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How to Navigate The Dining Hall With Hypothyroidism

Learn how to eat a thyroid-healthy diet in a dining hall.
How to Navigate The Dining Hall With Hypothyroidism

Medically Reviewed by:
Medically Reviewed by:

Eating in a dining hall can be challenging for any person. There are numerous options, and the servings are usually unlimited. For people who follow a strict diet like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP diet), eating in a dining hall can be especially overwhelming. Ahead, how to navigate the many menu options to best manage your hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's disease.


Basics of a thyroid-healthy diet


The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland regulates the body's metabolism. When your thyroid hormone production drops (hypothyroidism), your body processes slow down and change, affecting virtually every system in the body.

Optimizing your thyroid levels with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing hypothyroidism symptoms. But beyond taking thyroid hormone replacement medication, you can support your thyroid with nutrition and lifestyle modifications.

Each of us is unique with individual sensitivities, so there is no one-size-fits-all diet to follow when you have a thyroid condition. However, there are some foods and principles that may support optimal thyroid health.


Essential nutrients drive thyroid hormone production. For instance, your thyroid needs iodine to make thyroid hormones. Good food sources of iodine include fish, dairy products, and iodized salt. You need minerals like zinc to convert the inactive thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) to the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) and selenium to help reduce thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. Good food sources of zinc include beans, nuts, and seafood, and you can find selenium in Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats.


It can also be helpful to know if you have dietary triggers and what they are. Dietary triggers can lead to increased gastrointestinal permeability, chronic inflammation, and a possible elevation in thyroid antibodies that would indicate the presence of Hashimoto's disease.

Work with a thyroid nutritionist to identify dietary triggers and reverse nutritional deficiencies: 


Overall, we recommend that you eat anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods, limit added sugar, limit processed foods, and drink more water to support your thyroid health.


Dining halls are busy, social places making it hard to stick with your thyroid-healthy diet. However, your diet is an integral part of your thyroid treatment plan.

Image of dining area inside building with no people


Strategies for eating in the dining hall


Timing is important

Find out when the dining hall is busiest and beat the crowd by eating an hour earlier. Beating the rush gives you time to ask the kitchen staff questions about the meals that day or make a special request. 


Choose natural meat or fish 

Lean meats and fish are a great source of protein for people with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's. However, dining halls tend to have breaded or fried meat available at self-serve counters. It is also common for meat entrees to have a pre-made sauce drizzled over them like marinara. If you ask, most places will offer a freshly-grilled protein like a chicken breast, which would be great on top of a colorful salad from the salad bar.

Image of grilled meat and veggies on white ceramic plate


Do-it-yourself salad bar

Assembling your own salad allows you to be selective with the ingredients and gives you control over your portions. Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat—they pack a ton of vitamins, minerals, and fiber into a small number of calories. A big salad loaded with raw or cooked vegetables can help you feel fuller, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of disease, and feel better overall.


Some salad bar ideas:
  • Skip the iceberg lettuce and load up on leafy greens like kale, spinach, and arugula. Dark leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, folate, beta carotene, and have antioxidant properties.
  • Tuna at the salad bar is great in a salad! It's also an excellent source of thyroid-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Top your salad with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for a healthy dose of vitamin E and selenium.
  • Pre-made dressings and sauces may have ingredients that can aggravate your thyroid symptoms. Instead, dress your salad with vinegar and olive oil. Olive oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which may benefit symptoms of Hashimoto's.


Hydrate with water

Dining halls tend to have soda and tea dispensers. These drinks are usually high in sugar and caffeine and are artificially flavored. Skip past the flavored beverages and opt for water.  


Pay attention to the soups

Many soups contain flour and dairy products. If you know that these foods may trigger your thyroid symptoms, check with the kitchen staff to learn what ingredients are in the soup first.


Plan ahead

Spend time each week reviewing the dining hall menu and making a thyroid-healthy meal plan in advance. Planning ahead reduces mealtime stress and decreases impulse eating. 


Chefs, cooks, and dining staff are aware that many people need dietary accommodations. Do not hesitate to connect and become acquainted with the team in your dining hall. And, if you struggle to navigate the dining hall, connect with a thyroid nutritionist to create a personalized thyroid meal plan.

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