce your blood pressure. That’s because the diet restricts certain food groups that are known to contribute to high blood pressure, such as processed meats and highly processed snack foods.

According to the American College of Cardiology, consuming highly-processed foods can increase your blood pressure. Additionally, it can also lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Keep in mind that a low-iodine diet is temporary, which means you’ll receive this benefit only for a short amount of time. So, if you want to reduce your blood pressure and keep it at normal levels, you should generally avoid consuming highly-processed foods.

Improved Diet Quality

Another great benefit of following a low-iodine diet is that it can improve the overall quality of your diet. This is because many unhealthy foods, particularly those high in iodized salt, are restricted on this diet.

Fast food, frozen meals, and prepackaged items like chips are not only typically high in iodized salt but also contain unhealthy fats and calories. By eliminating these foods during the low-iodine diet, you can experience an improvement in the overall nutritional value of your diet.

Again, it is essential to remember that while the low-iodine diet temporarily eliminates these foods, it is crucial to continue making healthier food choices in the long run to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Foods You Can Eat on a Low-Iodine Diet

Foods for a low-iodine diet
Low-Iodine Diet Guide | What You Should and Shouldn’t Eat 6

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, including the following.

  • 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: Say yes to egg whites and 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, but only the unsalted ones.
  • 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: Both fresh and 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

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, it’s completely possible. We recommend you try to eliminate the following food options.

  • 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: Egg yolks are high in iodine.
  • Potato Skin: Potato Skin makes for a good source of iodine.
  • Certain Vegetarian Products: Fresh or canned lentils and beans, canned beans or lentils soups, instant mashed potatoes.
  • Certain Fruits: Fruits like maraschino cherries and rhubarb.
  • Soy Foods: Soy sauce, milk, tofu, edamame beans, soy-based meats, etc. While soy products don’t contain iodine, consuming them can interfere with RAI treatment.
  • 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: Sweets like pudding, blackstrap molasses, and chocolate.
  • Spreadable Goods and Condiments: It includes all salted nut butter, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, and fish 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 mixed with iodized salt.
  • Broths or Soups: Stock broth, bouillon cubes.
  • Sauces: Gravies and all sauces that contain iodized salt, butter, or milk.
  • Certain Supplements: Cough syrups that contain Red Dye #3, mineral and vitamin supplements with iodine, or any herbal nutritional supplements with iodine
  • Milk: Dairy milk is rich in iodine.

It’s also important to avoid all drinks that contain Red Dye #3 and food options with Red Dye #3, agar-agar, carrageenan, alginates, and align, such as maraschino cherries.

Side Effects of Not Consuming Enough Iodine

As discussed already, a low-iodine diet is only temporary (one to two weeks) and only people with certain health conditions need to follow it. If you’re healthy and don’t need to follow a strict low-iodine diet, you can experience any of the following health conditions in case of iodine deficiency.

  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Taste change
  • Nausea
  • Swellings
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold
  • Tiredness

Important Note: This list isn’t absolute or exhaustive because every individual can react to dietary changes differently. To be on the safer side, you should consult with your healthcare provider and consume the daily recommended amount of iodine.

How Much Iodine is Required?

Although following a low-iodine diet comes with some benefits, it’s not for everyone. It’s used for a short period of time and, one must not follow it on a long-term basis. Here’s a table that explains the daily recommended amount of iodine, according to the National Institute of Health.

Age/Life StageRecommended Amount
Adults (over 18 years)150 mcg
Teens (14 to 18 years)150 mcg
Kids (9 to 13 years)120 mcg
Children (1 to 8 years)90 mcg
Infants (7 to 12 months)130 mcg
Newborns (6 months or less)110 mcg
Breastfeeding Females290 mcg
Pregnant Females220 mcg

Conclusion to Low-Iodine Diet Guide

Iodine is an essential mineral that a healthy adult 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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About the Author Adam

As a health and fitness writer, Adam combines his two passions—weightlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under his belt, he spends his mornings lifting weights, his nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.

Health Disclaimer

  • Any products written about is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
  • Results may vary/may not be typical. 
  • This information does not constitute medical advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Consult with your doctor before modifying your regular medical regime.


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