Should We Eat Raw Crucifers?

ng_cabbageShould we include raw cruciferous vegetables in our diet? I mentioned in my cabbage salad recipe that we don’t eat raw cabbage that often because of it’s thyroid suppressing effects, which many of you requested to hear more about.

I would like to share some excellent information from Sally Fallon and Chris Masterjohn (who published an article in the Weston Price Foundation’s magazine)

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon promotes eating plenty of raw foods, but also cautions against eating certain foods raw on a regular basis, such as broccoli, cabbage, and other vegetables, for the following reasons.

“While we recommend the inclusion of much raw food in the diet some vegetables are best eaten cooked. For example, cabbage,  broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and kale contain chemical that block the production of thyroid hormone (known medically as goitrogens). Beet greens, spinach and chard contain oxalic acid that clocks calcium and iron absorption and irritates the mouth and intestinal tract…..Cooking destroys or neutralizes these harmful substances (as does the fermentation process). Spinach and cabbage are popular salad foods but should be eaten raw only occasionally.”

Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, Pg 366

It was thought that by implementing the traditional practice of fermenting cabbage, you would eliminate this problem. However, is seems like recent research shows that those thyroid suppressors are still present in sauerkraut. In an very interesting article on the topic of crucifers, by Chris Masterjohn, (I recommend that you read the full article) this is included in the summery of the article.

“When raw crucifers are chewed, or when microwaved and steamed crucifers are digested by intestinal bacteria, they release substances called goitrogens that increase the need for iodine when consumed in small amounts and can damage the thyroid gland when consumed in large amounts.

These goitrogens also inhibit the transfer of iodine into mother’s milk.

Steaming crucifers until they are fully cooked reduces the goitrogens to one-third the original value on average. Since release of the goitrogens from steamed crucifers depends on intestinal bacteria, however, the amount released varies from person to person.

Boiling crucifers for thirty minutes reliably destroys 90 percent of the goitrogens.

Fermentation does not neutralize the goitrogens in crucifers. When foods like sauerkraut are consumed as condiments, however, the small amount of goitrogens within them is not harmful if one’s diet is adequate in iodine.

An increased dietary intake of iodine compensates for the consumption of moderate amounts of crucifers but cannot reverse the effects of large amounts of crucifers.

Paradoxically, the goitrogens found in crucifers may offer some protection against cancer. The jury is still out on whether or not this is true.

The use of sauerkraut as a condiment and several servings of steamed crucifers per week is probably beneficial. People who consume more than this amount, especially lactating mothers, should be sure to obtain extra iodine in their diet from seafood. People who make liberal use of crucifers on a daily basis should boil a portion of them to avoid excessive exposure to goitrogens.”

In the end, if you have low thyroid function, are pregnant or nursing (read the full article to get more info on this) or have low iodine levels, this is an important piece of information to know.

It reminds me off another issue with cabbage, it reduces the milk supply of nursing mothers. This can be helpful for those with an overabundance, but needs to be avoided if you are trying to maintain a good milk supply. A dear friend of mine was trying to include healthy food in her diet during the flu season, so started adding some raw cabbage to her daily salad. Within a week or so, she couldn’t figure out why her nursing son was wanting to nurse all the time and was obviously hungry. She kept nursing him more often……and kept eating cabbage. She has mentioned the issue with milk supply to me, but it wasn’t until I was over at her house for lunch that it clicked. She was making us a salad and chatting about how she added cabbage to her salad everyday. The light dawned!  I told her about it’s milk reducing properties (which I knew because I had used it for that purpose), and the problem was solved. She stopped eating cabbage and her milk supply came right back. All to say, it can be important to know what effect different vegetables and foods have on our body!

What we do

Like I mentioned, we only eat raw vegetables in this group on occasion. I feel that they also aren’t as digestible raw anyways. We do definitely eat sauerkraut.  We take cod liver oil daily and try to feed our thyroid through nutrient dense foods, like the people who used to eat sauerkraut in their everyday diet. Getting better sources of iodine in our diet is another thing I am trying to get into our routine. I feel that as long as you aren’t needing to be super careful because of a particular health issue, sauerkraut’s amazing health benefits (and taste!) far outweigh the goitrogens.

So that’s what I know. Anyone with more thoughts, questions, or other research to point too?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Greg says

    Thanks for this fascinating, eye-opening article!

    “An increased dietary intake of iodine compensates for the consumption of moderate amounts of crucifers but cannot reverse the effects of large amounts of crucifers.”

    What, specifically, do you think the difference in portion size / frequency of consumption is between “moderate amounts” and “large amounts”? I ask because I’ve recently added organic raw kelp to my diet — which in just a 1/4 teaspoon contains roughly 2260% (~3390mg!!!) of one’s daily iodine requirements (150mg, for a 2,000 cal diet) — and while I think this (in small quantities) will help offset the presence of raw/steamed cruciferous veggies in my diet, I’d still prefer to avoid eating the ‘irreversibly’ harmful “large amounts” of crucifers!!!

    Thanks in advance to anyone who feels called to chime in on this matter.

