Healthy Eating When You Have Thyroid Disease

Quinoa bowl with asparagus, avocado, tomatoes and almonds
Natasa Mandic/Stocksy United

The foods you eat can make a difference in your general health and how you feel every day, whether or not you have thyroid disease. However, when it comes to hyper or hypothyroidism or other types of thyroid disease, it’s important to understand there is no specific "thyroid diet," and basically, your best bet is to eat a healthy balanced diet loaded with fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Why Should I Bother to Eat Healthy?

Your thyroid gland has a big effect on your weight, so eating a reduced calorie diet (along with exercise) may help you control your weight. Fortunately, many healthy foods are lower in calories, so you can eat enough to feel full and satisfied without adding extra.

In addition, it’s a good idea to avoid foods typically high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, such as fast foods, sugary beverages, sweets, deep-fried foods, and highly processed convenience foods. In general, there are few health benefits to eating these "junk foods" and, in fact, eating a lot of them makes it much harder to lose or maintain your weight.

Can I Eat Cruciferous Veggies or Soy When I Have Thyroid Disease?

When raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale are broken down in the digestive system, they release compounds called goitrogens that can interfere with the way your body makes thyroid stimulating hormone—but this can only happen if you have an iodine deficiency at the same time.

With the advent of iodized salt, having an iodine deficiency these days is quite rare. Additionally, cooking goitrogenic foods inactivates the compound, so there’s no need to be too worried about these healthy veggies.

Soy contains isoflavones that may have a similar effect, but again, only if you consume large amounts and have an iodine deficiency. With iodized salt used everywhere and in most everything, this is highly unlikely.

Note that soy can have an effect on certain medications. You don’t need to avoid soy and soy foods, but it’s best to talk to your doctor about how much and when you eat them.

One more note on iodine: since there’s plenty of iodine in the average American diet, there’s no need to add any more iodine, and in fact, taking extra may not be good for your thyroid.

Meal Size and Timing

It doesn't really matter if you eat three large meals, five or six smaller meals, or some combination of large meals and small snacks, as long as you stay within your daily calorie budget. Choose an eating pattern that best fits your lifestyle and needs.

However, you should talk to your doctor about your medications and whether or not they should be taken on an empty stomach or with meals, and if there are any foods you should avoid just before, or after, you take your medications. For example, according to the makers of Synthroid:

"Foods like soybean flour, cottonseed meal, walnuts, and dietary fiber may cause your body to absorb less SYNTHROID from the gastrointestinal tract. Grapefruit juice may cause your body to absorb less levothyroxine and may reduce its effectiveness. Let your doctor know if you eat these foods, as your dose of SYNTHROID may need to be adjusted."

Healthy Foods to Add to Your Diet

A healthy diet needs to include the proper number of calories, but you also need to make sure you’re getting enough heart-healthy and bone-healthy nutrients. These foods are good choices:

Fish: Salmon and tuna are both high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but not high in calories. If you’re big on their flavor, trout is also high in omega-3s.

Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for normal nervous system function, and these types of fats are also heart-healthy. If you’re not a fan of fish, you can get omega-3s from plant sources like from pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and canola oil.

Dairy: Eating foods rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D is good for your bone health and dairy foods are the best sources out there. Getting these essential nutrients may be especially important for people with hyperthyroid problems who run the risk of becoming deficient in vitamin D. If you need to control your calorie count, choose low or nonfat milk, which also reduces your saturated fat intake.

If you don’t like milk or dairy products you can get calcium from non-dairy sources like dark green veggies, nuts, and cow’s milk alternatives like rice and almond milk. You can get extra vitamin D from oily fish and certain types of mushrooms, or take a vitamin D supplement.

Berries: Fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, plus they’re deliciously sweet. Swap out your typical high-calorie dessert for a bowl of berries with a little whipped cream and chopped nuts. Or add berries to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal for a delicious breakfast. Try low-sugar coconut raspberry oatmeal, for example.

Fresh Fruit: There’s no need to stop with berries when all fruits, in general, are good for you. Whole fresh fruits are best. Try a sliced apple or pear served with peanut butter for a healthy snack, or carry an orange with you to eat out of hand at work or school.

Stick with fresh whole fruit whenever possible. Although drinking 100 percent fruit juice is good for you, it can be high in calories. One serving of fruit juice is only six to eight ounces.

Colorful Veggies: Dark green and bright red, yellow, and orange vegetables are loaded with nutrients, and each one is a good source of the fiber you need for a healthy digestive system. Vegetables are usually low in calories so you can load your plate with veggies without blowing out your calorie budget.

Whole Grains: Whole grain bread and cereal are excellent choices for a healthy diet because they’re rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Besides being good for your digestive system, fiber helps keep you feeling full longer, so you’re less likely to feel miserable before your next meal. Go beyond the brown rice and try a variety of ancient grains, too.

Brazil Nuts: Your thyroid gland contains a fair amount of selenium, one of the trace minerals that help your thyroid produce thyroid hormone. Brazil nuts are high in selenium and one small serving each day is all you need. But if you don’t like Brazil nuts, you can get plenty of selenium from tuna, halibut, and turkey.

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