Sunday, May 22, 2011

Can Too Much Sauerkraut Damage Your Thyroid? Including a Recipe for Iodine-Rich Ginger Dill Sauerkraut

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that produces thyroid hormones.  Through these hormones, the thyroid gland affects all metabolic processes in the body, such as regulation of energy in the body and the use of vitamins and minerals.  The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones, so an adequate intake of iodine is essential for thyroid health.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, bok choy, and broccoli are goitrogens.  This means that they contain substances that can suppress thyroid function.  According to the article Bearers of the Cross: Crucifers in the Context of Traditional Diets and Modern Science,
At low concentrations, the goitrogens in cabbage and other crucifers inhibit the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland; this effect can be overcome by an increased dietary intake of iodine. At high concentrations, however, these chemicals inhibit the incorporation of iodine into thyroid hormone. In this case, even the iodine that makes it into the thyroid gland cannot be used; dietary iodine therefore cannot overcome the effect of very large amounts of crucifers.
In short, consuming large amounts of cruciferous vegetables can damage the thyroid gland. Cooking can reduce the goitrogenic effect of cruciferous veggies.  For instance, steaming reduces the goitrogens in cabbage by about two/thirds, and boiling cabbage for 30 minutes reduces the goitrogens by 87% (according to the same article referenced above).

Fermentation does not reduce goitrogens.  This means that consuming large amounts of sauerkraut could actually have negative effects on the thyroid. Fermented foods are wonderful in that they provide probiotics and great nutrients, but when it comes to fermented cruciferous vegetables like sauerkraut, moderation is the key. It is best to ensure that fermented cruciferous vegetables are consumed as condiments, not as large components of the diet.

Sauerkraut is a wonderful, healthy food when consumed in moderation.  To counteract the goitrogens in cabbage, I like to add some iodine-rich seaweed to my sauerkraut. I always include dill in my sauerkraut as it lends such a fresh flavor to the finished product.  I also recently tried adding ginger (as recommended by Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen), and was amazed at how refreshing and delicious the sauerkraut was. 

Recipe: Iodine-Rich Ginger Dill Sauerkraut
1 medium cabbage
1 Tb minced ginger
1 Tb minced dill
1 Tb dried seaweed, such as wakame or nori
Filtered water to rehydrate seaweed
1 Tb celtic sea salt
2 Tb homemade whey

  1. Make sure your hands and all objects that will touch the sauerkraut are nice and clean.  This will really help to ensure your vegetables ferment properly.
  2. In a small bowl, combine dried seaweed and a small amount of filtered water. Once the seaweed has become moist and soft, drain off any excess water and chop the seaweed into small pieces.  
  3. Shred or chop the cabbage using a knife or food processor.  
  4. Place the cabbage in a bowl and combine with all other ingredients.  
  5. Using a kraut pounder, meat pounder, or some other relatively flat object, smash the ingredients for about 5-10 minutes, until a fair amount of juice starts to accumulate. If you have time, let the sauerkraut sit for 30-60 minutes to release more juices. 
  6. Pack the sauerkraut into mason jar(s).  It needs to be packed very well, so use a good bit of force to squish everything down hard in the jar.  Juice should rise to the top, and this juice will help protect the kraut during the fermentation process. There should be at least one-inch of air space above the sauerkraut in the jar.  
  7. Use a spoon to push down any little bits of cabbage/dill/seaweed stuck to the inside of the jar.  Put a lid on the jar and let it sit on the counter for 3-9 days.  The ferment time will depend greatly on the temperature in your house (it will take longer in the winter and less time in the summer).  
    NOTE: As the sauerkraut ferments, you will notice that the color will change from a nice, bright green to a dull green.  To test for doneness, taste a small amount; if it is still very crunchy like raw cabbage, it is not done.  When it is done, the sauerkraut will be somewhat soft and almost a bit squeaky on your teeth.
  8. Once the fermentation process is done, refrigerate the sauerkraut.  For the best flavor and texture, let the sauerkraut age for a few weeks in the fridge before you start eating it. 
Serve this delicious sauerkraut as a condiment with any meal.  It is also great on top of a green salad.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet, Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!

