The thyroid is the small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate your body's energy use, along with many other essential functions.
When your thyroid hormone production changes, it affects virtually every system in your body. Untreated thyroid disease puts patients at risk for other health problems like heart disease, osteoporosis, or infertility.
Patients who live with a thyroid disorder often wonder about a "thyroid diet." What dietary changes can they make, supplements can they take, or toxins to avoid to manage their thyroid disease? What options exist beyond thyroid hormone replacement medication? Is it possible to lower thyroid antibody levels through diet? How much of this food or supplement is too much or too little for my thyroid?
These are all tricky questions because there is no one-size-fits-all thyroid diet. Each of us is unique with individual sensitivities, but the general idea is to eat a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet.
Certain nutritional deficiencies like too little iodine and selenium can cause hypothyroidism. These causes are uncommon in the United States due to soil quality, diet, and the use of iodized salt. Instead, autoimmune disease is the primary cause of thyroid disease in the United States—Hashimoto's thyroiditis in the case of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Grave's disease in the case of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
Autoimmune disorders cannot be cured, but related symptoms can be managed. Eating a thyroid-healthy diet can support your immune and thyroid function and help you reduce some of your symptoms.
Of course, diet is only one piece of the puzzle regarding thyroid healing. Other important factors to your thyroid healing include quality sleep, low-stress levels, your support network, a supplement routine, physical activity, and your health care team.
In this hub, you'll find the most popular nutritional topics related to thyroid disease. Consider also seeking the help of a thyroid nutritionist who can guide you further.
Nutrients play a significant role in thyroid function. What you eat and drink, and ensuring you get critical nutrients, can help you feel better and more energized and help combat your thyroid-related symptoms.
Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. The body does not make iodine naturally, so you must get it from your diet. Not consuming enough iodine is typically not a problem in the United States since iodized salt came on the scene in the 1920s. However, several studies show that too much iodine may be associated with increased rates of thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto's thyroiditis). Talk to your thyroid doctor or thyroid nutritionist about your specific need to supplement with iodine or not.
Selenium and zinc can support the conversion of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) to the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3).
Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats are the best dietary sources of selenium. Muscle meats, grains, and dairy products also contain selenium, but amounts depend on the soil and water in the growing region.
Oysters, red meat, and poultry are excellent sources of zinc. Other good dietary sources of zinc include beans, nuts, and whole grains. However, the phytic acid found in plant seeds may inhibit zinc absorption, making the bioavailability of zinc from plant foods slightly lower than that of animal foods.
Tyrosine is an essential precursor to thyroid hormones and adrenal hormones. Together, iodine and tyrosine create the thyroid hormone precursors, monoiodotyrosine (T1) and diiodotyrosine (T2). T1 and T2 combine to form the primary thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Supplementing with tyrosine is helpful for thyroid hormone production.
Tyrosine is in poultry, fish, nuts and beans, avocados, bananas, and dairy products.
Vitamin A has a host of benefits for the thyroid, including metabolizing thyroid hormones, supporting the pituitary gland (which sends signals to the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones), and may decrease autoimmune reactions in the body.
Liver and fish oils are great sources of vitamin A. You can also find vitamin A in milk and eggs, leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils.
Vitamin D helps facilitate proper immune function and regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Several studies show that hypothyroid patients often have low vitamin D levels, possibly causing musculoskeletal complaints. Supplementing with vitamin D3 may also help to reduce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
Vitamin D is mainly produced in the skin due to sunlight exposure. Few foods contain vitamin D, naturally. Fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fish liver oils are some of the best sources. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks also have small amounts of vitamin D3.
Plant-rich foods like leafy greens, whole grains (if you're not gluten-free), nuts, seeds, and zinc-rich legumes contain amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support healthy thyroid function. Fruits and vegetables like blueberries, olive oil, nuts, green tea, cloves, and apples are "a great source of phytosterols to reduce cholesterol, polyphenols to reduce inflammation, and micronutrients for a healthy immune system," according to Dr. Andrew Cunningham of Paloma Health.
Foods you may want to avoid if you have a thyroid condition are the same that are recommended to be avoided as part of a smart diet. Some foods may cause inflammation that can worsen your autoimmune reactions or interfere with your thyroid function. These foods to avoid if you have a thyroid condition include fast food, processed foods, sugary treats, and excessive alcohol.
