Low Iodine Diet: Foods To Eat And Avoid And A Sample Meal Plan

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oi-Neha Ghosh

on October 8, 2020

Radioactive iodine treatment is a type of treatment that uses radioactive iodine called iodine 131 (I-131) to treat papillary or follicular thyroid cancer. The radioactive iodine treatment may be given to treat thyroid cancer that has spread, to treat recurrent thyroid cancer after it was treated or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

Before the radioactive iodine treatment, patients with thyroid cancer need to go on a low-iodine diet (LID) at least two weeks prior to the treatment to make the thyroid cells more receptive to the radioactive iodine, thus increasing its effectiveness. The low- iodine diet needs to be maintained until the radioactive iodine treatment is over [1].

In this article, we’ll explain what a low-iodine diet is, the foods to eat and avoid and a sample meal plan.

What Is A Low Iodine Diet?

Iodine is a mineral naturally found in some foods like eggs, dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, fish and other seafood. Iodine is also added to salt, which is known as iodised salt.

Iodine is required by the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones which are needed to control the body’s metabolism and several other important functions of the body [2].

However, in the case of patients who have an upcoming radioactive iodine treatment, a temporary low-iodine diet may be prescribed. As a part of the diet, patients need to restrict their daily intake of iodine [3].

According to a 2010 study, currently, the American Thyroid Association recommends iodine intake of less than 50 mcg of iodine per day for one to two weeks before the treatment [4]. However, the recommendations may differ according to your doctor’s opinion.

Since the thyroid cells require iodine, people with thyroid cancer following a low-iodine diet will be deprived of iodine, which means that the thyroid cells will be low in iodine. After being deprived of iodine, all the thyroid cells will be more likely to absorb the radioactive iodine used during the treatment. The thyroid cancer cells will pick up the iodine wherever they are in your body and the radiation in the iodine destroys the cancer cells. This is the main purpose of a low-iodine diet [5] [6].

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Foods To Eat On A Low Iodine Diet

These foods are very low in iodine which can be eaten on a low iodine diet.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Egg whites
  • Fresh home-made bread made with non-iodised salt and oil (except soybean oil)
  • Non-iodised sea salt
  • Grains, pasta and cereal products without high iodine ingredients
  • Fruit juices, lemonade, beer and wine
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Olive oil, vegetable oil and nut oil
  • Tea and coffee without milk or cream
  • Popcorn cooked in vegetable oil with non-iodised salt
  • Fresh or dried herbs and spices
  • Sugar, jam, jelly and honey
  • Chocolate that contains 70 per cent cocoa or more
  • Crisps

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Foods To Avoid On A Low Iodine Diet

These foods should be avoided as they are high in iodine.

  • Iodised salt
  • Fish, seafood, seaweed and kelp
  • Milk chocolate and white chocolate
  • Raw green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
  • Fast foods
  • Cakes and biscuits made with eggs or butter
  • Dairy products like milk, ice-cream, cheese, yogurt and butter
  • Foods that contain additives like agar agar, alginate, nori and carrageen.
  • Commercially prepared bakery products
  • Egg yolks or whole eggs
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Soy products
  • Salted nut butters
  • Vitamins or herbal supplements
  • Red Dye No.3 that is used as an artificial colour in beverages

According to the Cancer Research UK, you can eat a small amount of these foods as they contain moderate amounts of iodine.

  • 5 to 7 teaspoon (25 ml) of milk per day
  • A teaspoon of butter per day
  • 25 g of cheese per week
  • 1 serving of dairy products per week
  • 1 egg each week

Additional Guidelines To Follow On A Low Iodine Diet

  • Avoid eating out at restaurants as the foods that are served may contain iodised salt.
  • Consult your doctor before you discontinue any medications containing iodine or any red-coloured medication.
  • Avoid all kinds of herbal supplements.

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Sample Meal Plan For Low Iodine Diet

According to the American Thyroid Association, here are some of the food options you can try as part of the low iodine diet.


  • Any fruit or fruit juices
  • Egg whites
  • Oatmeal with honey, cinnamon, fruits and walnuts
  • 1 slice home-made bread toast
  • Black tea or coffee


  • Vegetarian or chicken with rice soup
  • White or brown rice with vegetables
  • Fruit or vegetable salad with oil as a dressing
  • Fresh fruits


  • Fresh fruits or fruit juice
  • Dried fruits like raisins
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Unsalted nut butter
  • Home-made bread and muffins
  • Unsalted crackers


  • Small amounts of roast beef, lamb or turkey
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fruit or vegetable salad with oil as a dressing
  • Black coffee or tea

To Conclude…

A low-iodine diet is often recommended to patients with thyroid cancer to improve the effectiveness of their upcoming radioactive iodine treatment. This is a temporary diet plan that needs to be followed for one to two weeks before the treatment. As part of the diet, patients need to restrict their daily intake of iodine.


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