What to Eat for Thyroid Health?As with virtually every bodily function, your diet plays a role in the health of your thyroid. The thyroid relies on you to feed, nourish and maintain it so it can return the favor and keep your metabolism, nervous state and even some hormone functions up to par.
- Iodine: Your thyroid contains the only cells in your body that absorb iodine, which it uses to make the T3 and T4 hormones. Without sufficient iodine, your thyroid cannot produce adequate hormones to help your body function on an optimal level.
Iodine deficiency is typically not widespread in the United States because of the prevalent use of iodized salt. However, according to a nutrition evaluation conducted by the CDC, up to 36% of women of childbearing age may not get enough iodine from their diets, and it’s thought that iodine deficiency is on a slow but steady rise.
Because iodized salt is heavily processed, some recommend avoiding iodized salt and instead getting iodine naturally from sea vegetables (seaweed), such as hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu. It should be noted, however, that too much iodine can actually trigger thyroid problems and worsen symptoms, so it’s important to have a healthy balance.
Selenium: Selenium is indispensable to the thyroid. What it does is regulate thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism. It converts T4 into the more accessible form of thyroid hormone T3; and maintains the right amount of thyroid hormones. Selenium can be found in foods such as shrimp, snapper, tuna, cod, halibut, beef, calf’s liver, button and shitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts.
- Zinc, Iron and Copper: These metals are needed in trace amounts for your healthy thyroid function. Low levels of zinc have been linked to low levels of TSH, whereas iron deficiency has been linked to decreased thyroid efficiency. Zinc is found in oysters, sardines, beef, lamb, turkey, split peas, whole grains, pecans, almonds, and ginger.
Iron deficiency is strongly linked to decreased thyroid efficiency. If you are both anemic and iodine-deficient you will have to get your iron levels up to resolve any thyroid imbalance. Iron is found in clams, oysters, organ meats, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, lentils, and spinach.
Copper is needed in very small amounts by the thyroid so it can produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Cooper is needed for oxidizing iodine to T4, when you are deficient in copper your rate of T4 production will slow down. Since T4 keeps your body’s cholesterol synthesis working, hypothyroidism puts you at risk for developing high cholesterol and heart problems. Foods such as calf’s liver, spinach, mushrooms, tomato paste, turnip greens and Swiss chard can help provide these trace metals in your diet.
Omega-3 Fats: These essential fats, which are found in fish or fish oil, play an important role in thyroid function, and many help your cells become sensitive to thyroid hormone.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is made up of mostly medium-chain fatty acids, which may help to increase metabolism and promote weight loss, along with providing other thyroid benefits. This is especially beneficial for those with hypothyroidism.
Antioxidants and B Vitamins: The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E can help your body neutralize oxidative stress that may damage the thyroid. In addition, B vitamins help to manufacture thyroid hormone and play an important role in healthy thyroid function.
What Should You Avoid Eating for Thyroid Health?
- Aspartame: There is concern that the artificial sweetener aspartame, sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, may trigger Graves’ disease and other autoimmune disorders in some people. The chemical may trigger an immune reaction that causes thyroid inflammation and thyroid autoantibody production.
Non-fermented Soy: Soy is high in isoflavones, which are goitrogens, or foods that interfere with the function of your thyroid gland. Soy, including soybean oil, soy milk, soy burgers, tofu and other processed soy foods, may lead to decreased thyroid function.
Fermented soy products, including miso, natto, tempeh and traditionally brewed soy sauce, are safe to eat, as the fermentation process reduces the goitrogenic activity of the isoflavones.
Gluten: Gluten is a potential goitrogen and can also trigger autoimmune responses (including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) in people who are sensitive. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, along with most processed foods.
Foods that May Speed Up a Slow Thyroid
1. Sea Weed
2. Coconut Oil
Shellfish, like sea vegetables, are naturally rich in iodine – the nutrient that is critically important to thyroid function as iodine molecules are used in the production of thyroid hormones.
4. Garlic, Onions, Ginger, Pepper
Garlic, onions, ginger, pepper are stimulating to the body and therefore have an effect on the metabolism. There might be some consideration on the effect of these and other stimulating foods in regard to thyroid function.
