September is Thyroid Cancer awareness month, and our thoughts are focused on that butterfly-shaped organ that plays a role in so many of our bodies’ processes. Thyroid cancer is often treated with radioactive iodine treatment. To make treatment more effective, thyroid cancer experts may recommend that patients follow a low-iodine diet for one to two weeks leading up to treatment. This depletes the body’s levels of iodine, which may make the tests more accurate and effective.
The problem for patients is that iodine is contained in many foods that we enjoy daily. Foods banned during a low iodine diet include dairy (including chocolate), any foods with iodized salt, seafood, egg yolks or any foods containing whole eggs, soy beans and soy products, beans, rhubarb, potato skins, baked products and any food with red food dye #3. Phew! There are variations in centers about what is allowed or not allowed so be sure to ask your team for a thorough list, and if possible, speak with a registered dietitian.
When handed information about a low-iodine diet, it can seem as though there are no foods left to eat! At our live cooking classes with thyroid patients, they often described their frustration at finding tasty food which was low in iodine, and research in patients has echoed this, with patients reporting a lack of appetite due to having to eat the same diet every day. As the diet is only followed for a couple of weeks, there can be a temptation to be relaxed about it, however adherence is important, as small studies have suggested poor compliance results in less effective treatment.
We know that going through treatment is hard enough, without having to stress about diet. We think undertaking a low-iodine diet can be the perfect springboard into a life of healthy eating- it forces you to get into the kitchen and get cooking. It’s also a great time to get more familiar with low iodine foods which also happen to be great for your health in any case- fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fresh meat-delicious!
Tips to follow:
- Avoid processed food such as baked goods, processed meats and canned vegetables, as these often contain salt. While salt itself is not an issue, iodized salt is. This iodized salt is often used in processed products, but as it may not be labelled as iodized salt, you cannot take the risk. Cooking your own meals at home will avoid this.
- Empty the salt shaker at home, and fill it with non-iodized salt. Avoid spice mixes which contain salt, as this may be iodized.
- Read labels of products- any mention of salt or iodine ( for example iodized dough in bread) means you should avoid it.
- Avoid any food supplement which contains iodine- read the back of the label to check.
The key to the low-iodine diet is preparation. Cooking low-iodine meals in advance and freezing them means that you are well prepared. Many patients are battling symptoms of hypothyroidism at the same time as their low-iodine diet, which makes things more difficult.
Here are some low-iodine recipes to cook and store in your fridge or freezer to prepare you for your low iodine weeks. You can substitute non-iodized salt in the recipes, and they will taste just as good-in fact, we bet you’ll be eating these meals long after you finish your low iodine week. Enjoy!
We have a whole menu of low-iodine treats to enjoy, check it out!
For more information on following a low iodine diet, check out the Thyroid Cancer Survivor Association, who have in-depth advice to make following the diet a breeze. The Low Iodine Diet group also contains information about foods which are safe to eat.