Improve Thyroid Health with Simple Diet Changes
By Natalie Collier, MScN
As a nutritionist and someone who reversed her own thyroid condition with diet and supplementation, I know that diet changes can make a huge impact on thyroid health. With medical conditions such as hypothyroid Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, food can either be fuel for your thyroid health or fuel for your thyroid problems.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism can include dry skin, weight gain, fatigue, constipation, puffy face, hair loss and impaired memory. Hypothyroidism is a diagnosable medical condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce adequate thyroid hormones. The most common form of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. The National Institute of Health estimates that Hashimoto thyroiditis affects 1 to 2 percent of people in the United States. Diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism requires a visit to your healthcare practitioner. Treatment options will often include thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Diet should also be addressed to optimize treatment. The goal should be to optimize the thyroid by bringing dietary inflammation down, addressing nutrient deficiencies and using thyroid hormone as needed.
It is worth mentioning that some patients are on the cusp of a thyroid disorder. They are not being diagnosed with hypothyroid because their thyroid levels are technically within normal range. But they are experiencing low thyroid symptoms such as weight gain, hair loss and constipation. In these cases, often TSH levels are at the high end of normal. For patients without diagnosable thyroid conditions but experiencing symptoms, they may consider starting with simple diet changes and supplementation to support and optimize the thyroid. Whether you have been diagnosed with hypothyroid or are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroid, here is my list of top foods to include and top foods to avoid in your quest for better thyroid function.
- Selenium-rich foods: Include one or more sources daily. Selenium is a mineral that helps the body convert t4 into t3 (the useable form of thyroid hormone). Selenium-rich foods include fatty fish (such as tuna, salmon and sardines), good-quality meats (turkey, pasture-raised chicken and grass-fed beef). Vegetarian sources of selenium will include shitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds and brazil nuts.
- Veggies: Daily unlimited. There is a lot of controversy about eating cruciferous vegetables with thyroid disease because they naturally contain goitrogenic properties which have anti-thyroid properties. However, I say, include them cooked in unlimited quantities while monitoring how many raw cruciferous veggies you include. Cooking will destroy the majority of the goitrogenic properties. Cruciferous veggies have other benefits such as filtering excess estrogen, supporting liver function and providing the body with fiber and phytonutrients. Include a wide range of colorful vegetables such as cauliflower, peppers, lettuce varieties, spinach, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, zucchini, and squashes.
- Complex Carbs: Low carb diets, especially ketogenic diets can be hard on thyroid function. If you have hypothyroidism and are transitioning to a low carb diet, consider transitioning slowly and including lots of non-starchy vegetables. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include good-quality complex carbs such as squash, plantains, sweet potatoes, beets, oats, brown rice and/or quinoa.
- Iodine-containing foods: Without iodine your body cannot make thyroid hormones! However, it should be noted that both high and low iodine can impact thyroid levels in a negative way. Include iodine-containing foods such as pasture-raised eggs, fatty fish (such as tuna, salmon and sardines) and/or shellfish (like shrimp and scallops). Sea vegetables are a wonderful vegetarian source of iodine.
- Gluten: I’m not a big fan of gluten regardless of thyroid function but there is a known beneficial effect of a gluten-free lifestyle on patients with autoimmune Hashimoto’s Thyroididitis. If you are experiencing low thyroid symptoms, consider avoiding gluten completely. Try corn tortillas, brown rice wraps, almond flour tortillas (Siete brand) or lettuce instead of sandwich bread or buns. You can also have your meal on a salad instead of bread. Pasta can be replaced with spaghetti squash pasta, zucchini pasta, quinoa pasta and/or bean-based pastas. If you need something heartier you can incorporate roasted sweet potato, quinoa, and/or brown rice.
- Sugar: Limit/Avoid. Because most hypothyroid conditions are autoimmune reducing inflammation is essential. Sugar can feed bad bugs in the gut and increase inflammation, so it should be used sparingly or avoided. Save your sweet treats for special occasions, opting for mineral-rich varieties of sugar like dates, maple syrup, local honey or coconut palm sugar. Some good substitutes might include stevia, monk fruit or fresh fruit.
- Individual Food Sensitivities and/or Allergies: Everyone can have unique food triggers. If you find that you are hitting a wall with weight loss but not ready to eliminate foods on your own, try Wellnicity’s food sensitivity panel to identify personal food triggers.