If you have an under active thyroid, a hypothyroidism diet can help relieve your symptoms.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower front of the neck below the Adam's apple. It makes and stores hormones that help regulate body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism.
If you have hypothyroidism, this gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones needed to regulate essential functions. One effect of this is a sluggish metabolism leading to weight gain.
Other hypothyroidism symptoms include: (1)
Joint pain, stiffness
Elevated cholesterol level
Intolerance to cold
Irregular menstrual periods
Mental confusion, slowness of thought
What is the Cause of Hypothyroidism Disease?
The leading cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks thyroid tissue.
Hypothyroidism Risk Factors
Other risk factors include:
The presence of another autoimmune disorder, such as celiac disease. (1a)
Gender. Women are more likely than men to develop this disease.
Pituitary gland disorders
Radiation of the thyroid gland
How Can a Hypothyroidism Diet Help?
There is no cure for hypothyroidism. Instead, it is treated with thyroid medication, typically thyroid hormone replacement medication.
Your diet can heavily influence thyroid disease. For example, some foods and nutrients optimize thyroid function. Conversely, specific foods can interfere with the absorption of replacement hormones used to treat hypothyroidism.
This article outlines the best and the worst foods to eat when you have underactive thyroid disease.
What is a Hypothyroidism Diet?
Managing hypothyroidism symptoms involves eating a well-balanced diet with several servings of fruits and vegetables per day and plant-based fats.
These foods are rich in the nutrients scientifically shown to optimize thyroid function.
Nutrients for Healthy Thyroid Function
The essential nutrients for proper thyroid function are iodine, selenium, and zinc.
Iodine is an essential trace mineral. The thyroid uses it to make the two main thyroid hormones -- thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) -- so it's critical for proper thyroid function. Severe deficiency is a significant risk factor for hypothyroidism.
Because your body cannot produce this mineral, you must get it by eating iodine-rich foods, using iodine-enriched salts, or taking iodine supplements.
Iodine deficiency occurs in about one-third of the world's population affecting over two billion people. (3) But it is rare in the United States and other developed countries due to the availability of iodine in the diet. However, that wasn't always the case.
In the 1920s, people in several country regions experienced goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland signifying iodine deficiency. At that time, iodine levels in soil were so low that people had trouble getting enough through their diet.
To address this issue, the U.S. government requested that manufacturers add iodine to table salt, a practice that continues today.
How Much Iodine Do I Need?
The amount of iodine you need each day depends upon your age and is listed as micrograms (mcg).
Below are the recommended amounts by age issued by the National Institutes of Health. (4)
Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 110 mcg
Infants 7-12 months 130 mcg
Children 9-13 years 120 mcg
Teens 14-18 years 150 mcg
Adults 150 mcg
Pregnant teens and women 220 mcg
Breastfeeding teens and women 290 mcg
You should get no more than 1,100 mcg per day. Consuming more than this amount can severely impair thyroid function, causing many of the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. It can also cause iodine-induced hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid disorder that leads to many unpleasant symptoms and can be dangerous.
You should be able to get all you need through your diet.
Iodine-rich foods include:
What About Supplements?
You can take iodine in supplement form if necessary. But if you have an underactive thyroid condition, you must speak with your doctor before doing so.
Iodine supplements can negatively impact thyroid hormone levels and interfere with hypothyroidism treatment.
Selenium is a mineral found in soil and specific foods. It is essential for various bodily functions and plays a significant role in thyroid hormone production. It is also naturally present in thyroid tissue.
According to a 2017 review article published in theInternational Journal of Endocrinology, "Selenium is required for the antioxidant function and the metabolism of thyroid hormones". (5)
Indeed, research shows that maintaining proper selenium levels is crucial for preventing thyroid disease and supporting overall health. (6)
How Much Selenium Do I Need?
Like iodine, the amount of selenium you need per day depends upon age.
Below are the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of selenium by age issued by the National Institutes of Health. (7)
Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 15 MCG
7-12 months 20 mcg
Children 1-3 years 20 mcg
Children 4-8 years 30 mcg
Children 9-13 years 40 mcg
Teens 14-18 years 55 mcg
Adults 19-50 years 55 mcg
Adults 51 and older 55 mcg
Pregnant teens and women 60 mcg
Breastfeeding teens and women 70 mcg
Foods highest in selenium include:
What about Selenium Supplements?