Sauerkraut on FoodistaSauerkraut

45 comments:

  1. Wow! I did not know this. Thank you so much for posting. We eat lots of sauerkraut (small portions with meals.) We also eat lots of cruciferous vegetables. We use himalayan crystal salt because we love all the minerals it contains, but I've been wondering about using sea salt because we most likely don't get enough iodine in our diet. We only eat seaweed on occasion. Thanks for the info, I'm passing it along to my husband too.

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  2. Taryn - some great food sources of iodine are eggs, butter (especially yellow butter from grassfed cows), and milk. We eat LOTS of those things, so I think we probably get enough iodine that way. But we still try to moderate the sauerkraut. We eat quite a bit of cruciferous veggies cooked (the kids both LOVE broccoli especially), so I try to make sure there is lots of yellow butter with that which would help counteract the goitrogenic effect.

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    1. most butter and milk has iodine because of iodine being used to wipe the cow teet clean, not because of diet. also, keep in mind some butters are dyed a yellow color.

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  3. This looks like a flavorful and beneficial option. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Butter really does make everything better ;) This was a great article!

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  5. What a great article. I have thyroid problems and had wondered if I should be careful eating sauerkraut. I hadn't thought about adding seaweed to it. Smart idea!

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  6. Great post,I didn't know that about sauerkraut, but my mom always said all things in moderation :) It looks like a delicious recipe.I found you from the foodie blog roll and I'd love to guide Foodista readers to your site. I hope you could add this sauerkraut widget at the end of this post so we could add you in our list of food bloggers who blogged about sauerkraut recipes,Thanks!

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  7. Sarah,
    Thank you for all this valuable information and fabulous looking sauerkraut recipe.
    I make a raw coleslaw of red cabbage and carrots with lemon and olive oil that we eat frequently. Is there anything I could add to it to counteract the effects?

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  8. Judee - You could add some seaweed to your raw coleslaw to help with the goitrogenic effect. You could also make the coleslaw using sauerkraut instead of raw cabbage. I personally try to limit the amount of raw cabbage we eat, but of course you need to do what works for you and your family.

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  9. I add kelp powder to our sea salt and also to lots of foods. It smells like the ocean but in small amounts isn't noticeable at all. I add a few large pinches to scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, soups (several pinches here), smoothies, sprinkle on fried eggs, sprinkle on veggies, etc.

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  10. I'm a little confused. I see how goitrogens prevent the USE of iodine but not how they DAMAGE the gland itself. I'm sure it's me, it usually is! But I don't see where the quote says that or is there more than is in the quote? Because that is a huge deal, damaging the gland itself. Just want to make sure.

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  11. The article does say that the gland itself can be damaged. Here is another quote from 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."

    For instance, if there is inadequate iodine being absorbed, the thyroid gland itself can become enlarged (this is called goiter).

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  12. Sally Fallon says fresh pineapple has iodine in it (not sure how much), but it might make a lovely thyroid-friendly ferment... I think I'll try it!

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  13. Thank you for a great blog, but I an uncertain about one thing. I just finished reading GAPS and am considering starting it with my family soon, but seaweed is on the do not eat list. One of my kids does not tolerate dairy, so no butter for him. What are your thoughts on balancing iodine when on GAPS?

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  14. Egg yolks and fish are also great sources of iodine. Both are recommended to be eaten liberally on GAPS. Egg yolks can be stirred into each bowl of soup from early on in GAPS (and they taste so good). I hope this helps.

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  15. Great info! What would constitute a large amt. of sauerkraut? Hubby eats about 1/2C daily of homemade sk and has approx. 1/2 of the juice in broth (total, not with ea. cup of broth) daily. Doesn't seem like a lot but wanted to check. Thanks!

