Reduced thyroid function is a common issue in America with many being treated with thyroid hormone replacement. Although this method is effective when implemented properly, thyroid function can be further supported by following an appropriate diet.
Having a solid understanding of hypothyroidism and learning of what foods are beneficial and which to avoid can help thyroid patients maintain proper thyroid function and live healthier lives.
Hypothyroidism is a Growing Concern
The thyroid is a critical component of numerous bodily functions including metabolism, mood, and neurological function. Therefore, any sort of inhibited function or slowed activity can have a powerfully negative impact on one’s wellness.
Unfortunately, thyroid disease, specifically hypothyroidism, is becoming increasingly common. The American Thyroid Association states that approximately 12 percent of Americans will develop some degree of thyroid dysfunction during their lifetime. Furthermore, some estimate that as much as 40 percent of the population suffers from thyroid disease with upwards of 60 percent of that group being unaware of their condition.
Because of its growing prevalence, it is important that people understand and implement methods of supporting their individual thyroid health. Perhaps the best approach to thyroid wellness is through dietary optimization.
Supporting the Thyroid by Eating Right
Eliminating foods that threaten or damage the thyroid and replacing them with others that heal and support proper thyroid function can be hugely beneficial in treating hypothyroidism. This is because nutrients found in foods have substantial influence over thyroid activity and the efficacy of the hormones it produces.
There are many foods that benefit thyroid function by providing essential nutrients. However, there are also foods that can disrupt the thyroid and the hormones it produces. Being aware of the benefits and dangers of certain foods can help you create a diet plan that better supports the thyroid.
Foods to Include
The following foods provide notable benefits to thyroid function and should be included in diet plans aimed at supporting thyroid function.
Natural Proteins (Wild-caught fish, chicken, beef)
Protein-rich foods contain many beneficial nutrients regarding thyroid function. Omega 3 fatty acids support hormone balance and can be found in abundance within wild-caught fish. Zinc is another essential thyroid nutrient that most acquire through eating beef, chicken, and shellfish.
Iodine is a critical building block for thyroid hormones. Increasing the consumption of foods containing a high volume of iodine can support thyroid hormone production and balance. Perhaps one of the best sources for iodine are seaweeds such as kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame. However, too much iodine can be harmful for thyroid function. Therefore, try to limit heavy seaweed consumption to once or twice a week and avoid iodine supplements unless explicitly prescribed by a doctor. Other sources of iodine include shrimp, dried prunes, lobster, shrimp, cranberries, and iodized salt.
Eggs are an excellent source of iodine and selenium. Eating one large egg fulfills 16 percent of the daily requirement for iodine and 20 percent for selenium. Most of these beneficial nutrients are contained within the yolk so it is best for thyroid patients to consume the entire egg rather than just the whites.
Probiotics are collections of helpful bacteria that can significantly improve gut function and by extension thyroid activity. Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut, and other fermented veggies contain a substantial number of helpful bacteria. Improving gut function through a probiotic can limit leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, and autoimmune issues that often contribute to thyroid disruption.
Foods to Avoid
There are many common foods that may hinder thyroid activity. Avoiding the following foods can help improve thyroidal wellness and support proper hormone function.
Soy has become a popular and sometimes primary source of protein for many individuals. Unfortunately, compounds known as isoflavones contained in soy can be damaging to the thyroid and inhibit iodine usage. Furthermore, soy may impede the body’s ability to absorb and use thyroid replacement drugs. Therefore, it is best to limit soy intake and wait at least four hours after taking thyroid medication to consume soy.
Certain foods including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts may impede thyroid function if consumed at high volume. This is because such foods contain goitrogens, which are molecules that inhibit thyroid peroxidase. It is best to avoid consuming large quantities of these foods, especially if they are raw. However, a few servings of cruciferous veggies, ideally cooked or steamed, should not pose a threat to thyroid function.
Gluten is a protein found in processed wheats, barleys, ryes, as well as most breads and pastas. Eating gluten causes those with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease to suffer significant intestinal inflammation resulting in malfunction of various systems including the thyroid. The May 2017 edition of Endocrine Connections presented data showing that celiac disease and hypothyroidism frequently present at the same time. For this reason, adapting a gluten-free diet may improve thyroid function.
Studies show that caffeine can inhibit thyroid hormone absorption. Therefore, drinking coffee too soon after taking thyroid hormone replacement medication can inhibit thyroid function. Coffee can certainly be enjoyed while on thyroid medication, but it is best to wait at least an hour after medicating to drink it.
Unlike caffeine, alcohol has a consistent impact on thyroid function regardless of when it is consumed. Research suggests that alcohol is toxic to the thyroid and may suppress the body’s ability to utilize thyroid hormones. Ideally, hypothyroid patients abstain entirely from alcohol. However, drinking in moderation may be acceptable.
More of the Good and Less of the Bad
With the occurrence of hypothyroidism increasing it is important that we be knowledgeable of the condition and understand how we as individuals can better improve thyroid function. One way to do this is by adopting a diet that contains plenty of foods that support the thyroid while eliminating products that impede its function. Doing so can be hugely beneficial for those with hypothyroidism or an undiagnosed thyroid condition.
To learn even more about thyroid function and proper thyroid support, read our Thyroid 101 e-book!