Selenium is available as part of a multivitamin or multimineral formula. You can also purchase selenium as a stand-alone supplement.
Most people get enough selenium through their diets, so a deficiency of this nutrient is rare. But, if you eat too many selenium-rich foods -- such as Brazil nut -- or take it in supplement form, you can exceed the upper limit.
According to the National Institutes of Health, adults should get no more than 400 mcg per day. If you exceed this limit, you can experience side effects that may include: (8)
Garlic breath odor
Metallic taste in the mouth
Hair loss or brittleness
Nail loss or brittleness
Zinc is another essential mineral naturally present in or added to specific foods.
It is necessary for numerous bodily functions and is particularly important for thyroid function. For example, zinc helps regulate thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). (9) Therefore, it is crucial for proper thyroid hormone metabolism.
Zinc is prevalent in the food supply, so deficiency is rare.
How Much Zinc Do I Need?
According to the Mayo Clinic, "The recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for adult men." (10)
Foods highest in zinc include:
What About Zinc Supplements?
You are unlikely to need a zinc supplement. But if you do, it is often part of a multivitamin or multimineral formula. You can also purchase it as a stand-alone supplement.
Other Nutrients Important for a Healthy Thyroid
There are a couple of other nutrients you should consume for better thyroid function, including:
Vitamin D. In a 2017 study, researchers found that those with hypothyroidism were three times more likely to be vitamin D deficient than those with healthy thyroid function. (11)
In a study published in theJournal of Pakistan Medical Association, researchers found that nearly 40% of the patients in the study with hypothyroidism were deficient. In addition, when these patients were administered vitamin B-12, their symptoms improved.
Amino acids. You get amino acids from consuming protein foods. A 2018 study published in the Nutrients journal found that a long-term insufficient intake of amino acids alters the activity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, leading to hypothyroidism. (13)
Foods to Avoid with Hypothyroidism
Specific types of foods and nutrients can interfere with healthy thyroid function. Therefore, you should limit your consumption of these foods.
Though soy contains protein, some research studies suggest that it may interfere with the body's ability to absorb thyroid medication.
However, other studies show that soy consumption does not affect thyroid hormone levels. Therefore, you should probably eat soy products in moderation to be safe.
Soy foods include:
Cruciferous vegetables may interfere with thyroid hormone production because they contain goitrogens, which hinder the thyroid gland's absorption of iodine.
But it appears this is only an issue if you have an iodine deficiency or consume excessive amounts of goitrogen foods. So, you should continue to enjoy these foods. After all, cruciferous veggies are rich sources of fiber and nutrients your body needs.
Foods that contain goitrogens include:
If you have hypothyroidism, you may want to speak with your doctor before consuming cruciferous vegetables.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale -- a hybrid grain created by crossing wheat and rye.
Many people suffer from gluten intolerance, but it's severe for those with celiac disease, a chronic autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten consumption.
Studies show that people with hypothyroidism are significantly more likely to have celiac disease than those with healthy thyroid function. (14) So, removing gluten from your diet is a great way to avoid an autoimmune response should you have celiac.
In addition, studies suggest that enjoying a gluten-free diet can improve thyroid function in those with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid gland, even if they do not have celiac. (15)
Reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods can also improve thyroid function and overall health.
After all, ultra-processed foods are filled with inflammatory sugars, trans fats, artificial flavorings, chemicals, and other unhealthy ingredients. In other words, they are food-like products that your body doesn't recognize as food. Consequently, these foods trigger systemic inflammation, an immune response seeking to get rid of the toxins.
A significant cause of thyroid disease is an inflamed thyroid gland.
Examples of ultra-processed foods include:
What is the Best Diet for Hypothyroidism?
For a healthy thyroid and body, replace ultra-processed foods with delicious, whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. Examples include fruits and vegetables with no added sugar or flavorings, nutrient-dense proteins, and whole-food fats. Be sure also to eat a variety of high-fiber foods.
Eating a healthy diet is not difficult. It just takes a little planning and meal prep, and it is SO good for your health and thyroid gland. It will also help you maintain a healthy weight.
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