Foods that May Slow Down a Speedy Thyroid
1. Fermented Soy FoodsSoy is very goitrogenic. A strong suppressor of thyroid hormones, some research indicates that soy may even be more effective in thyroid suppression than anti-thyroid drugs. Don’t forget that soy is a potent food, and that while sufferers of hyperthyroidism might welcome soy’s thyroid-suppressing effects, take care to eat soy in its fermented state in foods like tempeh and miso as soy also contains antinutrients like phytic acid which impair the body’s overall ability to absorb many nutrients.Foods Not Favoring the Thyroid
2. Raw Cruciferous VegetablesRaw cruciferous vegetables also suppress thyroid function. Cruciferous vegetables like kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, rapini, turnips and brussels sprouts contain goitrogens that interfere with iodine uptake and, in that way, also interfere with production of thyroid hormones.
3. MilletMillet, like cruciferous vegetables, contains goitrogens and interferes with iodine uptake. Cooking millet, as well as goitrogen-rich cruciferous vegetables, may mitigate its antithyroid effects to some degree.
1. Gluten-containing GrainsRecent research into autoimmune diseases and autoimmune thyroid disease in particular indicates that there’s a strong connection between celiac disease and thyroid disease. Indeed, study published in Digestive Diseases & Science indicates that sufferers of autoimmune thyroid disease have roughly a 400% greater chance of also suffering from celiac disease than control groups. Moreover, some research indicates that after 3-6 months on a gluten-free diet, those pesky anti-thyroid antibodies virtually disappear. That’s a poweful case to remove wheat, barley and other gluten-containing grains from your diet if you suffer from any form of autoimmune thyroid disease.Other Considerations for Benefiting the Thyroid
2. Unfermented SoyUnfermented soy foods – particularly those rich in concentrated isoflavones and genistien – contribute to autoimmune thyroid disease. Research into soy formula and its effects on babies indicates that babies fed soy formula are more likely to develop autoimmune thyroid disease and large concentrations of unfermented soy may adversely thyroid function in adults. If you eat soy, keep to small amounts and always choose fermented forms. (Learn more about the nastiness of too much soy consumption in my post about the Soy and Illinois Prisoner Case.)
3. CoffeeCoffee is simultaneously stimulating and goitrogenic which spell trouble for both hypo- and hyperthyroid sufferers. As a strong stimulant, it can wreak havoc on those suffering from hyperthyroidism as that added stimulation is the very last thing they need. Moreover, for those suffering from hyperthyroidism, coffee also interferes with iodine uptake and thus may inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones. Bad news for everyone.
1. Whole Grains - rich in B vitamins
Whole grains and whole-grain foods are natural sources of vitamins and minerals. B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin and thiamine help support thyroid function, as well as selenium, iron and magnesium. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center or UMMC, a regular intake of whole grains is advisable for those with thyroid conditions unless there is an allergy to particular grains. Whole wheat, long-grain brown rice, popcorn, steel-cut oats, quinoa and bulgur are examples of whole grains rich in nutrients. Eating whole grains can only support optimal thyroid function. This doesn't "speed up" your thyroid unless you have a nutritional deficiency.
2. Fruits and Vegetables - antioxidants and immune system buildersFruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They help build a strong immune system and shield the body from diseases and viruses. According to the UMMC, fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants such as squash, bell peppers, raspberries, tomatoes and cherries are effective in managing hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Thyroid function is also supported by B vitamins abundantly found in watermelon, avocados, sweet potatoes, dates, oranges, grapes, pineapple, mangoes and sea vegetables.
3. Foods with L-TyrosineThe amino acid L-tyrosine supports optimal thyroid function. Your thyroid combines with tyrosine to make thyroid hormone. The Franklin Institute reports that almonds, avocados, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, bananas, dairy products and sesame seeds are abundant sources of L-tyrosine.
4. Fish, Seeds and Nuts - omega-3 rich foods
According to the UMMC, omega-3 fatty acids can help support optimal thyroid function and ease inflammation that may be present from thyroid dysfunction. Coldwater fish, seeds and nuts are sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods also contain zinc, iron and magnesium to help support thyroid health. Tufts University reports that coldwater fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are among the best sources of omega-3. Walnuts and flaxseed also have among the highest concentrations in omega-3 fatty acids.