Cautionary Cooking: Tips for Low-Iodine or Iodine Free Diet

 It is almost time for another pre-scan iodine diet, and I am preparing by testing out the Thyca book recipes. Cooking is a pretty new thing for me. My mother taught me how to poach an egg, my father taught me how to microwave, and a couple of kids I babysat for taught me how to scramble eggs. My palette is rather unrefined.

As a result, I have always thought of cooking as something overrated and dreary, more 1950's housewife than I ever cared to be. I was an only child until I was fifteen, so I never really got the opportunity to experience the kitchen as a positive communal space, a haven of female culture, as its described in Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate.

Now that I am subject to yearly radiation scans (sounds cool, but as of yet, no super powers) cooking is a necessity. Unless you have someone in your life who cooks you three meals a day and who would be willing to then adjust these meals for low-iodine standards, you will also have to cook. It is likely your doctor has given you a copy of the THYCA cookbook, or at least a basic list of guidelines and link to the thyca website.

Here are some basic tips on Thyca cooking you may not find in the cookbook:

  • Begin cooking a few days before you are scheduled to start your diet. Store up hearty freezer-friendly dishes like stews, casseroles, meatloaf, etc. If this diet is the first after your thyroidectomy or if you are not on thyrogen, you are likely extremely HYPO and will not be up to cooking more complex things like homemade chicken broth. You'd be amazed at the number of recipes that call for chicken broth.
  • Hide or dump the foods that would most tempt you to cheat. This is one diet you really don't want to cheat on. Your life, or at least some very expensive medical procedures, could be compromised. Sometimes the "cheating" is not even conscious. I once started the diet with a lovely beef stroganoff recipe and then couldn't eat any of it, because I realized too late that I had added some Tony Chachere's to the mix (love that stuff). I created an off-limits spice cupboard after that so there would be no further mistakes. I also designated his and hers shelves in the refrigerator for the duration.
  • Purchase allowable ingredients in advance. Be sure to stock up on allowable spices, especially Kosher salt. This diet has plenty of flavor if you experiment with spices. Peruse the cookbook beforehand to make a list of things you might need. Substitutions are difficult if not impossible, so you'll want staples on hand. Everything but produce will keep.
  • Stock up on bananas. This is the one kind of produce that won't go to waste, even if it over-ripens. Bananas are the super-filling ingredient for any kind of smoothie and when they turn brown are great in baked goods like muffins. Toss a few frozen bananas in a blender (with a bit of water), refreeze and you've got a delicious banana icecream.
  • Cook in bulk on weekends and stock up on allowable ready-to-eat snacks. Cooking three times a day is exhausting, even if you are feeling healthy. Do not underestimate the helpfulness of snacks like unsalted nuts, portable fruits & veggies, raisins & other dried fruits, honey sticks, etc. for helping you keep on track during a busy week. Muffins are your best friend when going to parties or restaurants where everything else is off limits.
  • Know your microwaveables and stock up. Unsalted canned veggies, old-fashioned oatmeal, unsalted grits, tea, instant coffee, homemade cocoa, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes. These are the foods I am aware of that can be prepared solely via microwave, no precooking necessary. In this age of convenience, on a diet of inconvenience, cherish them.
More blogs on Low Iodine Cooking: LID Essentials, How to Make the Diet Bearable, and LID Peanut-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Do not touch the Jalepenos. They bite.

But, like many young ignorant novice cooks, I assumed that foods you can pick up with your bare hands at a grocery store are safe to touch.

I WAS WRONG. There is this horrible debilitating infliction that no one talks about. It is called "Jalapeno Hands." I kid you not. This is a real affliction caused by touching the inside (seedy part) of a jalapeno.

It looks something like this: ____________[insert beloved family member here] is innocently chopping peppers for a delicious recipe she found in the THYCA cookbook. Lately she has been experimenting with spice, so she decides to add some zip with jalapenos. She takes a small bite of one to test their spiciness. Mmmm, not bad.

She begins slicing the peppers, but all those tiny seeds get in the way. It would be so much easier if she just rinsed the seeds out of the pepper with her hands, so she does. She goes about sautéing the peppers and onions, etc., but the stove must be on too high. It feels like she is burning herself, but she isn't touching the pan.

Pretty soon her hands are on FIRE. They look normal, but she is in terrible terrible pain. Something is WRONG. Web MD to the rescue. Turns out, she isn't alone. She comes across a website where dozens of people are talking about "jalapeno hands" and the remedies that do and do not work.

So she soaks her hands in vegetable oil. Nothing. Milk. Vinegar (gag). Baking soda. Aloe. NOTHING WORKS. The only thing she can do is sit with her hands in a bowl of ice water until 5 am when the pain finally subsides enough for her to fall asleep with her hands wrapped in cool washcloths.

Don't let this happen to your loved ones. I know you are skeptical (my husband still is). I know it sounds hilarious. But at the time I was pretty damn miserable. And it could have been prevented by a simple warning. I am now an advocate of putting such a warning on all recipes including jalepenos**. In all caps. And red lettering. And maybe some skulls and crossbones. If I were to go into the business of warning label making, mine would look like this:

At least my stuffed peppers came out. This is my spicier version of the thyca recipe. Enjoy cautiously.

Low-Iodine Stuffed Peppers:

-8 bell peppers
-1 medium onion
-2 jalapeno peppers (optional) ** WEAR GLOVES OR YOU WILL REGRET IT
-1 pound of ground turkey
-2 cups of cooked rice
-2 chopped tomatoes
- pinch of parsley
- pinch of garlic salt
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- a pinch of cayenne (optional)

(SIDE NOTE: If you are not on the low-iodine diet, you should add Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning to this recipe and just about everything else you cook. That s*** really is great on everything.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop the tops off the bell peppers. The main bell of the pepper is to be stuffed. The tops can be chopped and added to the filling. Chop onion, garlic, and tomatoes. Chop jalapenos ONLY IF WEARING GLOVES.

In a large pot of boiling water, boil the peppers until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and dry on paper towels.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and chopped bell peppers and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the turkey, garlic, parsley, salt, black pepper, and pepper flakes. Cook until the meat is browned, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the lumps, about 6 minutes. Add the rice and tomatoes and stir well. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Pour enough water into a baking dish to just cover the bottom, about 1/8-inch deep. Stuff the bell peppers with the rice mixture and place in the baking dish. Bake until the peppers are very tender and the filling is heated through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: Calories: 330; Fat: 17g (Saturated Fat: 5g); Protein: 17g; Carbohydrates: 26g; Sugar: 6g; Fiber 0g; Cholesterol: 52mg; Sodium: 542mg

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