Have you diagnosed with hypothyroidism but feel confused about how to best support your thyroid health? You know that some foods can help you promote healthy thyroid function while others can suppress your thyroid function and exacerbate your symptoms but you aren’t sure which ones.
In this vlog I am going to walk you through the best and worst foods for hypothyroidism, so you know how to create a hypothyroidism diet plan. First, though you need to understand what your thyroid is and how imbalances in your thyroid function can occur.
So before I show you how to create a diet for hypothyroidism, let’s look at what your thyroid is and the vital role your thyroid plays in your health.
What does the thyroid do?
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located just below your larynx, in the lower part of the neck. Its role is to manufacture your thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
It combines iodine with the amino acid tyrosine, to create T4 and T3.
Your thyroid produces about 80% T4 and 20% T3, but T3 has four times the strength of T4. These hormones are then released into your bloodstream to control your metabolism.
The reason your thyroid plays such as a vital role in your health is because it’s essential for the healthy growth, development, and repair of your body, in particular, your central nervous system. When your thyroid is working well, you feel energetic, you can think clearly, and you feel happy. Your digestive system is divine. You won’t be cursed with thinning eyebrows or need to have the central heating turned on full blast all the time. Your skin will be moist, your nails supple, and your hair thick.
In fact, the metabolism of every single cell in your body relies on your thyroid hormones. That’s a pretty big responsibility, which is why we need to ensure your thyroid is in excellent working order.
Your Internal Thermostat
Your thyroid functions in a very similar way to the thermostat you use in your house. You’re like your hypothalamus (the control). When you feel cold, you turn up the thermostat, and when you’re hot, you turn it down.
Your body’s feedback loop, which controls your thyroid, works in a similar way. Your hypothalamus is the control. It releases TSH Releasing Hormones, which trigger your pituitary (the thermostat) to release Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
This hormone then triggers your thyroid to release more T3 and T4. This healthy regulatory release of T3 and T4 then triggers your pituitary to decrease the release of TSH, and so on.
What is Hyperthyroidism?
When your thyroid gland is overactive, it can churn out too many of your thyroid hormones. This is the most common cause of inflammation of the thyroid, called thyroiditis. There are a number of factors that can cause this and, in time, it may lead to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
This dysfunction occurs when your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone. The most common reason for this is an underlying iodine deficiency. This condition is far more common in women than in men.
• Female infertility
• Any problem with the menstrual cycle
• Sluggish bowel
• Cold all the time
• Puffy face
• High cholesterol
• Excessive bleeding
• Late signs:
• Abnormal menstrual cycles
• Low Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
Unfortunately, if you don’t treat hypothyroidism and you become pregnant, it can cause a number of complications for both yourself and your baby.
• Complications for the mother:
• Anaemia (iron deficiency)
• Placental abruption
• Complications for the baby:
• Preterm birth
• Low birth weight
• Thyroid Problems
• Birth defects
SHOP HORMONE SUPPORT SUPPLEMENTS
The Science of Low Thyroid
Now you know what causes low thyroid, let’s examine the science of a low thyroid. Your thyroid consists of millions of tiny bag-like follicles, which store thyroglobulin, a type of protein. Thyroglobulin is converted into thyroxine (T4) and other thyroid hormones before it’s released into the bloodstream. If your thyroid is healthy, it will produce the hormones thyroid (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), T2, T1, and reverse T3 at the correct levels.
Your levels of iodine and TSH determine the amount of T4 your body manufactures. Your pituitary is responsible for making TSH. Your hypothalamus and limbic system regulate this gland.
How Much Should You Make?
When your body is functioning well, you make between 0.3 to 2.5mIU/L. These are your normal reference ranges. It can be confusing, but when you have a hypothyroid (don’t produce enough thyroid hormones, T3 and T4), your TSH will be elevated. It makes more to meet your body’s needs.
When your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone, your brain knows this. Your hypothalamus signals to your pituitary to increase your TSH production and stimulate the production of your thyroid hormones. As a result, your hormone factory makes more thyroid hormones, which are sensed by the brain. Often the thyroid will adjust, and TSH returns to normal. The amount that TSH increases indicate the severity of the problem.
T4 is the inactive version of your thyroid hormone. It’s a precursor to the more critical and active release, T3 (triiodothyronine). I want you to think of T4 as a storage hormone. It converts to T3, which is essential for weight loss, body temperature, and healthy moods.
About 90% of your thyroid hormone is T4. However, this must convert to T3 before your body can use it. If you have been struggling with an underactive thyroid, hopefully, this helps to explain what is going on within your system.
What causes Low Thyroid ?
One of the most severe problems women face when it comes to their thyroid is a chronic autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. With this condition, your thyroid gland is destroyed by an antibody immune response, creating inflammation. It initially causes high levels of thyroid hormone and antibodies in your blood. Over time, your thyroid weakens and stops making as much thyroid hormone.
