What Is the Best Thyroid Diet?

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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.

If Your Goal Is Weight Loss

Difficulty losing weight is a common complaint for people with hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. If this applies to you, know that there is a multi-step process to reaching your goal:

Optimize Your Thyroid Treatment

It's not enough for your thyroid levels to be "normal" or fall within the reference range. In many cases, for you to lose weight with hypothyroidism, you need your thyroid levels to be "optimal." That means that your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level would typically fall below 2.0, and your free T4 and free T3 would fall in the upper half of the reference range.

Optimize Blood Sugar and Leptin Levels

If you don't know your leptin level and fasting blood sugar, finding out is an important next step. Leptin is a hormone that regulates how hungry you are, also known as the once-elusive "satiety factor." If your leptin levels or fasting glucose levels are imbalanced, you'll need to use diet, supplements, or medications to get them back on track.

If you're not familiar with these concepts, it's helpful to learn about how hormonal factors affect diet, and how this is important when it comes to long-term weight loss for people with thyroid conditions.

Balance Other Hormones

If your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) and adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA) are out of balance, this can make weight loss more difficult. Perimenopause and menopause, as well as estrogen dominance, can also cause a shift of weight to the belly, and make weight loss more difficult. Lack of testosterone in men and women can also make it harder to build fat-burning muscle. And adrenal imbalances can make you tired, less responsive to thyroid treatment, and less able to lose weight.

Evaluating these hormones and resolving imbalances may be a key step in helping you in your weight loss effort.

Get Enough Sleep

A lack of sleep has been proven to contribute to weight gain and makes your weight loss effort harder. Aim for seven or more hours per night.

Eliminate Toxins and Allergens

Wheat and gluten products have a relationship to autoimmune thyroid disease, and eliminating gluten entirely may help you reduce inflammation and lose weight. Similarly, other food allergens—dairy, soy, and nuts, for example—can cause inflammation and make it harder for you to lose weight.

Consider an elimination diet or allergy testing to determine food sensitivities, and make dietary changes to reflect any allergies or problems.

Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods, in general, don't have a direct impact on thyroid function, but they aren't healthy for anyone. Not only do many processed foods sometimes contain certain ingredients that are considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing), nobody knows the long-term effect of others.

In addition, these foods often provide a lot of "empty" calories that don't support your body at all. If you're just beginning to adopt a good diet for weight loss with hypothyroidism, a simple step is to try shopping only the periphery of the grocery store.

Change What and How You Eat

You may find that changing your diet will help. One suggestion is to reduce or eliminate sugar, limit fruit, dairy, and grains, and get your carbohydrates mainly from vegetables. Round out your diet with lean proteins and healthy fats. In addition, eating two to three meals a day, no snacks, and avoiding food after 8 p.m. seems to help balance hunger hormones and blood sugar—and promote fat burning. 

If you hope to lose weight, it's also important to understand and follow the principles for general thyroid support and to move daily. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and raising metabolism is important for people with thyroid disease who are trying to trim down.

If Your Goal Is Thyroid Support 

Whether or not you are concerned about weight loss, eating to help (and not hurt) your thyroid function is an important part of your overall care.

Avoid Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a building block for thyroid hormone. To that end, make sure that your diet is not iodine-deficient. While most Americans are not lacking, thanks to iodized salt, eating iodine-rich foods—seaweed, shrimp, dried prunes, lobster, cranberries—can help ensure that you get enough of this essential mineral.

Watch Goitrogens

Be careful about overdoing it with goitrogenic vegetables. When eaten raw and in large quantities, these vegetables can both cause a goiter (thyroid enlargement) and slow down your thyroid similar to the effects of an anti-thyroid drug.

They function by reducing your body's ability to use iodine, as well as inhibiting the release of thyroid hormones from the gland. Iodine deficiency is important in general, but it's of extra importance if you are eating cruciferous vegetables for their health benefits.

Foods that are considered goitrogens include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, watercress, mustard greens, and Swiss chard
  • Spinach, pine nuts, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears, peanuts, strawberries, corn, green tea, red wine, bamboo shoots, and millet

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.

Limit Soy

Also be careful about overdoing it with soy foods, as they can have a goitrogenic effect as well and interfere with your body's ability to absorb your thyroid hormone medication.

As with goitrogenic foods, some soy foods and fermented soy products can play a role in a healthy diet, including tofu, soy milk, edamame, tempeh, and miso, but moderation should be considered. Processed soy products and soy supplements, such as soy powders and soy protein, are best avoided completely.

It's a good idea to leave significant time (at least an hour) between when you take your thyroid hormone and eat soy foods, so that any effect on absorption is limited.

There are some basics about soy foods and thyroid health that can help you make the best choices for you.

Consider Eliminating Gluten

Gluten is worth revisiting because, in some people, sensitivity to this allergen is the trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease. In a subset of people, going gluten-free actually eliminates antibodies and causes a remission of thyroid disease.

It's worth a trial of a gluten-free diet—followed up by antibodies testing—to determine if going gluten-free may help your thyroid function and/or symptoms.

Get Thyroid-Supportive Nutrition

Selenium, the B vitamins, and zinc are important for thyroid function. Make sure your diet has enough of these nutrients, or talk to your practitioner about adding supplements.

It's important to note, however, that selenium has what doctors call a "narrow therapeutic window." In optimal amounts, it can help ensure good thyroid function and have other benefits, but is toxic in amounts not that far above "normal." This is especially important to remember if you are taking a multi-vitamin that contains zinc as well as a zinc supplement.

Good Food Choices

While there are exceptions, foods that are generally fine to eat when you have thyroid disease include:

  • Eggs
  • Fresh, non-processed meats, such as grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught fish such as salmon
  • Canned tuna and sardines
  • Dairy products, such as milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt
  • Vegetables: Most are fine, but space out the cruciferous vegetables above and choose steamed or cooked, instead of raw
  • Fruits: Most are fine, especially apples, but limit and space out choices such as pears, peaches, and strawberries
  • Brazil nuts (sparingly, as these are high in selenium) and almonds
  • Seaweed
  • Brown rice
  • Spices, which can add a healthy burst of antioxidants (the spice turmeric has significant antigoitrogenic effects and may even play a role in reducing thyroid cancer risk)

A Word From Verywell

Remember that there is no magic answer, single supplement, or sole dietary change that will miraculously cause you to lose weight. Likewise, medication alone may not be enough to help you feel your best with thyroid disease, whether you have weight to lose or not. Ensuring optimal thyroid function and focusing on diet, movement, and nutritional and lifestyle changes can all help you achieve greater success.

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