What Is the Best Thyroid Diet?

Diet-Related Weight Loss Tips for People with Thyroid Disease

plate setting, what is the best thyroid diet to put on this
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Like many people living with thyroid problems, you may wonder if there is the best thyroid diet to follow. The truth is that the ideal diet for those who are living with a thyroid condition depends on your 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 listed below). 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. What should you know about these dietary practices, as well as other things you can do to eat the best diet possible while coping with thyroid disease?

If Your Goal Is Weight Loss

Difficulty losing weight is a common complaint for people with hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. If you need to lose weight, the best thyroid diet for you is one that helps you lose weight. There is, however, a multi-step process that can help you achieve this 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

Do you know your leptin level? Fasting blood sugar? If you don't, 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. 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 foods, soy, nuts, and certain fruits—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 the bottom line is that they aren't healthy for anyone. Not only do many processed foods sometimes contain foods that are considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing), nobody knows the long-term effect of many other items on the lists of ingredients. In addition, these foods often provide a lot of "empty" calories that don't support your body at all; except for adding pounds. 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. That said, make sure to learn about the goitrogens listed below, so you don't add too many on your trip through produce.

Move

It's common to think of a healthy diet and exercise as separate issues, but that's not the case. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and raising metabolism is important for people with thyroid disease who are trying to lose weight. Daily movement—whether exercise or through regular physical activity—is crucial, so make sure you incorporate activity into your daily routine, for better health.

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 while rounding 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. seem 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 discussed next.

If Your Goal Is Thyroid Support 

You may not be concerned about weight loss, but instead, you want to know what to eat to help and not hurt your thyroid function. Here are some tips:

Avoid Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a building block for thyroid hormone. To that end, make sure that your diet is not iodine-deficient. The best way to include iodine in your diet is with iodine-rich foods—seaweed, shrimp, dried prunes, lobster, cranberries—or use an iodine-rich salt. (Himalayan salt is less processed than typical iodine-fortified table salt).

Watch Goitrogens

Be careful about overdoing it with goitrogenic vegetables (goiter-promoting 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 (a necessary component of thyroid hormones), as well as inhibiting the release of thyroid hormones from the gland. As noted above, avoiding iodine deficiency is important in general, but 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.
  • Other foods, including spinach, pine nuts, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears, peanuts, strawberries, corn, green tea, red wine, bamboo shoots, and millet (very goitrogenic).

Certainly, many of the foods listed above are an important part of a healthy diet, but having an awareness of potential goitrogens can be helpful. 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 the goitrogens produced, and are good options when you wish to consume these foods.

Limit Soy

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

As with the goitrogenic foods above, some soy foods can play a role in a healthy diet. There are some basics about soy foods and thyroid health that can help you make wise choices in this area.

Soy foods and fermented soy products are usually of less concern and include food items such as tofu, soy milk, edamame, tempeh, and miso. These foods can be eaten sparingly in a good diet. It's also a good idea to make sure to leave significant time between when you take your thyroid hormone and eat soy foods so that any effect on absorption is limited. Processed soy products and soy supplements, such as soy powders and soy protein are best avoided completely.

Consider Eliminating Gluten

Gluten comes up again because, in some people, sensitivity to gluten 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 eating 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 has other benefits, but is toxic in amounts not that far above "normal."

Good Food Choices for People With Thyroid Disease

We talked a lot about foods to avoid with thyroid disease, whether you are hoping to lose weight, or just maintain good thyroid health, but what foods can you eat?

Foods that are generally fine to eat (of course there are exceptions, such as for people who have allergies), include:

  • Eggs
  • Fresh, non-processed meats, such as grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught fish such as salmon, ahi tuna, and swordfish (fresh meats are a good source of zinc)
  • Canned tuna and sardines
  • Dairy products, such as milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt
  • Vegetables: Most, but space out the cruciferous vegetables above and choose steamed (the best method as it retains more nutrients) or cooked, instead of raw
  • Fruits: Most, especially apples, but limit and space out fruits such as pears, peaches, and strawberries
  • Brazil nuts (sparingly, as these are high in selenium), and almonds
  • Seaweed (high in iodine)
  • 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

If weight loss is your goal, remember that there is no magic answer, single supplement, or sole dietary change that will miraculously cause you to lose weight. But ensuring optimal thyroid function and focusing on diet, movement, nutritional, and lifestyle changes can all help you achieve greater success in your goal. 

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