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  16. oops. Meant to say that the sk juice in broth is about 1/2C 3X daily so about 1.5C of sk juice daily. Thanks!

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  17. It is hard to say, as it depends on what the rest of his diet is like and his thyroid health. If he is having so much, I would try to make sure he is also having LOTS of iodine-rich foods, such as egg yolks and grassfed butter. 1/2 cup/day of sauerkraut seems totally reasonable to me. It might also be a good idea to perhaps substitute pickle juice for some of the sauerkraut juice (since cucumbers are not goitrogenic).

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  18. Natural thyroid supplements worked almost instantaneously for me. It immediately reduced my fatigue, increased not only my energy but also my libido.

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  19. I made the sauerkraut for the first time and it turned out great. I also tried fermenting beets with salt and whey, but after two days in a jar, I saw mold growing on top. What can be the reason? Should I throw the whole thing out?

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  20. I'm glad your kraut turned out good, and sorry about your beets. I would throw the whole thing out. Sometimes mold can form if there is not enough salt in the ferment; sometimes it seems to happen even if you did everything right. Frustrating for sure, but hopefully the next batch turns out well. I find adding a bit of whey really helps to make things ferment more reliably.

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  21. I added one tablespoon of salt and two tablespoons of whey for about 6 medium size shredded beets (I tried them the day after fermentation started and they were quiet salty). What proportion would you recommend in general?
    I also just remembered that several times when I was buying beets, I noticed they were moldy on one end. maybe, the beets that I used already began developing mold, even before I fermented them.
    Hopefully, the next batch will turn out ok. Hate throwing things out!

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  22. That sounds about right on the salt and whey. In case it helps, check out this video. http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-beet-kvass/

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  23. So, I made my second batch of sauerkraut. After 3 days of fermentation, I opened the jar (not even sure why) and it had a strong smell of chlorine. Does it mean the whole batch got contaminated with the bad bacteria? I guess I have to throw it out and start fresh. I used a mason jar with a metal lid. Maybe I should use a lid with a rubber band the next time (that is what I used the first time and sauerkraut turned out delicious).

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  24. Hmmm, I've never noticed a chlorine smell before in mine. BUT, sauerkraut tends to be stinky while it is fermenting, in my experience, much more so than other ferments like pickles. I'd let it go for another few days and check it again to make sure before you toss it out.

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    1. Thank you so much for your help! I added a little water with salt (it all went to the bottom though) and took the top layer away. Should I let the gas out once in a while during the fermentation process or should I keep it undisturbed?

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    2. I'm not sure if it matters whether or not you let some of the gas out. Sometimes I use metal lids and sometimes the plastic ones that don't seal very well, and I haven't noticed a difference either way. I've had to throw away the top layer a few times too. I've tried adding more liquid a few times and never had much luck. More recently, I've been using a clean rock from my yard to weigh down the cabbage.

      Once it is done, give a few good sniffs and your nose should let you know whether or not it is okay.

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    3. So, I tasted my previously chlorine smelling batch. The strong smell was gone, it smelled normal, but the taste was too sour and the cabbage was very soft (my teeth actually hurt after I tried it); otherwise, tasted pretty much like sauerkraut. Did I ferment it too long? Do you think it is still Ok to consume it or should I throw the whole thing out?

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    4. Hmmm, if it didn't smell or taste bad, I wouldn't toss it. But I am surprised the cabbage is so soft as that has never happened to me. And why would it make your teeth hurt?

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    5. I have no idea what happened. It was my second batch of sauerkraut and after the first one being a great success, I made a lot of it for the second batch. I would hate to throw everything out. However, it is so sour that I am not sure whether I can consume it. Could it be that I added too much brine after I notices the chlorine smell?
      I have a feeling that if I left it to ferment any longer, the cabbage would start to dissolve, that is how soft it became.

