Like many people living with thyroid problems, you may wonder what the best thyroid diet to follow is. The truth is that the ideal diet for those who are living with a thyroid condition depends on personal needs and goals. If your goal is weight loss, you will want to optimize your blood sugar and leptin levels and eliminate toxins and allergens, among other things. If your goal is to support your thyroid health but not necessarily lose weight, there are some foods (such as goiter-producing vegetables and soy) that you may wish to minimize or avoid.
You’ve probably heard this complaint time and again from clients who have thyroid disease—and with good reason. To the great frustration of many of the 27 million Americans with thyroid gland issues, the thyroid has a profound impact on metabolism. Unintended weight gain and weight loss are common, and both can be a daunting challenge to rectify. Although weight may be the most common complaint, clients are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, underscoring the need to eat a balanced diet and adopt a healthful lifestyle. But since one-half of all people with thyroid disease are undiagnosed and weight changes are a common symptom,1 RDs are in a prime position to spot potential thyroid conditions, make appropriate referrals, and help clients get a timely diagnosis and the treatment they need.
In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
Clara Schneider, MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN, of Outer Banks Nutrition and author of numerous books, including The Everything Thyroid Diet Book, says, “The No. 1 priority is to get the thyroid disease under control. Clients need to have labs and medications addressed first. Weight changes are just not going to happen before all of that is under control.” She notes that Hashimoto’s typically occurs around menopause, which compounds the weight gain issue that many women experience during that time.
Thyroid scanning is used to determine how active the thyroid is in manufacturing thyroid hormone. This can determine whether inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) is present. It can also detect the presence and degree of overactivity of the gland (hyperthyroidism) or, conversely, it can determine the presence and degree of underactivity of the gland (hypothyroidism).
First things first, you must consider food to be your medicine and get off all processed junk food, sugar (which sends you on a hormonal rollercoaster ride) and gluten. The Daily Living Eating Plan is a great place to start. In addition, l-glutamine is a key amino acid that reduces cravings for high-glycemic carbohydrates and helps kick the sugar habit. If you have already done that and are looking to go deeper, here are some tips to heal the thyroid:
The first step in natural treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the causes of thyroid dysfunction, such as inflammation, overuse of medications, nutrient deficiencies and changes in hormones due to stress. The hypothyroidism diet eliminates foods that can cause inflammation and immune reactions and instead focuses on foods that help heal the GI tract, balance hormones and reduce inflammation.
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common autoimmune disease linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, the condition in which the autoimmune system targets the thyroid specifically is commonly known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is when the immune system targets antibodies directly to the thyroid, causing inflammation of the thyroid gland and thus limiting the gland’s ability to produce its delegated hormones.
The development of TSH radioimmunoassay (43) provided the first sensitive and specific marker of systemic thyroid hormone status (Figure). Clinicians could now titrate therapy to achieve a serum TSH within the normal range as a specific marker of replacement adequacy (44). For patients who were once treated with doses that normalized their symptoms, BMR, or serum PBI, the use of serum TSH revealed such doses to be typically supratherapeutic (45, 46). Maintenance doses of l-thyroxine ranged from 200 to 500 mcg/d before the institution of the TSH assay and then became typically closer to 100 to 150 mcg/d (Appendix Table). Implementation of the TSH radioimmunoassay also provided a means to diagnose much milder, or even subclinical, cases of hypothyroidism that may have been undiagnosed with earlier, less sensitive, diagnostic methods (47).
To document that this was a result of trends toward lower doses, an unblinded study tracked well-being according to various doses and found that the highest well-being was achieved at supraoptimal doses, resulting in a suppressed TSH (65). However, a blinded trial did not reproduce this finding (66). In a call to the public, a 1997 British Thyroid Foundation newsletter asked readers to recount personal history of residual hypothyroid symptoms. More than 200 patients responded, 54 of whom specifically mentioned that they did not feel well despite normal serum markers of thyroid function (67, 68). Because of this surge in symptomatic patients, some clinicians advocated titrating dose by symptoms rather than serum TSH, reminiscent of the period before the 1970s (69).
