Eating Well on a Low Iodine Diet

Written By Christy Brissette

If you have thyroid cancer and will be scanned or treated with radioactive iodine, you will probably be told to follow a low iodine diet (usually 50 mcg of iodine or less per day). This will help your thyroid gland to absorb more radioactive iodine, making your scan more accurate or the treatment more effective.

What is Iodine?

Iodine is a mineral that the body needs to make thyroid hormones. Most of us get all the iodine we need from a balanced diet as foods such as seafood, egg yolk and milk products naturally contain iodine.

Good news

The good news is, you only have to follow this diet for 1-2 weeks before the treatment and for about 2 days after the treatment. Research suggests that following the diet for longer does not provide any benefit.

Not-so-good news

The not-so-good news is the diet is quite limited and can be difficult to follow, because iodine is naturally present in many foods and is added to table salt in Canada. It is also difficult to tell how much iodine is in a food because it is not listed in Nutrition Facts tables. Thyroid Cancer Canada recommends checking the ingredient list instead and learning which foods naturally contain iodine.

A word of caution: because this diet is so limited, you should not stay on it for longer than needed. A registered dietitian (RD) can help you make sure your low iodine diet contains enough other nutrients you need for good health.

Image of a quinoa and asparagus dishBut wait, more good news – we are here to help!

If there was ever a time to prepare your own meals, it is now! The diet can be difficult to follow because it limits processed, convenience and restaurant foods. This means it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start cooking.

We suggest you prepare meals ahead and freeze. This is especially important if your health care provider has told you to stop your levothyroxine pills to prepare for the radioactive iodine. This will cause you to become hypothyroid (low thyroid) and you will not have much energy for grocery shopping and cooking. Ask your health care provider if you will need to bring in your own low iodine meals and snacks when you are in the hospital.

In the ELLICSR Kitchen, Geremy and I recently led a class on low iodine cooking. Our low iodine recipes are rich in other nutrients… and very delicious!

Here are the links to our low iodine recipes and nutrition tips for following a low iodine diet:

Check out this extensive list of foods to choose and avoid on a low iodine diet from Thyroid Cancer Canada.