Thyroid health is an important component of overall health and well-being. The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the front base of the throat. It’s a key player in the body’s endocrine system, responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism. The thyroid also plays an important role in immune function, cholesterol levels, heart rate, breathing, muscle strength, body temperature, sex hormone regulation, detoxification, blood pressure regulation, tissue development, and sleep patterns. With so many jobs, it’s important to nourish the thyroid with supportive foods that can help keep it balanced, healthy, and strong!
Read on for general guidelines typically found to support the thyroid.
Individuals with thyroid and/or autoimmune conditions may have special dietary needs to support thyroid balance and should seek dietary advice from their healthcare provider or nutritionist. The guidelines presented here are for generally healthy individuals. Your unique dietary needs and doctor’s orders should always prevail!
1 - Choose the right type and amount of carbohydrates. When it comes to thyroid health, moderation is often key in terms of carbohydrates as too much or too little can be problematic. Generally, a supportive macronutrient ratio of carbohydrates for thyroid health is about 20%–25% of a person’s diet – as always, bio-individuality will determine a person’s ideal macronutrient ratios. Carbohydrates should predominantly be complex and come from whole foods. When eating for thyroid health, try to crowd out processed flours and sugar with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. For some individuals, a gluten-free diet can support thyroid health.
2 - Eat a diet rich in minerals. The thyroid is dependent on iodine and selenium. Deficiency in one or both can cause thyroid issues. While a doctor may recommend supplementation in the case of a deficiency, it’s generally nourishing and supportive to the thyroid to eat a diet naturally rich in these minerals. Iodine is found in sea vegetables (like kombu, dulse, nori, and wakame), eggs, and wild-caught seafood (especially cod, oysters, and shrimp). Selenium can be obtained through Brazil nuts (no more than two per day), mushrooms, chia seeds, and organic red meat.
3 - Load up on fresh vegetables. Vegetables are nourishing to the thyroid. Cruciferous vegetables – including bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale – are nutritional powerhouses. However, cruciferous veggies are also considered goitrogens, which are foods that can cause the thyroid to enlarge and sometimes malfunction when eaten in abundance. Cooking or fermenting cruciferous vegetables can help minimize this effect, so those with thyroid issues will want to avoid raw cruciferous vegetables and opt for cooked or fermented preparations, in moderation, instead.
4 - Support the gut with fermented foods. Fermented foods support gut health, and gut health supports the thyroid. If you can tolerate them, try adding a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut or kimchi to meals each day. Kombucha and kefir are fermented beverages loaded with healthy bacteria that support gut health.
5 - Consume a moderate amount of healthy fats. It’s said that a diet rich in healthy fat is good for the thyroid. But diets very high in fat – e.g., the ketogenic diet – have been linked to thyroid dysfunction over time. Again, moderation is key. Consume high-quality fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids from wild-caught fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
6 - Crowd out gluten and dairy. Gluten and dairy are inflammatory. Individuals with autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, are advised to avoid gluten because it can initiate the production of thyroid antibodies. These types of foods can also be thyroid disruptors. The molecular structure of the proteins found in both gluten and dairy resemble the thyroid. This is called molecular mimicry. If the immune system is reacting to either of these, it may also attack the thyroid.
7 - Avoid thyroid disruptors in the environment. What you eat from can be just as important as what you eat! Many everyday products contain chemicals that can get into the bloodstream and disrupt the thyroid. Glass rather than plastic food and drink containers are preferred. Groceries should be removed from plastic packaging before storage, and opt for food cans that have BPA-free linings whenever possible. 8 Limit foods with heavy metals. Heavy metals, like mercury, can contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions that affect thyroid health. Mercury lurks in a lot of places, but one that’s easy to spot and control is seafood. Fish tends to be high in mercury. Ahi and albacore tuna, king mackerel, swordfish, and Gulf tilefish are some of the top offenders. These should be approached with caution, limited to special occasions, and consumed in moderation. The fish with the lowest mercury levels are salmon, cod, tilapia, and catfish. A healthcare provider can test for heavy metal levels in the body.
(EATING FOR THYROID HEALTH © 2019, 2020 Integrative Nutrition, LLC | Reprinted with permission)