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    6. I wouldn't toss it. You can use it a little at a time on top of salads or even in soup if it is too sour by itself. I have no idea what would cause it to get so soft, besides maybe fermenting too long.

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    7. Thank you so much! you are being extremely helpful!

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  25. I am making sauerkraut for the first time with pickle pro lids on canning jars. I put this together on Saturday and checked it today by removing a lid. It smells of chlorine ~ bizzare. I used sea salt and cabbage, not organic as it was not available. I will give it some time. One jar does look soft, but maybe I packed it too hard ~ something I have to get used to. Saw Natalia's post and just wanted to say I am expriencing the same thing...

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    1. Perhaps this is something you've already taken into account, but are you girls using tap water? I recall reading on a site(healingnaturallybybee) a precaution against such aqua. Her concern was the chlorine--the smell you've both listed--in tap interfering with the fermentation process.

      Based on her advice I used distilled. Reverse osmosis or spring water would work equally well, if not better, due to concerns about distilled lacking structure. Though that's an entirely separate concern. Best of luck.

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  26. Thanks Eliza! When I made a most recent batch of kraut, I opened it after a day or two and noticed a similar smell. I have noticed this previously, but never really labeled it as a chlorine smell. Anyhow, this smell seems to dissipate as the kraut continues to ferment, and I think it is common with my kraut ferments.

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  27. Thank you so much for your response ~ this is a first time project and I am obviously hoping for the best, but realize there may be a few bumps along the way. Thank you.

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    1. Great to see such good information posted. I remember reading a few years ago about cruciferous vegies blocking iodine absorption, which is particularly important where I live, as we have very low iodine in our soils and water and we need to supplement our food in some way. I have only recently got into fermenting vegetables, and I am going to keep the cruciferous vegies at a minimum.

      Thanks.

      Sarah
      Tasmania

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  28. How much Sauerkart is too much if you have Hasimotos Thyroid Disease? I've been eating a couple tablespoons with at least two meals a day each day. Thanks, Catgross
    Ventura, CA

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    1. I can't say for sure; it would depend on your body and how much iodine you are taking in. If you are very concerned about it, you may want to switch to a non-goitrogenic fermented veggie, such as pickles.

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  29. What will I do We made amistake and used sea salt with iodine making our saurkraut what will I do

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  30. I have been struggling with weight loss for years, but my thyroid always tests out fine. I have all the other symptoms of hypothyroidism as well. What about all the cruciferous veggies? Last year I did a 21 day juice fast and was using mostly kale and spinach and turnip greens for the greens part mixed with melons, beets, and carrots, and sometimes added zucchini and summer squash. I did lose about 16 lbs. during that fast, but was I further suppressing my thyroid with some of those veggies? I have never heard before about the goitrogens. I have recently begun making fermented cabbage and am eating about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day. Is this bad too? I am so confused and discouraged now as I thought I was going in a good direction! HELP!!!

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    1. Yes, all cruciferous veggies can be goitrogenic. Cooking reduces the goitrogenic affect, and consuming plenty of iodine helps to counteract it too.

      I myself don't think that 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of fermented cabbage a day is too much. But you could always experiment a bit yourself to see if there are any ill affects. If you are very concerned about it, you could try eating other fermented foods instead of cabbage, such as pickles. We love this feremnted pickle recipe, and we also buy fermented dill pickles (Bubbie's brand) at the store. http://nourishedandnurtured.blogspot.com/2012/08/fermented-bread-and-butter-pickles-gaps.html

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  31. Interesting! :) It is possible to cook the cabbage first and then ferment it? Or will the fermentation not work correctly with cooked veggies?

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    1. Hmmm, good question. I've never tried it, but if you wanted to make sauerkraut with cooked cabbage, you'd have to make sure to add in some whey or other bacteria (such as the non-dairy veggie starter sold by Cultures for Health). It seems like that should work fine, just as I can ferment condiments that I buy from the store.

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