  2. Susan says

    Very good article. I can attest!
    I’d been on a physical and emotional roller coaster for a few years and unable to work. I kept insisting to my Dr./MD something else was going on since, at times, I felt great and then the physical and emotional/mental slump would come…very difficult to pull out of. I ate a very healthy diet, lots of water and raw included and very little cooked and processed. My boys are very healthy for all we’ve learned.
    For a few years I used green powders in drinks, to boost energy, and did notice I felt better using the sea vegetable ones over the others with mostly greens. And, thought when I was tired after I must be detoxing. More recently I started making green smoothies and packing it up with kale and spinach . In a lot of ways I felt and looked good (which may be because it boosted my iron) but eventually it caught up and I began to feel very tired and sick again. I was also getting little sleep for a neighbour issue so it was difficult to pin point the cause. And, I was more diligent with the smoothies trying to combat the stress’ and lack of sleep. The doctor kept insisting I just take synthroid but I couldn’t agree (after trying it a few month before, and ending up in emergency) but, feeling something else was at the root, and if we find it, I’m still open to the meds, natural or synthetic. Long story short, I found some articles similar to this about certain foods being not good for thyroid and ‘bling’ the lights came on. I stopped having the smoothies and in the first week lost 10lbs and felt and looked a lot better (puffiness disappeared). Since then, 3 months ago I’ve lost nearly 30lbs and at times have to be careful so I don’t loose to fast. You might think, could this now be hyperthyroid? No. I’m still a hypothyroid but my TSH is down.
    I found another Dr./MD who heard of this and was at least is open to understanding it…as my former Dr. thought I was just nuts and finally ‘released’ me as her patient. This was the day I wanted to ask her about the info I found on the net re: goitrogens…but she was horribly offended that I would bring her print outs from the net, also mentioning self-diagnosing. Well, in my case, thank God, after much prayer for breakthrough, I found the information on the net, and began, to feel normal physically and mentally, once again. I’m simplifying things a bit as it’s been quite a journey but overall health is good now and I’m currently continuing to find the right balance (reducing) of supplements as I get better and stronger. I should also mention that since eliminating these foods initially, I discovered I have a wheat/gluten intolerance as well (learning it can directly affect the thyroid). No wonder I was all over the place. Another important factor…read up on iron and thyroid, as they affect each other.

    Thanks for the good article as I was also wondering about fermented cabbage. We used to get it in a store I worked at years ago, and also a beet and carrot mix (without cabbage). I’ll try the beet and carrot now.

    Thanks very much and keep up the (researched/experienced) good internet info we can benefit from and be well…

    • Margaret says

      I sound a lot like you. Hypothyroid and gluten intolerant. My son, who is now a 1 year old, was born with mild hypothyroidism. Doctors said it was not related to my problem. I was so worried because the thyroid controls the development of the brain. Found out later, on my own, that he has high iron levels. I was wondering if the two problems could be related, so I googled thyroid and iron levels. I did not find anything so I assumed they must not be related. What did you find as to iron and thyroid levels affecting each other? Do you think his high iron level could be why his thyroid is not producing well? Thanks for any info. you can give me. Sure can’t go to any medical doctors with these questions, especially in the country where I live.

      • KimiHarris says


        I know that you were asking Susan your questions, but I did want to mention that iron and thyroid function are definitely related. 🙂 I don’t have a lot of information to give you, except that I know that they affect each other.

    • Gill Nolan says

      I’m so shocked. I’m so ill and can’t explain it. I feel as If my heart is struggling and I have severe arthritis. My fingers pain daily. I have back and hips problems. I lack energy. I have hypothyroidism and I’m so fat and gaining weight all the time without eating badly. How can I get better, thinner and feel more human/normal. I pray so much. I’m only 42.

      • says

        So sorry to here how you feel. I’ve had experience with this myself, and with many (mostly female) clients. Check out the website and book “Stop the Thyroid Madness” Meds are only a small part of the picture. Biochemical deficiencies that can be checked in blood work, and foods to avoid are hugely important. The role that the adrenal glands often, but not always, play in thyroid dysfunction is also something to be aware of. You can feel better with dietary changes, correcting deficiencies with whole foods/whole food supplements and when appropriate, addressing the adrenals. All the best to you…hang in there!!

  3. says

    I am a Natural Nutritionist who loves the value of solid research and education on Nutrition. Thank you for your great effects to bring it all to the forefront with the bases of Traditional and Wise Science.

  4. Lisa Allen says

    Thank you Kimi for this article. I asked God to please show me what is wrong in my body since feeling terrible for two weeks. I truly believe that I have a hormone imbalance stemming from my thyroid. He has given me one more piece of the puzzle here. Can you please tell me what you use for “better sources of iodine”?
    Thank you!

  5. says

    Thank you for the research in your post. I made raw sauerkrat and ate it over the course of a few days along with broccoli. I had a reaction and didn’t realise cabbage had the goitrogens. I do have an underlying issue that I was improving until this week! I’ll be going easy on the sauerkrat now.

    • Amaya says

      I enjoyed the article and found it helpful. Could someone point me to the actual research study conducted on humans.
      It would be really helpful for my overall understanding.

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