Changing Your Diet to Manage Your Thyroid Health
You are what you eat. Food is medicine. We’ve heard these sayings for years, and there is a lot of truth in them, even when it comes to healing and supporting your thyroid.
Unfortunately, an estimated 20 million Americans are living with some form of thyroid disease. (1) If you are experiencing symptoms like hair loss, dry and flaky skin, or excessive weight gain, you might be a part of this statistic. (2)
If you struggle with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, or if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your diet plays a major role in your thyroid health. For some people, dietary changes are all they need to get their thyroid back on track. Others will need to pair a good diet with natural supplementation and testing to get the results they’re looking for. Either way, you can support your thyroid by simply changing your diet. Let me show you how!
Top 5 Foods to Avoid for Thyroid Patients
Some foods simply need to be removed from your diet altogether. This list includes items that inflame the thyroid, cause leaky gut symptoms, and even alter the chemistry of the brain.
You can hardly go to the grocery store without encountering cereal boxes, cake mixes, and even sweet treats that proclaim to be gluten-free. Gluten is known to be highly inflammatory to your gut and to your thyroid.
It has long been known that gluten can cause leaky gut, particularly in patients who have been diagnosed with celiac disease. (3) Consuming this single ingredient has been known to allow bacteria and other toxins to leak from the intestine into the bloodstream.
Unfortunately, this leaky gut syndrome can lead to autoimmunity in the body. Your immune system begins to make antibodies targeted at the gluten molecules that came in through your leaky gut, but, unfortunately, the cells in your thyroid look similar to gluten, and the body can mistakenly start attacking your thyroid tissue instead. This process is called molecular mimicry, and can lead to autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
If you struggle with thyroid disease, gluten should be avoided at all costs!
Regular dairy products should definitely be substituted for dairy-free versions. Regular milk can be swapped for almond milk. Cream can be created with coconut cream. So many options exist these days that you should be able to find a dairy-free alternative to your favorite snack.
Dairy can be a dangerous ingredient because it triggers inflammation in the body, particularly in the digestive tract and the thyroid.
Similar to gluten, it can also cause leaky gut problems that activate the body’s immune system response and lead to autoimmunity.
Along with a leaky gut, dairy is known to cause a separate but similar issue known as leaky brain. The blood-brain barrier can become compromised, allowing bacteria and toxins into the brain itself. Avoiding dairy can help to correct this issue and restore balance to the blood-brain barrier.
Everyone knows that consuming too much sugar is bad, but have you ever wondered what is it doing to your thyroid? Along with gluten and dairy, sugar increases inflammation in your body.
It is also one of the top foods to avoid with hypothyroidism because sugar makes it more difficult to manage your blood sugar levels. Both your thyroid and your blood sugar levels are controlled by the same body system, so a problem with your blood sugar levels could contribute to a problem with your thyroid.
One 2014 study proved that low thyroid function is considered to be a risk factor for the development of diabetes. (4)
On the other hand, low blood sugar levels can also force your body into a stress response. The release of cortisol necessary to combat stress results in further inflammation, imbalanced hormone levels, and more. The toll that this can take on your thyroid is significant and will not allow it to work properly.
All of the chatter surrounding soy products can be confusing. Is it one of the thyroid foods to avoid or should you embrace the protein that soy can offer? Patients with Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism might want to pay particular attention to the debate on soy products.
Almost half of all patients with Hashimoto’s are sensitive to soy. In the same study, it was shown that more than half of these people were reporting uncomfortable gut symptoms. (5)
Soy is considered a phytoestrogen, which means that its structure is similar enough to estrogen that it can imitate the effects of estrogen in your body, especially if you are particularly sensitive or dealing with hormone imbalances. It is also a goitrogenic food, meaning it has been known to interrupt thyroid hormone production. The thyroid begins to enlarge and grow a goiter which can be very difficult to cure.
Along with all of the disruption to your hormones, soy also causes irritation in the gut and can worsen other leaky gut conditions. Be sure to avoid soy in all its forms if you want to stick only to a good diet for a thyroid patient.
Alcohol definitely tops the list for what not to eat in thyroid health. Much like many of the other foods on this list, alcohol disrupts the digestive system and can cause leaky gut symptoms. When this occurs, it leads to inflammation throughout the body.
Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to constant low-grade inflammation that triggers autoimmunity and other conditions.
Consuming alcohol regularly or binge drinking can specifically lead to inflammation in the brain. It can radically alter the way the brain works, sending different messages throughout the body. (6) This rewiring of the brain can result in increased thyroid symptoms and decreased detoxification abilities in your body.
