Nutrition for a Healthy Thyroid
What you eat can literally turn the dial-up or down when it comes to your thyroid. This little butterfly shaped gland controls your body’s metabolism and it is very particular about what it needs in order to function properly. Thyroid hormones, like T3 and T4, also need specific nutrients in order to carry out their tasks throughout body. Plainly put, the food you choose on a daily basis can either starve your thyroid or feed it what it needs.
Taking prescription thyroid medication isn’t going to solve a thyroid problem caused by a lack of nutrition. It will only serve as a band-aid. Only a healthy diet combined with the needed supplements can remedy a nutrient starved thyroid. Most of the nutrients needed for a healthy thyroid and for proper use of thyroid hormones, are found in common, health promoting foods. However, millions of people are deficient of these nutrients because of their poor food choices. Processed foods and fast food are leaving people malnourished and vitamin deficient. Thyroid problems are one of many health issues that can occur from this lack of proper nutrition.
If you suffer from thyroid issues of any kind, take note. A prescription is not going to truly fix the anything. Your diet may need a thyroid boosting makeover! The first step is to start making the nutrients below part of your daily lifestyle and diet regime.
Vitamin D deficiency and hypothyroidism are nearly always found together. This is because vitamin D is needed to hold thyroid hormones onto their receptors sites. Without enough vitamin D, thyroid hormones aren’t used because they aren’t able to bind to those receptors. When these thyroid hormones go unused, hypothyroid symptoms are the result. This may be another reason why people feel so tired and sluggish in the winter as their vitamin D exposure declines.
Most foods claiming to be fortified with vitamin D contain very low levels of artificial vitamin D. Eggs do, however, contain some naturally occurring vitamin D. But the best way to get vitamin D is not via food, but with plenty of sunshine: 20-30 minutes a day should suffice.
During the winter, supplement with a natural D3 supplement; 35 IU per pound is a good daily dosage. Be aware that it can take a few weeks to build up your vitamin D levels. You will likely feel a difference in your well-being once they reach a normal level.
Vitamin A helps the conversion of unusable T4 hormone in the body into the usable form T3 hormone. Studies have shown that it also helps to lower TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the blood. High TSH levels are a common sign of hypothyroidism.
Vitamin A is also important as it relays information from the thyroid hormone to the mitochondria in the cells. Our thyroid hormones control the function of the mitochondria by telling them how much energy to produce. Without adequate vitamin A, the mitochondria cannot receive that important information! (1)
Eat your fill of vitamin A by consuming:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
Selenium has shown to have a great impact on reducing autoimmune related thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s Disease. It can reduce inflammation in the thyroid gland, which helps prevent further damage to the thyroid tissue. Studies have shown that selenium can also reduce thyroid peroxidase antibodies in the blood. (2) This also prevents further damage to the thyroid gland itself from autoimmune thyroiditis.
Selenium is necessary for converting T4 to T3 in the body. If not enough T4 is converted to T3, then the result is hypothyroid symptoms. This makes selenium very important in the prevention and treatment of low levels of T3.
High levels of selenium are found in:
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Zinc is necessary in order to convert inactive T4 hormones into active T3 in the body. The hypothalamus also needs zinc to signal the pituitary gland, which in turn tells the thyroid to produce hormones. As we age, our levels of zinc and other trace nutrients tend to decline. This is a very important mineral to monitor as it has many other important functions in the body, as well.
High levels of zinc are found in:
- Red meat
- Nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds
B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism tend to go hand in hand. Low levels of B12 can trigger the autoimmune Hashimoto’s Disease. It is also important to note that low B12 levels alone can mimic symptoms that look nearly identical to hypothyroidism. This is an important vitamin to consider when battling low energy levels, hair loss, and hormonal issues like PMS and infertility.
Some of the highest levels of B12 are found in organ meats like liver. Although most meats such as beef, seafood, and poultry contain high levels, as well. If your B12 levels are extremely low, it is best to supplement as well. Methylcobalamin is one of the best forms of B12 for absorption.
Iodine is by far the most essential nutrient for thyroid function. It is like liquid gold for the thyroid. Your thyroid will fail to work without iodine and it cannot make thyroid hormones without it. Low iodine is one of the more common causes of hypothyroidism.
Although hypothyroidism can benefit greatly from iodine, it is important to note that Hashimoto’s disease is actually worsened with iodine. It is extremely important that you rule out Hashimoto’s disease before you add iodine to your diet. Otherwise, you will just exacerbate the problem and your symptoms will worsen. Having a thyroid antibodies test is the best way to rule out an autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s.
Iodine deficiency is more common than one might think. It’s estimated that around 12% of Americans are iodine deficient. This is likely due to our over consumption of competing halides Bromine, Fluoride, and Chlorine. Bromine is found in baked goods and soft drink and Fluoride and Chlorine is commonly found in our drinking water. These competing halides latch onto your iodine receptors leaving iodine unused. Cutting out bromine containing food and drinks and drinking filtered water are key to getting iodine levels back to normal levels.
Two of the best sources of iodine are mineral rich salts like Himalayan salt, and kelp. They add not only an iodine boost to your diet, but flavor to your foods! Those with a more severe iodine deficiency should consider supplementing with iodine drops or pills. Most thyroid boosting supplements at your local health-food store will contain iodine, as well.
Foods that Block Thyroid Function
Lacking the right nutrients isn’t the only culprit to impaired thyroid function. There are naturally occurring substances found in foods we eat that can also disrupt thyroid functions. Surprisingly, some of these substances are food in healthy foods!
