I have started giving my 3 and 9 year old almond milk. My 3 year old drinks at least 30 to 35 ounce of almond milk in a day, with chocolate ovaltine in it. I was wondering if this okay. She has a healthy diet of fruits and veggies too. I heard almond milk is goitrogenic if consumed in greater quantity. I am concerned if this may lead to suppressed thyroid functioning.
Your thyroid gland, found in front of your neck, is a roughly-butterfly-shaped organ that plays an important role in your body’s metabolism. The thyroid takes up iodine and uses it to make thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which circulate throughout the body as part of the endocrine system. If the thyroid can’t take up enough iodine, it can’t make enough thyroid hormone.
The pituitary gland, sensing when there’s not enough thyroid hormone in the blood, shouts down to the thyroid “Hey! Turn up production will you?!” It does this by secreting more TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). In response, the thyroid gland can become enlarged as it struggles to increase production, but can’t get enough iodine. This swelling of the thyroid is known as goiter.
Goitrogens are substances (food, drugs, chemicals) that interfere with the thyroid being able to take up enough iodine. Goitrogens may block the transporters that carry iodine into the cells, or they can interfere with the incorporation of iodine into T3 and T4 by inhibiting thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme necessary in the manufacturing of thyroid hormones.
So back to the original question: Is drinking almond milk in large quantities something can could pose a problem? No. Almonds are not known to be a significant goitrogen, but I suspect what you heard (or what someone else heard and misinterpreted to you) was that drinking a lot of soy milk can interfere with thyroid function, possibly leading to goiter. This is true.
Goitrogens in the food supply come from two main sources: Soy foods and from cruciferous vegetables (that’s the cabbage family). But before you run home and throw out the tofu and broccoli, let me tell you why you probably don’t need to worry.
First, most of us have plenty of iodine in our systems, thanks to the fortification of most table salt with iodine. Not having enough iodine in our blood to make thyroid hormone will never be a problem for more than 99% of us. Even if you don’t add salt to foods, it’s present in abundance in processed foods.
Second, for goitrogens to have a negative effect on thyroid function, MASSIVE quantities are needed (and usually an underlying problem with thyroid function, or an iodine deficiency must also be present). If your thyroid levels have never been a problem and you don’t have any symptoms of thyroid deficiency (I’ll leave you to Google those) I wouldn’t worry about potential goitrogens in your diet, nor would I take steps to reduce them.
Third, the foods which are known goitrogens, indeed the very compounds themselves which are known to interfere with iodine uptake, also demonstrate positive health benefits! So before you avoid cauliflower, brussels sprouts or cabbage to protect your thyroid, remember that the isothiocyanates in these vegetables also prevent cancer. The isoflavone genistein which is found in soybeans is a goitrogen, but also has been shown to prevent cancer spread, and may help ward of atherosclerosis by keeping cholesterol levels down.
As a side note, you can reduce the bioactivity of goitrogens in cruciferous vegetables by cooking them. So if you are hellebent on eating 10 servings of broccoli and kale and cabbage each day, just steam them. Soy foods which are fermented contain much fewer isoflavones, so if thyroid function is a concern of yours, try choosing tempeh, natto or miso instead of edamame or tofu.
So for the original question: Almond milk is no concern. As for soy and cruciferous vegetables which are known goitrogens, use some common sense, consume them in moderation and you needn’t worry.
Thanks for the great question!