Top 5 Thyroid-Boosting Foods
Now that we’ve covered the thyroid foods to avoid list, let me show you what you should be eating for thyroid support. Here are my top five!
When you think about healthy snack foods, does seaweed come to mind? If you’re searching for the best diet for hypothyroidism, the best thing you can do is to purchase a small supply of seaweed.
Seaweed contains a healthy dose of iodine, an important ingredient in thyroid hormone production. The thyroid uses iodine to assist with the production of prominent thyroid hormones like T3 and T4. Due to this, anyone with an iodine deficiency is prone to develop hypothyroidism. (7)
For those who struggle with hypothyroidism, boosting iodine levels could be the key to balance in the body. Instead of taking a daily supplement or consuming more table salt with this additive, eating seaweed is a natural way to introduce iodine into the body.
Not all seaweed is created equal when it comes to the iodine content. Kombu is widely recognized as containing the most iodine, followed by other popular types such as nori, wakame, and kelp.
Please note that, while iodine is an important mineral for your thyroid, some thyroid patients have troubles when taking iodine, so if you suspect any issues, always consult with your health care provider. As iodine can increase thyroid production, anyone with hyperthyroidism is advised to work with a professional when it comes to consuming iodine.
2. Collagen Powder
Many of the foods to avoid promote poor health for your digestive tract. Leaky gut is a common denominator with these foods, triggering inflammation throughout the body and worsening your thyroid condition. Collagen powder is one of my favorite tricks that can actually help reverse these effects and heal your gut.
Unfortunately, consuming more collagen can be a little tricky. You could try your hand at making bone broth at home.
However, it might be easier for you to try a powdered form that can easily be incorporated into a smoothie, soup, or other liquid. But not all collagen powders are created equal, as some are not high-quality and may actually contain toxins.
There are several great brands out there, but if you want to take the guesswork out of looking for a high-quality product, I’d recommend that you check out the collagen powder by Paleo Valley. (To receive 10% off your order, you can enter the code ‘BRIDGIT10’ at checkout!)
3. Wild Seafood
Similar to seaweed, wild seafood is possibly the best food for thyroid patients. Wild seafood contains a high iodine content, as well as a healthy dose of zinc.
Iodine and zinc are both necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency in either nutrient can result in hypothyroidism. Patients who suffer a zinc deficiency have an additional problem: zinc is required for the production of thyroid hormones, but thyroid hormones are required for the absorption of zinc. (8)
Make sure you are purchasing wild seafood instead of farm-raised. Wild seafood contains many more nutrients that benefit your thyroid.
One company I can confidently recommend is Vital Choice Seafood.
4. Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic may not have the most appealing aroma, but they are worthwhile companions if you want to support your thyroid. When you consume onions and garlic, you are providing your body with more sulfur to support the liver.
How does a healthy liver support thyroid health?
The liver is a major site of thyroid hormone conversion. This organ is responsible for converting T4 thyroid hormones (the storage form) into the T3 variation that actually activates your thyroid receptors in your cells. So if the liver is not functioning properly, the T4 won’t convert quickly into T3, causing hypothyroidism through a shortage of the T3 that your cells can actually use.
Keep in mind that you may need to introduce these foods into your diet slowly to avoid gas if the gut is disrupted.
5. Leafy Greens
It is no secret that leafy green vegetables are good for the body, but they are also one of the best foods for thyroid problems. Consuming more arugula, spinach, kale, and collard greens can be great for the entire population, but thyroid patients may benefit most of all.
Leafy green vegetables are well known for the micronutrients they offer: fiber, folate, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and calcium. All of these nutrients offer additional support to the liver. Much like onions and garlic, leafy green vegetables promote health to other parts of the body first and, by extension, assist the thyroid.
Changing Your Diet for the Better
Making a major shift in your diet can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. Starting with these simple changes, you can promote better thyroid health and relieve some of your symptoms.
You can relish in abundant energy; have smooth, shiny hair; and enjoy well-moisturized skin as your thyroid begins to slowly shift back toward equilibrium.
More Ways to Support Your Thyroid
If your body is full of toxins, your thyroid simply can’t perform at its best. Get our free 5-Day Detox Guide here to jumpstart your detox!
If you are having trouble getting the information you need about your thyroid, we also offer a complete thyroid panel that includes all the thyroid markers you need to evaluate thyroid health. It comes with a consultation as well so you know what to do with your results. Learn more here!
Do you struggle with thyroid issues? Has it inspired you to change your diet? Share with us what you’ve learned in the comments below!
Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP, is trained in functional health coaching and has worked with thousands of women over her career since 2004. She is the founder of Women’s Wellness Collaborative llc and HormoneDetoxShop.com.