Nutrition for a Thyroid-Friendly Diet

cooking vegetables in a pan
Alie Lengyelova/Stocksy United

Even if weight gain is not one of the complications of your thyroid condition, there are a number of important tips that can help you use your diet and nutrition to support your thyroid and enhance your thyroid treatment.

Don't let what you eat to get in the way of healthy thyroid function. Here are some thyroid-friendly nutritional tips to consider. Not all of them have been scientifically proven to help thyroid conditions, but there is a good reason to believe they may help, and they all make sense for good nutrition in general.

Follow a Thyroid Friendly Diet

Your thyroid, like other hormones, is sensitive to what you eat. The more nutritional stress we put on ourselves, the more likely we are to experience inflammation that can worsen autoimmune reactions, and interfere with thyroid function. What approaches are thyroid-friendly?

  • Consider a gluten-free diet. Gluten has proteins that in some people can block the ability to properly absorb thyroid hormone. Gluten is also inflammatory and an allergen in some people. For some autoimmune thyroid patients, going gluten-free may even reduce antibodies back to normal, and trigger a remission in your thyroid condition.
  • Consider a low-glycemic/carbohydrate-controlled diet. Low-glycemic means a diet that is low in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and cereals. The benefit of a low-glycemic diet is that it helps to balance blood sugar spikes. Sugar spikes are a stressor, and consistently high blood sugar can be inflammatory as well. So lowering and balancing blood sugar reduces overall stress on your hormones, including your thyroid.
  • Use organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pesticide-free foods whenever possible. Hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides are toxins. Toxins are "foreign" to the body and can trigger autoimmune and inflammatory responses. The more you can remove these toxins from your foods, the less stress these foods will create in your immune and endocrine systems.
  • Use grass-fed versus grain-fed organic meats whenever possible. Meat from grass-fed animals is much higher in healthier fats and nutrients than grain-fed animals.
  • Incorporate more "good fat" like olive oil, avocado, and healthy nuts into your diet. These good fats have anti-inflammatory properties that may help support your immune system. Salmon is also an excellent source of good fat (but choose wild salmon, and not farmed salmon, for maximum nutritional value).
  • Eat sufficient protein (animal meats, fish, and eggs) but make sure they are healthy sources. Healthy sources of proteins are leaner cuts of organic meats, wild-caught fish that are not high in heavy metals, and free-range eggs, for example.

Practice Mindfulness When Eating

If you eat when stressed, your body is less likely to produce essential hormones that help you feel full and aid in healthy digestion and absorption. Eating under stress also can increase your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This makes your fat cells (especially belly fat) even more effective at absorbing fat from your diet.

What can you do to "de-stress" your eating and incorporate mindfulness? Here are a few simple but powerful things you can do:

  • Take three deep cleansing breaths—expanding your belly fully with air—before each meal and snack.
  • Take a deep breath between bites of food.
  • Eat slowly, and chew your food very thoroughly. Chewing allows for enzymes in your saliva to start digesting food and prepares it more effectively to be fully digested once in the stomach.
  • Don't multitask while eating. That means, don't eat standing up, in your car, while reading, watching TV, or talking on the phone. Focusing on the food you are eating and eating without stress can help your body shift into a mode where it is far more effective at digestion.

Limit Dietary Stress

Dietary stress is caused by foods that in you that:

  • create inflammation, sensitivity or an allergic response
  • raise or spike your blood sugar, or cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar
  • contain toxins or chemicals foreign to the body, that can trigger immune responses
  • have high amounts of unhealthy fats

To that end, here are some ways to limit your dietary stress:

  • Minimize or eliminate your intake of processed foods, refined sugars, refined carbohydrates and foods and products that include high fructose corn syrup.
  • Minimize or eliminate honey, molasses, and all forms of sugar, including fruits
  • Minimize or eliminate sugary, sweet foods, including sweet soft drinks
  • Eliminate diet drinks and artificial sweeteners entirely, and if you are overweight, consider avoiding natural sweeteners like stevia as well.
  • Limit or avoid quickly absorbed, higher-glycemic carbohydrate foods like grains, rice, and vegetables like potatoes and corn.
  • Choose organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pesticide-free foods whenever possible
  • Eliminate food allergens from your diet. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, try to eliminate dairy entirely from your diet.
  • Minimize or reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and a high daily intake of coffee, tea, or caffeinated soft drinks can be exhausting to the adrenals, raise your cortisol levels, and actually worsen blood sugar imbalances.
  • Alcohol is often heavy on carbohydrates and sugars. There's nothing wrong with an occasional drink for most of us, but overuse of alcohol is a stressor on the liver, the immune system, and blood sugar.
  • Don't overeat at any one meal. Overeating causes a spike in blood sugar, typically followed by a dip or crash. This is a dietary stressor that can be avoided by making your meals more balanced in terms of calories.
  • Avoid eating after 8 p.m., and give your body a 10- to 12-hour "break" overnight before you break your fast with breakfast. When you sleep, your body's hormones come to life, as thyroid hormone, an adrenal hormone, and growth hormone are all produced, and your body draws from stored fat to start burning it off. But if you eat late in the evening, or have too short a break between eating in the evening and again the morning, your body never gets the message that it's time to shift into fat-burning. By stopping food intake and making your last meal or snack earlier in the evening, and allowing 10 to 12 hours until your next meal, you encourage the body to get the message that more food is not coming every several hours, and this may help shift you into fat-burning mode overnight.
  • Avoid processed table salt. If you crave salt, use a good quality salt. Table salt is loaded with chemicals and a processed form of iodine. If you are craving salt, consider an unrefined sea salt, or a Himalayan pink salt, for a more natural, healthier form of salt.