Beyond those foods, some foods act as dietary triggers that may lead to leaky gut, chronic inflammation, or a possible elevation of thyroid antibodies. Of course, what is a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for another. It's vital to determine your specific dietary triggers to develop an eating plan that meets your particular needs.
Below is a list of the top dietary triggers for thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's disease.
Gluten is a protein in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. Studies suggest that celiac disease and Hashimoto's disease (the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States) often present together. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which ingesting gluten damages the villi in the small intestine, meant to promote nutrient absorption. Gluten may also cause uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, tiredness, mood swings, bloating, abdominal pain, brain fog, and breakouts. Eating a gluten-free diet may have clinical benefits for women with thyroid disease.
Not all sugar is created equal, and some forms of sugar affect your blood glucose differently than others. Too much refined sugar can cause inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, leaky gut, or hormone function disruption. Too much refined sugar can also cause insulin spikes, making the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, affecting thyroid hormone production.
Processed food is generally high in sugar and additives like preservatives, colorants, flavor enhancers. Our bodies cannot recognize most of these pre-packaged foods as nutrients, which depletes the essential vitamins and minerals our thyroid needs to function.
"People with Hashimoto's, not unlike the general population, should limit added sugars and highly processed foods," says Dr. Andrew Cunningham. "These foods are typically high in saturated fats, which may increase your cholesterol and decrease the integrity of your gastrointestinal system. Those with Hashimoto's run a higher risk of developing diabetes, obesity, or heart diseases than those without a thyroid condition."
Research shows that alcohol can cause damage to your thyroid cells and suppress thyroid hormone production. It can also weaken your immune system, cause inflammation, and damage your liver, critical to thyroid hormone conversion. A congested liver prevents your body from effectively converting the inactive thyroid hormone T4 to the active hormone T3. Alcohol can also cause sleep disturbances, which is already an issue for many thyroid patients who experience poor quality sleep, more prolonged sleep onset, or shorter sleep duration during the night.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage are full of fiber and other nutrients. These vegetables have tons of great benefits like cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties. However, research suggests that the high goitrogenic content in cruciferous vegetables may block the thyroid gland's ability to utilize the mineral iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid function. Still, according to the Mayo Clinic, you would need to consume a significant amount of cruciferous vegetables for it to truly impact iodine uptake. Thyroid patients whose diets contain adequate iodine (which is most in iodine-sufficient countries like the United States) can still eat these cruciferous vegetables in reasonable amounts, especially when cooked. Cooking cruciferous vegetables can reduce their effect on the thyroid gland. Thyroid patients may also want to limit their intake of these cooked vegetables to five ounces a day since that amount appears to have no adverse effect on thyroid function.
Some foods can interfere with your body's ability to absorb the thyroid hormone replacement medication you may take as part of your thyroid treatment. Foods or supplements that contain calcium or iron can interfere with the absorption of levothyroxine in your gut. Similarly, grapefruit or orange juices and coffee can block uptake transporters and reduce your thyroid medications absorption. Finally, fibrous foods can also interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormones. Of course, you can still enjoy these foods, but wait a few hours before or after taking your thyroid medication to consume them. Always follow the instruction provided by your thyroid doctor.
Check out the articles below for a more comprehensive list of the foods to avoid with hypothyroidism. It may help to experiment with an elimination diet or work with a thyroid nutritionist to determine your particular dietary triggers.
There is no one-size-fits-all "hypothyroidism diet" that will cure your condition. Still, each of us is unique with individual sensitivities, and it's possible to identify the method of eating that helps you feel your best and manage your symptoms.
Particular foods can be sources of healing or stress. It's vital to listen to your body and learn what you do or do not tolerate. You may find that your body responds particularly well to one diet or another, or you may need to make modifications to a particular diet method to make it work for you.
Eating a thyroid-friendly diet tailored to your specific needs may help minimize your symptoms and maintain a healthy weight. We encourage eating whole, unprocessed foods, and lean protein. Some principles can guide you in finding what is healing for you:
Work with a thyroid nutritionist or try an elimination diet to determine your sensitivities to certain foods, micronutrients, food additives, or chemicals.
Once you've identified your triggers, remove them. While this seems obvious, it is easier said than done. It may be hard to avoid foods you love despite adverse side effects. Do a cost-benefit analysis of eating foods that trigger inflammation, autoimmune flareups, or gastrointestinal upset.
