If you have an underactive thyroid gland, what you eat may affect your thyroid disease, including the absorption of your thyroid medication. Ahead, how a plant-based, vegan diet impacts hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
A vegan, or “strict vegetarian,” diet abstains from all animal meat and dairy products. It is densely plant-based, focused on whole fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that a vegan diet has a variety of health benefits, including weight loss, improved kidney function, 11-19% lower risk of cancer, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.
There is no evidence that a vegan diet will prevent or treat hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s. However, eating a healthy vegan diet will likely benefit your health in general.
If you try a vegan diet, keep a close eye on your iodine intake! Iodine is a vital nutrient in the body and essential for thyroid hormone production. Since animal products tend to be rich in iodine, vegans can be at higher risk of developing iodine deficiency.
An additional concern is that soy products, often a natural protein replacement for meat may adversely affect thyroid function by interfering with the absorption of synthetic thyroid hormone medications. Still, soy products have many health benefits, including potential anti-inflammatory effects. So while hypothyroid patients do not necessarily need to avoid soy, it's worthwhile to make sure your iodine intake remains adequate.
Eating a vegan diet may leave the body short on nutrients like protein, calcium, omega-3s, zinc, and vitamin B12 if you don't pay attention. You can substitute many of these nutrients in plant-based foods like:
Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune condition in which a person's antibodies attack their thyroid and cause inflammation. It is the number one cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto's can become more severe over time, so taking action at the first sign of symptoms is beneficial and can slow the progression of the disease.
Diet and nutrition are critical aspects of any treatment plan for Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism. Some may argue that vegan (or vegetarian) diets are not the best choice for those who are trying to heal from Hashimoto's, specifically. This carbohydrate-heavy diet can exacerbate blood sugar issues, prevent the healing of intestinal permeability ("leaky gut"), and contribute to nutrient deficiencies that may trigger Hashimoto's.
Hashimoto's relationship with iodine, specifically, can be confusing and somewhat contentious. Research suggests that too much iodine may be a trigger for Hashimoto's disease.
With this knowledge, whether or not you adopt a vegan diet, you should aim for 150-400 micrograms (mcg) of iodine per day from a combination of foods, fortified foods, and supplements. People with Hashimoto's generally tolerate supplements containing up to 150 mcg of iodine without increasing thyroid antibodies. However, you should have a lab test to confirm your iodine levels.
The data available about the health benefits of a vegan diet are inconclusive. We recommend you focus on foods that make you feel your best, instead of strictly sticking to one diet or another solely for the sake of it. Incorporating more nutrient-rich plant-based foods into your diet certainly won't hurt.
If you're inclined to try a vegan diet, you can go all-in by cutting out all poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy at once, or take a more gradual approach.
Start by increasing your intake of omega 3s and eating an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in leafy greens and whole grains and low in processed foods.
There are also some less strict alternatives to a vegan diet:
Paloma Health offers personalized dietary guidance and health coaching. Your Paloma doctor or nutritionist can help you choose the right foods as you start a specific diet for hypothyroidism.
Find inspiration for a healthy way to support your thyroid