Avoid Hormonal Interference

Soy can actually have a direct effect on your hormones. To that end:

  • Don't overconsume soy. Soy in small quantities—as a condiment, eaten the way Asians incorporate soy into their diet—can be healthy for some people. But soy is not only a thyroid-slowing goitrogen, but it also has properties that allow it to block the body's ability to successfully absorb thyroid hormone. Add to that the fact that a great deal of the soy products available in the U.S. includes genetically modified soy, and many experts recommend that you avoid soy entirely, or minimize your intake, and make sure you are eating organic, non-GMO soy when you do include it in your diet.

Develop and Practice Good Habits

There are some basic good habits that are useful to develop and practice. These include:

  • Drink plenty of clean water every day. Being well hydrated is essential for maintaining healthy fluid balance, banishing bloating, healthy digestion and elimination, metabolism, and combating fatigue. The bulk of your daily fluid intake should be water. You may find that you like the taste of filtered water—i.e., a Brita pitcher, or a PUR filter on your refrigerator—better than tap water. Some people like adding a fresh lemon, lime, or cucumber to improve the taste. Others add a small dash of a sugar-free organic cranberry juice for some taste and color. Experiment with the type, form and water temperature that allows you to stay well-hydrated. For example, some people find it much easier to drink more and stay well-hydrated when they drink water at room temperature, instead of chilled. You may also find it easier to drink more of an electrolyte-enhanced water, such as Penta, or SmartWater.
  • Get more fiber, ideally 25 to 30 mg a day. Fiber is important for digestion, heart health, proper elimination, to combat constipation, and to enhance your feeling of fullness. Ideally, fiber should come from food, but if needed, aim for a combination of food and natural fiber supplements—such as psyllium— to reach higher levels of fiber daily.

    Be Careful Not to Overdo Goitrogenic Foods

    Goitrogenic foods are foods that slow the thyroid and promote enlargement of the gland, known as a goiter. Avoid overconsumption of these foods in a raw form. Be especially careful about raw smoothies that may include large quantities or raw goitrogens, like kale and spinach. Cooking and steaming these foods helps deactivate some of the goitrogenic properties, but even then, it's useful for thyroid patients who are not optimized and feeling well to, for the most part, avoid eating these foods raw and to avoid overconsuming them even when cooked. Some of the most goitrogen-rich foods include the following:

    • African cassava
    • Babassu (a palm-tree fruit in Brazil/Africa)
    • Bok choy
    • Broccoli
    • Broccolini
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Cabbage
    • Cauliflower
    • Chinese Broccoli
    • Collards
    • Daikon
    • Kale
    • Kohlrabi
    • Millet
    • Mustard
    • Peaches
    • Peanuts
    • Pine nuts
    • Radishes
    • Red Radish
    • Rutabaga
    • Soy
    • Spinach
    • Strawberries
    • Turnips
    • Watercress

    A Few More Tips

    • Eating "clean" 24/7 is impossible and unattainable—and probably not even desirable—for most of us. There are times when you want to indulge in a carbohydrate or sugary food. Here's a tip that can help take the bite out of low-fiber carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and desserts. Have inexpensive psyllium capsules—simple capsules filled with natural psyllium fiber—on hand at home and with you. If you take these capsules before consuming these low-fiber, high-glycemic foods, you are adding a high amount of fiber, essentially helping to transform the food into a higher-fiber, lower-glycemic food that is less likely to spike your blood sugar.
    • If you need to lose weight, work up to drinking 1 ounce of water for each pound of your target body weight. If that sounds like a lot, it is! That means, if your target weight is 150 pounds, you need to slowly work up to drinking 150 ounces of water a day. Don't worry...if you work up to it slowly, after a few days, your body will rebalance at the new level of fluid intake, and you won't be going to the bathroom constantly.
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