Today I stopped taking my thyroid replacement hormone and began my low-iodine diet. So what is this diet? Well, it’s tricky, sneaky, and a lot of work (if you really want to stick to it). Of all my treatments this is the part I have the most control over, so of course, I want to do the best job I can. Lucky for me, I’ll never know if my diet influenced how well I recover, but for me it’s worth not having that “what if I had or hadn’t……” feeling.
Iodine is a naturally occurring element in almost everything. The ultimate “source” of iodine is seawater, so the most obvious thing is to not eat any seafood. But iodine is transported inland by sea spray and by animals that eat seafood, and is also common in fertilizers and animal feeds (as well as human vitamin supplements). To make sure people get enough of it, it is commonly added to salt. It is also a common antiseptic; ER doctor’s on the series by the same name were always dousing patients with it before performing emergency surgeries and during my earliest days in Africa I used iodine tablets and later an iodine filter to clean my drinking water. It is also used in medical scans, as it was for my cat scan that found my tumor. Iodine can also get into food if the processing equipment or food containers are cleaned with a solution which contains iodine. Since some dairies use iodine-based solutions to clean their milking equipment, dairy is banned from the diet! And because iodine gives things a red or brown color, it’s used in red and brown food dyes, which means even medication like Advil are off the list!
So to come up with a 2-week meal plan I started with the basic “banned foods” lists circulating hospitals across the country. I then reviewed the existing “low-iodine cookbooks”, visited forums on the subject, and researched the actual iodine content of various foods during laboratory testing. If hours of this sounds boring to you, let me assure you, it WAS! After running around in circles for weeks, I set my 5 inch stack of papers aside and hoped I wouldn’t need to have the radiation treatment at all and could avoid doing the diet, but nope! So with my start date for the diet approaching, Rick and I spent a good 3+ hours one night and then some more several more nights to come up with “The Plan”.
I started with the basics:
- avoid things from the sea or close to the sea. For example, I’m substituting rice (typically grown in low-lying coastal areas) with barely (typically grown in more inland areas).
- Avoid anything that has had iodine specifically added to it (such as iodized salt, iodized flour, etc.); and since it’s difficult to verify whether salt used in anything had iodine in it or not, just avoid anything with salt as an ingredient (no packaged foods, baked goods, etc).
- Avoid anything in a glass or metal package which may have been sterilized with iodine.
- Avoid all dairy.
- Avoid soy or anything made with soy.
- Avoid anything containing red or brown dye (as well as a iodates. iodides, Algin, Alginates, Carageen, carrageenan, Agar, agar-agar, and nori….which I never paid attention to before, but are responsible for eliminating “milk substitutes” including “hemp milk” and “almond milk”).
I then began my list of “safe” and “unsafe” foods, looking up individual foods as I thought of them and cross-checking lists; of course NO hospital/organization provides the SAME list of “safe” and “un-safe” foods! And so to keep it simple (and for the sake of time and sanity) I made a sideboard that is something was banned on a list, it would be banned on mine (and so I lost eggs…sniff…as well as no red fruits or vegetables (which are naturally high in iodine), limit root veggies and remove their skins (in close contact with iodine-rich soil), no coconut, no pine nuts, no dark leafy greens or most green veggies, no juice (unless I made myself), etc. etc. etc. There are also guidelines that limit grains to 4 servings per day and meat to 3-5 oz servings a day. In addition I checked my local tap water for its iodine content (safe).
And in the end I had my list of “safe foods” and just needed to figure out what to do with them! I should probably mention that many people undertaking this diet head into it with great gusto, I’ll call these people “cooks”. After compiling their Master Plan, they spend the entire weekend before starting the diet squandered away in their kitchens cooking up hearty meals from scratch (including baking chickens to obtain chicken stock for soups), and then create individually packaged pre-cooked meals that they later (while hypothyroid and unable to think clearly) simply need to heat-up. These people are forward thinkers, organized, and let’s face it, smart.
Me? Not so much. Just as I tried to avoid dealing with generating my meal plan, Ispent all of last weekend pretending I had no need to be cooking. My tally of neatly pre-packaged meals equaled zero. Mainly because I hate cooking and I suck at it. I see no reason why I would spend hours baking a cake from scratch when I KNOW a cake prepared by a professional pastry chef is going to taste better anyways! Plus by buying a professional cake I’m doing my part to keep small bakeries in business and help the economy AND providing friends and family with a truly delicious desert experience. But unfortunately, this diet leaves me no choice. I’m being forced to create everything from scratch….well mostly.
Taking pity on their poor culinary-challegned friend, some wonderful people have offered to hire a chef to make a few meals for the diet (Hallelujah!). The chef is coming to our house this Thurs. to cook a few staples (like a loaf of iodine-free bread…I’m getting chills!). But I still needed to pull together recipes for the rest of the meals. So what can I ACTUALLY eat? Well, here’s today’s menu (all organic of course):
Breakfast = whole oats boiled in water with cinnamon and 100% pure maple syrup.
Snack = handful of steam pasteurized unsalted almonds
Lunch = 1 small advocado mashed with chopped onion and tomato and non-iodized salt, baby carrots, salt-free all natural corn chips, and honey crisp apple slices.
Dinner = Green pepper stuffed with extra lean all natural ground beef, barley, fresh basil, mushroom, tomato, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Which seem almost appetizing, if figuring out the portions and combinations (getting 3 serving of grain and 1 meat) and then the actual cooking (3+ hours total) weren’t so much work. But I’ve (hopefully) planned out the diet so the hardest to prepare meals are during the first week (when I’ll have more energy), reserving the easier stuff plus leftovers for the second week.
So far so good at least, and as long as I stick to the plan, all should go as well as it can. And it could be SO much worse, or forever (shutter picturing a life without ice cream…noooooooo!).