To compensate for lack of thyroid hormone, your feedback loop tells your control system to make more TSH. When you make TSH in your pituitary, it travels to your thyroid in your blood, ordering your gland to produce more thyroid hormone.
This condition is usually diagnosed by a simple blood test, which checks for antibodies against the thyroid peroxidase antibodies and anti-thyroid globulin antibodies.
Another common cause of hypothyroidism is a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland, which happens to more than 7million people. When you make TSH in your pituitary, it travels to your thyroid in your blood, ordering your liver to produce more thyroid hormone.
Iodine deficiency is the leading cause. The recommended dose of this nutrient is 150 micrograms a day. But before you run out and start supplementing iodine, you need to cautious, because iodine can worsen thyroid function. In reality, you’re unlikely to see people with a goitre caused by iodine deficiency in the West, because our table salt is fortified with iodine.
Stress can cause low free T3, and too much reverse T3, which blocks your thyroid hormone receptors. It is your adrenal glands, which are responsible for secreting the hormones that regulate your stress response. They are the CEO of stress management in your body.
Your hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis is influenced by your levels of cortisol and melatonin, which then, in turn, affect your thyroid levels. If you have excess cortisol in your body as a result of stress, your HPT doesn’t respond appropriately to TSH.
Over time, this mechanism can hinder your digestive system, preventing it from absorbing all the delicious nutrients it needs to make thyroid hormones.
BPA found in the plastic packaging we use to store food and drink, acts as an endocrine disruptor within our body. One of the ways it messes with our health is by blocking our thyroid receptors.
Genetic problems can lower thyroid function, including defects in two genes (PAX8 and TSHR). These can interfere with the healthy development of the thyroid gland before birth.
Defects in five other genes (DUOX, SLC5A5, TPO, TG and TSHB) lower your ability to produce thyroid hormones. Tests for these are not widely available.
Goitrogens are compounds found in foods like soy, millet, and cruciferous vegetables. They can suppress your thyroid and affect the uptake of iodine that is essential for thyroid production. The good news is that cooking renders most goitrogens inactive, except millet and soy. You don’t need to avoid these, make sure you get enough iodine and track your thyroid levels.
Low thyroid function can be increased as a result of cancer treatment.
Vitamin D Deficiency
This nutrient deficiency is common in those with autoimmune thyroiditis, and those who harbour anti-thyroid antibodies.
Best And Worst Foods For Thyroid Health
Hypothyroidism Foods To Avoid
Foods Rich in Goitrogens
Foods containing goitrogens have also been shown to suppress thyroid function. Goitrogens are compounds found in foods like soy, millet, and cruciferous vegetables. They can suppress your thyroid and affect the uptake of iodine that is essential for thyroid production. The good news is that cooking renders most goitrogens inactive, except millet and soy. You don’t need to avoid these, make sure you get enough iodine and track your thyroid levels.
Soy and soy products contain isoflavones, which inhibits the action of the enzyme thyroid peroxidase. The thyroid gland uses thyroid peroxidase when manufacturing thyroid hormones.
It has been found that isoflavones can also interfere with the absorption of the synthetic thyroid hormone thyroxine, which negatively affects treatment for thyroid disorders. Limit to two servings a week. The amino acid tyrosine is used by the thyroid glands to produce your thyroid hormones together with the mineral iodine.
Best Foods For Hypothyroidism
The key dietary recommendation for addressing an underactive thyroid is to balance your blood sugar levels. This means eating every 3-4 hours, including good quality protein, low glycaemic load carbohydrates, and good quality essential fatty acids with each meal.
Organic Fruits & Vegetables
It seems so simple and obvious, but I couldn’t leave these out. If you’re living with thyroid problems, you must include high levels of organic fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Fruits rich in antioxidants include kiwi, cherries, berries, plums, mango, grapes, grapefruit, and tomatoes. Plants rich in antioxidants include spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, and mustard greens.
You should stack your plate high with these foods to ensure that your body has the necessary building blocks to heal your hormones. You need approximately 35 grams of fibre per day. Don’t let the food manufacturers trick you, the best sources of fibre are fruits and vegetables.
Fibre speeds up your digestive system and helps plain old hormones. Therefore, including plenty of high-quality fruits and vegetables is essential for balancing your hormones. A straightforward way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables is to add green juices to your daily diet. Your thyroid is super sensitive to environmental problems, that’s why I recommend selecting organic fruit and vegetables when possible.
The first focus when considering what to eat for thyroid balance is to include plenty of good quality protein in your daily diet.
An adequate supply of protein is essential for thyroid healing and repair. When you hear the word protein, you may think of meat. However, plants also contain protein!
Excellent sources of plant protein are beans, pulses, legumes, quinoa, spirulina, hemp, pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp seed and buckwheat. If you do decide to eat meat, be aware of its source. Don’t just throw the faceless plastic packet into your shopping basket. Be an informed consumer!
Always choose organic, free range, or grass-fed meats. Remember that the meat is only as healthy as the animal was. Go for organic free range chicken, organic free range eggs, wild fish, grass-fed organic beef etc.