The name “goitrogen” has been given to foods that contain chemicals that affect the thyroid. Some of these foods activate antibodies, which act against the thyroid, and other foods block the production of thyroid hormones. Those with a healthy functioning thyroid can typically eat these foods in moderation. However, if your thyroid is compromised, or you have a family history of thyroid problems, it is best to avoid these foods as much as possible.
Food sensitivities have been found to trigger autoimmune reactions against the thyroid. Gluten is by far the most common culprit. Typically, if gluten is a cause, you will also suffer from other inflammatory issues like joint pain or digestive problems. If these symptoms ring a bell for you, then going gluten-free can be absolutely life changing!
Be patient because it can take up to a month to reap all the results. However, if a food sensitivity like gluten is the underlying issue, you will feel so much better you won’t want to go back to eating it again!
The chemicals in soy block the use of iodine by the thyroid and prevent the production of thyroid hormones. But, that isn’t all. Soy can wreak havoc in other parts of the body, as well. It mimics hormones in the body and can lead to PMS, infertility and even cancer.
Soy’s downfalls truly outweigh any benefits it may have. Furthermore, most soy is genetically modified. This only adds fuel to the fire as GMOs pack their own plethora of negative side-effects, from digestive problems to cancer!
I honestly believe that cruciferous vegetables are among some of the healthiest vegetables you can eat! They contain important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for our health. However, they also contain a chemical that can block the production of thyroid hormones. It is important to note, that when you cook these vegetables, it lowers the amount of these chemicals called, isothiocyanates. Some of the vegetables containing isothiocyanates include:
- Brussel sprouts
I can’t, in good conscience, advocate removing these vegetables entirely from your diet as I feel their benefits far outweigh their possible negative effects. However, if you do have a thyroid problem, eat them in moderation and be sure to cook or steam the vegetables before eating.
Recipes for Thyroid Health
As you now know, what you eat is very important for the health of your thyroid. Consuming the right vitamins and minerals and avoiding thyroid-blocking foods is important! Read labels and look out for sneaky ingredients like soy products. Cooking from scratch helps you avoid unwanted ingredients while getting the nutrition your thyroid needs!
I’m a huge fan of breakfast food. So much so that I often make breakfast for dinner. This dish would make a delicious dinner or the perfect start to your morning! Full of thyroid boosting nutrition, the sweet potatoes contain vitamin A, the eggs contain vitamin D and B12, and A, and the chicken or turkey sausage have vitamin B12. Top it off with Himalayan sea salt for a dash of iodine.
Sweet Potato Hash with Caramelized Onions, Sausage & Eggs*
- 2 pounds onions, about 2 large
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Himalayan salt
- 1 pound chicken or turkey sausage
- 3 pounds sweet potatoes, about 3 large potatoes, ideally organic
- 6 large garlic cloves
- 2 tsp rosemary
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Himalayan salt, plus more to taste if necessary
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Large eggs
- Himalayan salt and black pepper
- Parmesan cheese, to serve
To make the hash:
Heat the oven to 450°F. Chop onion and add to melted butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with salt. Lower the heat slightly and cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and lowering the heat if they seem to be burning. Cook them until they are very dark brown.
Meanwhile, put the sausage in another skillet and brown over medium-high heat, chopping it up into fine crumbles with a spatula. Cook the sausage for about 10 minutes, or until it is browned and beginning to crisp. Drain away any excess fat.
While the onions and sausage are cooking, chop the unpeeled sweet potatoes into cubes that are about 1/2-inch to a side. Add finely mince the garlic and rosemary leaves, and toss them in a large bowl with the sweet potatoes. Toss with the olive oil, Himalayan salt, and black pepper.
When the onions are dark brown and the sausage is crispy, stir these into the sweet potatoes as well. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, and spread out the sweet potatoes evenly. Roast the sweet potatoes for 30 to 45 minutes (roasting time depends on the size and uniformity of the sweet potato chunks, as well as the variety of sweet potato you buy) or until they are soft and browned.
Refrigerate the cooled hash for up to 5 days.
Heat the oven to 425°F. Spread a relatively thin layer of the (already cooked) sweet potato hash in a baking dish, such as a cast iron skillet or a 9×13-inch baking dish. You can also bake in individual ramekins. Make small wells in the sweet potatoes and crack in large eggs. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are hot and the eggs are baked through.
Serve immediately, with shavings or sprinkles of Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Coconut oil has been shown to boost metabolism when used regularly. Although it doesn’t directly affect the thyroid, those with hypothyroidism could use the metabolism increase that coconut oil offers. These macaroon’s not only contain coconut oil, they are also low in sugar, and are completely gluten-free. It is hard to find delicious desserts that are health promoting, but these macaroons take the cake!
No-Bake Gluten-Free Chocolate Macaroons**
- 1⅓ cups raw cacao or cocoa powder
- ½ cup honey
- Liquid stevia, as needed to sweeten to taste
- ⅓ cup extra virgin coconut oil melted
- 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. Himalayan sea salt
- 3 ½ cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients well. Then use a spoon to scoop rounded mounds onto wax paper and put them in freezer. Freeze overnight or at least for a few hours. Keep them in the freezer until a few minutes before you serve.
(Editor’s Note: Add peanut butter on top for added protein!)
Eating for thyroid health isn’t just nutritious; it’s also delicious. Start by preparing your meals from scratch and avoid processed foods that starve your thyroid of what it really needs. Fill your diet instead with healthy fruits, vegetables, and lean meats that are brimming with nutrition. Turn the dial up on your thyroid with the right foods. You and your metabolism will thank me!
*Adapted from http://www.thekitchn.com
**Adapted from http://kimberlysnyder.net