Nutrition for Hypothyroidism: Top Foods to Eat and Avoid

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones. The result is that your many of your body functions slow down, leading to feelings of lethargy, fatigue and depression, and symptoms like dry skin, weight gain, sensitivity to cold temperatures and memory problems.

Restoring your thyroid health is a complex matter, one best undertaken with the guidance of a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can address the myriad of factors that caused your thyroid to become unbalanced. This involves a variety of treatment approaches, but no treatment program is complete without attention to proper nutrition.

As with all parts of your body, your thyroid depends on vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the foods you eat and uses those nutrients to function properly. So while not necessarily a cure or a quick-fix, the foods you eat can and do influence your thyroid health.

What Foods Should You Eat for Thyroid Health?

A diet based on a wide variety of fresh, whole foods, like healthy sources of protein and veggies, will best promote healing and optimal health — but you can further tailor your diet to for optimum thyroid health by also including:

1. Brazil Nuts

Just one ounce of Brazil nuts provides 780% of the recommended daily value for selenium,[1] a powerful antioxidant that not only fights cellular damage from free radicals but also is necessary for the formation of triiodothyronine (T3) thyroid hormone. Selenium also helps to regulate thyroid function.

Brazil nuts are a particularly concentrated source of selenium, but they are far from the only one. You can also find selenium in tuna, shrimp, beef and crimini mushrooms.

2. Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables (seaweed) include popular varieties like nori, kelp, kombu, wakame, and dulse. In the United States seaweed is probably most known for its use in making sushi rolls, but it’s also used in soups and salads and is available in dried, snackable form.

What makes sea vegetables so nutritionally valuable is their wide range of minerals, picked up from the ocean water in which they grow. Among them is iodine, which your thyroid needs to produce both T3 and thyroxine (T4) thyroid hormones.

In the United States iodine deficiency is nota major cause of hypothyroidism, and in many cases treating the condition with supplemental iodine is a major health disaster — but including sea vegetables in your diet is a safe and natural way to be sure you have plenty of iodine for proper thyroid function.

Because seaweed can easily pick up pollutants from ocean waters (just as it absorbs minerals), be sure the sea vegetables you buy come from clean, non-polluted waters far from shipping ports and industry.

3. Fish and Fish Oil

Fish is a rich source of the omega-3 fats EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which experts believe are essential for thyroid function, even helping cells to become more sensitive to thyroid hormone.[2] Omega-3 fats also have anti-inflammatory effects, which may be beneficial for autoimmune thyroid disease, which typically is associated with inflammation.

As with seaweed, because fish can accumulate toxins from their environment it’s important to choose wild-caught fish from unpolluted waters or, alternatively, purified fish oil supplements to get your omega-3 fats.

4. Red Meat and Oysters

Some people with hypothyroidism are at increased risk for iron deficiency, so consuming a variety of iron-rich foods, like beef, can be helpful. Other healthy sources of iron include clams, oysters, dark-meat turkey, lentils, Swiss chard and spinach.

Red meat and oysters are also excellent sources of zinc, which is essential for proper thyroid hormone metabolism.[3] If you’re deficient in zinc it could result in decreased thyroid hormone levels.

Are There Foods That Should be Avoided for Thyroid Health?

There is a wide-ranging category of foods known as goitrogens, which can interfere with your thyroid function. When eaten in excess, certain substances in goitrogenic foods can suppress normal thyroid function and promote formation of goiter (enlarged thyroid).

Not all goitrogens need to be avoided, however, the following two categories do:

1. Soy

Soy foods contain high levels of isoflavones, which are goitrogens. Evidence suggests that consuming large amounts of soy foods, including soy milk, tofu, soy burgers, soy dairy products, etc., may generate thyroid abnormalities, including goiter and autoimmune thyroiditis.[4]

Soy infant formula appears to be particularly dangerous to infants’ thyroid health and has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.[5]

2. Gluten

Gluten, found in grains like wheat, rye, barley and oats (and also in most processed foods), is also a potential goitrogen that may trigger Hashimoto’s disease, the leading cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.

In fact, a significant number of people with Hashimoto’s disease also have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine, and poor nutrient absorption, anytime gluten-containing grains are consumed.[6] The disease, also known as gluten intolerance, has also been found to trigger the creation of thyroid antibodies that may be responsible for Hashimoto’s autoimmune response.

Another category of goitrogenic foods is the cruciferous family of vegetables, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and others. These veggies can act as goitrogens, especially when consumed raw and in large quantities, but they are loaded with so many healthy nutrients and phytochemicals that avoiding them is NOT recommended. The health benefits you can gain from eating cruciferous veggies will generally outweigh any thyroid risks, however if you’re concerned you can reduce their goitrogenic effect by steaming them before eating.

Again, the best “diet” for thyroid health is to eat a wide variety of fresh, whole foods, including plenty of healthy meats, eggs, fish and vegetables, and little to no processed or refined foods. By providing your body with the proper nourishment, you are giving all of your body’s systems the best chance to function optimally, and that includes the optimal functioning of your thyroid gland.

References

1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Selenium
2. About.com “Fats That Heal: Fats That Kill” May 2002
3. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism 2007;51:188-194
4. Environmental Health Perspectives 2002 Jun;110 Suppl 3:349-53.
5. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1990 Apr;9(2):164-7.
6. European Journal of Endocrinology, Vol 146, Issue 4, 479-483