On average, you only need around 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 110 lbs (or 54kg), then you would only need 43 grams of protein per day. One of my favourite plant-based protein is beans and legumes. There are so many different beans and pulses to choose from. They make an awesome an alternative to meat or soya in chillies, casseroles, salads and soups.
Some of the staples include:
• Lentils (Puy, red, yellow, and green)
Foods Rich In Magnesium
A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, artichokes, brown basmati rice, and oatmeal can ensure that you are consuming good levels of magnesium. This is an essential mineral for healthy hormones. Magnesium can play a crucial role in helping support your body if you have thyroid problems.
Foods Rich In Iodine + Tyrosine
The thyroid gland combines iodine with tyrosine to produce thyroid hormones. People with hypothyroidism may benefit from increasing the recommended daily allowance of iodine-rich foods. (Please be aware that too much iodine with hypothyroidism can cause goitre). Foods high in iodine include shellfish, iodised salt, seaweed, baked potato with skin, strawberries, raw cranberry, cod, and eggs. One excellent source of iodine is seaweed. 2-3 servings a week should be adequate.
Studies on Tyrosine have revealed that consuming a diet rich in this amino acid helps to improve the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Tyrosine is also reported to relieve stress, mood swings, memory lapses, and low libido. Foods rich in tyrosine include spirulina, eggs, fish, poultry, beans and other high protein foods.
Foods Rich In Copper
Your thyroid is sensitive to copper and zinc, so it is vital that you take these in the right proportions. If these get out of balance, then you can be vulnerable to hypothyroidism. Copper is one of the co-factors required for normal blood levels of thyroid hormone and normalisation of thyroid activity. The best dietary sources of copper are poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, and grains.
Foods Rich In Selenium
Selenium is vital to the enzymes that protect your thyroid from damage by free radicals. Your thyroid gland uses selenium to convert the inactive thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) to the active hormone triiodothyronine (T3). Other selenium benefits include prevention of prostate cancer, malabsorption syndrome, asthma, and dandruff. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, fish such as tuna, turkey and chicken.
Raw Plant Fats & Oily Fish
If you are living with thyroid problems, chances are you will also be suffering from some form of essential fatty acid deficiency. Essential fats are those that cannot be manufactured by the human body itself, so they must regularly be consumed through either your diet or through supplementation.
But it’s vital that you balance your level of Omega-3 to Omega-6.
If you are living with thyroid imbalances, you need to make sure your essential fatty acids are in balance by consuming enough omega 3s. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, mackerel, chia seeds, walnuts and wild Alaskan salmon.
What Your Eat & Don't Eat Matters.
Your diet plays a significant role in your thyroid health. If you’re struggling with thyroid problems, you need to be honest with yourself about what you are eating.
The foods to avoid if you are facing hypothyroidism include processed foods, treacherous trans fats, sneaky sugar, soy products and raw foods containing goitrogens.
While, the best foods for hypothyroidism include nutritional superstars like fruits, vegetables, fish, and gluten-free whole grains, fresh plant fats, oily fish along with foods rich in selenium, magnesium and iodine. These need to become your new besties.
Grab My Love Your Thyroid Toolkit
Now you know the best and worst foods for hypothyroidism so you can create a hypothyroidism diet plan, but this is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to this condition. It is also essential that you get to the root cause of your symptoms and support your system based on your underlying imbalances not only through your diet but also through supplementation and lifestyle changes.
To help give you a starting point for taking action, I have created a Love Your Thyroid Toolkit to help you figure the best diet, supplement and lifestyle changes to introduce. In this toolkit, I also give you my top testing recommendations if you suspect your thyroid is out of balance. In this toolkit, I give you our rundown of the tests you may want to consider to investigate your thyroid problems further.
You can download the Love your Thyroid Toolkit for free here.
NOW I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
So now it's your turn to tell me – Do you think it is more important to focus on adding in those foods to support your thyroid or to concentrate on eliminating problematic foods?
Leave your answer in the comment section below.
And if you want more expert health guidance, free recipes, toolkits and wellness training to help you overcome your hormone, digestive, skin, mood and energy problems on your terms so you can become your healthiest, happiest self then become a Food Psychologist Insider.
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I’ll see you in the next one and until then remember, your body never works against you so put it on speaker phone and let it guide you to health and happiness.
I'm Dr Christy Fergusson Ph.D. I am a Doctor of Psychology, Chartered Psychologist, Nutritional Therapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Hay House Author. I have a Ph.D., MSc and BA Hons in Psychology; I'm a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, a Nutritional Therapist with the British Association of Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy and a Clinical Hypnotherapist with the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Through a combined integration of my expertise in nutrition, psychology and hypnotherapy I launched my company The Food Psychologist and quickly become the ‘go to’ food psychology expert in the UK. I'm the food psychologist from Channels 4′s Secret Eaters, a former Sun columnist and in-house nutritionist at Women’s Health Magazine. I published my first book 'Hot, Healthy, Happy' with Hay House in 2013.