Should 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?