Fat is your friend and cholesterol is the precursor to hormonal pathways; if you’re getting insufficient fat and cholesterol, you could be exacerbating hormonal imbalance, which includes thyroid hormones. Natural, healthful fats include olive oil; ghee; avocados; flax seeds; fish; nuts and nut butters; hormone- and antibiotic-free full fat cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese (yes, full fat, not skim); and coconut milk products.
Dietary changes: For those who have existing thyroid conditions, excess consumption of soy may affect thyroid function, but this is probably a concern only in those already taking Synthroid or other thyroid replacement medication. If you consume soy on a regular basis, you may require a slightly increased dosage of replacement therapy. You should also know that if you eat soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. To be safe, do not eat soy within three hours of taking your medication. Moderate soy consumption (one serving daily of whole soy foods) should not be a problem. Adequate iodine from dietary sources is also important – iodized salt, fresh ocean fish and seaweed are good sources.
Hypothyroidism Supplements: Your thyroid is impacted greatly by specific nutrients, like Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Vitamin B, Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, Iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of taking a dozen separate vitamins every day, I recommend finding a thyroid-specific multi-vitamin that already contains optimal levels of these nutrients. Dr. Meyer’s makes my favorite thyroid multi-vitamin, and it contains methylated vitamins to help with absorption and efficacy. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda and reishi are also really helpful for managing stress and anxiety, which are linked with your thyroid.
Symptoms - Hypothyroidism doesn’t have any unique characteristic symptoms - all of its symptoms could potentially present as symptoms of a different illness. One way to differentiate whether your symptoms are a product of hypothyroidism is to consider whether you’ve always had the symptoms (in which case hypothyroidism in unlikely) or whether the symptom is a departure from the way you used to feel (which means hypothyroidism is more likely).
An inexpensive and versatile food, beans are a great source for sustained energy, which can be helpful if hypothyroidism leaves you feeling drained. Beans contain protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and loads of vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber, which can be beneficial if you suffer with constipation, a common side effect of hypothyroidism. If you're new to beans, there are many varieties to try, all of which can be used as the base for entrées, as side dishes, and to enhance soups, salads, and stews. Just be sure not to overdo it — guidelines recommend that adults get 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but excess fiber can interfere with your hypothyroidism treatment.
“We summarized that adequate iodine nutrition of 150 mcg a day is essential for normal thyroid function but that an excessive intake—be it from a variety of sources (eg, fortified salt, supplements, seaweed, seafood)—can have the reverse effect: too much iodine can cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and too little iodine low may lead to hypothyroidism,” Dr. Leung says.
– Gluten. Gluten is compound of glutein and gliadin proteins. Gliadin’s molecular structure is similar to the thyroid gland, so when the inmune system tags it for destruction not only destroys the protein gliadin but also attacks the thyroid tissue affecting the secretion of the thyroid hormone. The gluten from refined flour is much worse than gluten coming from natural sources as whole barley or oats.
Mild hypothyroidism is usually the early stage. It can progress to hypothyroidism if a hypothyroidism diet isn’t adopted and lifestyle changes aren’t made. When the condition isn’t corrected, more severe autoimmune reactions can occur — this can cause worsened problems like impaired brain function, infertility, unhealthy pregnancy, obesity, heart complications and joint pain.
Dr. George Springer has practiced alternative medicine for 31 years with an emphasis on treating chronic disease conditions. He received his undergraduate BA from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and his Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) from Logan University where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to receive his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.M.D.) from the American Naturopathic Medical Institute a division of Breyer State University in Los Angeles, California.
Certainly, many of the foods listed above are an important part of a healthy diet. Try to eat a varied diet so that you avoid eating large amounts of goitrogenic foods on any one day. Be especially careful about raw juicing, which can concentrate these foods. Cooking, steaming, and even blanching (such as with kale) reduce goitrogen content and are good options when you wish to consume these foods.
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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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