A thyroid-healthy diet is not only removing foods. Instead, add foods that heal and improve thyroid function like zinc, selenium, omega-3's, and iodine.
It can be hard to decide which is suitable for you with endless diet variations available. Most diets aim to achieve specific health goals, like the keto diet, autoimmune protocol diet, or low-FODMAP diet. So, the best diet for you considers your personal health goals and sensitivities.
Check out the articles below to review the pros and cons of these possible diets for hypothyroidism:
Dietary triggers can increase distress in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, chronic inflammation, and possibly elevated thyroid antibodies. Eating reactive foods can cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, acid reflux, gas, or cramping. Other symptoms may be respiratory, muscular, or related to the skin.
An elimination-style diet can help identify your specific dietary triggers and reduce uncomfortable symptoms.
It can be challenging to connect specific foods to specific symptoms when eating the same way all the time. Still, the more you unknowingly eat problematic foods, the body's ability to protect itself weakens, and the reactions become less specific and more chronic.
An elimination diet helps identify foods your body doesn't tolerate well to remove them from your diet. An elimination diet typically involves two stages: removing potential food triggers and then intentionally reintroducing them into your diet to determine whether or not you tolerate them.
There are many different types of elimination diets, including:
Other elimination diets include lactose-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and wheat-free diets. Learn more in the articles below about specifically implementing an elimination diet with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's.
Extreme dieting severely reduces your calorie intake while often increasing your physical exercise. This form of dieting is used to drastically or quickly change your body weight, size, shape, or appearance. This kind of dieting can be tempting to lead to initial weight loss but can also cause serious consequences.
Extreme dieting can cause blood sugar levels to drastically lower or spike, possibly leading to insulin resistance and potentially type 2 diabetes. It can also cause muscle breakdown as the body searches for energy sources to replace the energy previously received from food.
Drastic weight loss also causes your metabolism to slow. Eating way too few calories puts your body under stress (called metabolic adaptation) as your body has to adapt to the perceived threat of starvation.
Too few calories also affect your thyroid hormone levels. One clinical study observes a group of obese women over 18 weeks. For the first four weeks, all participants eat 1200 calories per day. Participants then split into two groups—one group eating a very low-calorie diet of 400 calories per day for eight weeks before returning to 1200 calories/day, and the other half staying on the more balanced deficit diet of 1200 calories for the full 18 weeks.
Both groups saw a change in the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). Participants on the very low-calorie diet saw a decrease in T3 of up to 66%, and participants eating a more balanced deficit diet saw a reduction in T3 of up to 40%.
Restrictive dieting or dropping entire food groups from your diet for long periods deprives your body of essential nutrients, which can cause stress on your immune system. The more dietary pressure you put on yourself, the more likely you experience inflammation, and this inflammation can worsen your autoimmune reactions or interfere with your thyroid function.
The thyroid gland is highly nutrient-dependent, and poor nutritional status is one of the root causes of thyroid dysfunction.
Juicing extracts the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables, containing most of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in the fruit. However, when you juice fruits and vegetables, you leave behind the pulp and miss out on whole fruits and vegetables fiber.
Dietary fiber is important because it helps stabilize blood sugar, maintain regular bowel movements, and support a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is particularly important for autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Some argue that juicing gives your digestive system a rest from digesting the fiber, and your body can absorb the nutrients better. There are also claims that juicing can reduce cancer risk, boost immunity, remove toxins, aid digestion, and support weight loss. However, there is limited scientific research to back this up.
If you don't enjoy eating fruits and vegetables or don't currently get enough of them in your diet, juicing may be a way to get in more servings. You can use the leftover pulp in cooking or baking. Still, we recommend blending instead of juicing to make a drink that contains all the healthy phytonutrients and fiber, which will help you feel more satiated.
A meal plan for hypothyroidism should be based on the advice of your thyroid doctor or thyroid nutritionist advice and your body's specific needs.
There's no one-size-fits-all method of eating for hypothyroidism. Understand which nutrients your body needs, be conscious of what you're eating and drinking, pay attention to supplements that can interact with any medication you're taking, and work with your healthcare professional to develop a personalized nutrition plan.
Check out the articles below as a starting point.