The Best and Worst Foods for Your Thyroid
Your thyroid has a big job: it produces two hormones (T3 and T4) responsible for controlling your metabolism.
If the thyroid goes haywire, you can end up with a super sluggish metabolism or a way-too-speedy metabolism.
Both have a long list of frustrating side effects from weight changes and fatigue to heart problems and reproductive issues.
These disorders are:
- Hypothyroidism: The condition where you do not have enough T3 and T4
- Hyperthyroidism: The condition where you have too much T3 and T4
It’s important to keep your thyroid healthy, so your hormones can stay balanced. We all know that food is important to health and healing, so let’s take a look at some of the best and worst foods for your thyroid.
Is There a Thyroid Diet?
Many health conditions come with a specific diet plan to follow for optimal health. A thyroid disorder is not quite like this.
You can find ways to have a healthy thyroid on a more Mediterranean-type diet, a paleo diet, a vegan diet, or a whole foods-based diet.
The #1 tip when it comes to diet for the thyroid is simply to choose healthful, non-inflammatory foods that support overall health.
Focus on things everyone knows to be healthy. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, limit your sugar, stop eating processed/fast food, etc.
Your thyroid needs a good diet like this for many reasons:
- Thyroid health: The healthier you are, the more you are setting your thyroid up to succeed.
- Symptom reduction: If you are dealing with a thyroid disorder, you want the rest of your body to be as healthy as possible to ensure your symptoms are not any worse than they have to be.
- Weight management: Weight changes are one of the more common side effects of a thyroid disorder; a consistently healthy diet can improve your weight (whether you need to lose or gain).
All this being said, there are a few foods that may be able to add a special punch to thyroid health…as well as a few foods that you should probably avoid.
Some foods can be helpful with one thyroid disorder and unhelpful for another…these should be chosen based upon your current condition and the advice of your doctor. Let’s dig in.
Your Thyroid Adores These Foods
Here are some of the top foods choices. Not only do they have special benefits for thyroid health (and can improve symptoms associated with a thyroid disorder), but they are great for you general.
1. Brazil Nuts
A really important mineral for thyroid health is selenium – an essential trace mineral. Selenium is necessary for the thyroid hormones to metabolize properly. Plus, studies show it can also help prevent thyroid disease.
Though meat has a decent amount of selenium, the #1 source is actually vegan: brazil nuts.
A small handful can give you almost 1000% of the daily value, which means you only need a couple to ensure you are getting plenty.
If you get bored snacking on plain nuts, this Brazil Nut Balls recipe is low on sugar and high on flavor.
2. Yogurt & High-Quality Dairy
Here are 3 ways vitamin D is connected to the thyroid:
- People who are deficient in vitamin D are more at risk for hypothyroidism than those who are not.
- When it comes to patients who already have hypothyroidism, low D can make the condition even worse.
- Graves’ disease (the #1 cause of hyperthyroidism) can lead to bone loss – vitamin D can help you combat that issue.
Since most people are actually deficient in vitamin D, these issues are fairly common concerns.
High quality forms of dairy (a low-sugar Greek yogurt vs. a yogurt with lots of sugar and artificial dyes) can be a great thing to add into your diet to boost your levels of vitamin D. Organic milk can be good too.
If you are a vegan or can’t tolerate dairy, mushrooms and D-fortified plant-based milks are great alternatives. A vitamin D3 supplement is always a good idea.
3. Tahini & Hemp Seeds
Neither one of these foods are extremely popular in people’s everyday grocery shopping, yet they happen to be two of the best sources of zinc around. Plus, they are tasty and easy to use!
Studies show being deficient in zinc can lead to hypothyroidism. On the other hand, having low or high thyroid hormones can make you deficient in zinc as well. Whether you are trying to prevent or improve a thyroid disorder, extra zinc is a good idea.
Tahini (AKA: sesame seed paste) is a great base for homemade dressings and hemp seeds can be sprinkled on just about anything – from smoothies to avocado toast.
Not sure how to incorporate tahini? Here are 4 easy tahini salad dressing recipes you can make for yourself!
4. Fortified Cereal or Nut Milks
B12 is also a really important vitamin for thyroid health. Low B12 can lead to hypothyroidism and hypothyroidism can lead to low B12. It’s an evil cycle easily brought to a halt by good food choices.
Fish is a great source of B12, but as you will learn later, seafood may not be an ideal staple for some thyroid disorder patients.
One of the easiest ways to boost your B12, then, is to choose cereal or plant-based milks fortified with B12 (there are plenty out there!).
Here’s a thyroid breakfast of champions: B12-fortified and low-sugar cereal, a sprinkle of chopped brazil nuts and hemp seeds, and B12-fortified (perhaps even vitamin D-fortified) almond or cashew milk.
5. Lean Meats
Meat lovers rejoice! Meat is high in zinc, selenium, and B12, making it a pretty big star for thyroid health.
Of course, to keep your wellbeing strong and inflammation down (thyroid inflammation is a cause thyroid disorders), you should be choosing the highest quality meat:
You should also be preparing it in health-conscious ways. Think grilling instead of frying. Or seasoning it with a homemade spice rub instead of a store-bought marinade with hidden ingredients.
Vegans need not worry – smart eating and supplementing can still give you plenty of the vitamins and minerals you need to support your thyroid.
Your Thyroid Really Would Prefer You Avoid These
Here are some of the foods you will want to eliminate or reduce if you want a healthy thyroid.
Gluten isn’t automatically the enemy of your thyroid. Some people with thyroid disorders may be able to eat wheat and barley products without consequence.
However, the odds of having celiac disease go up for patients with a thyroid disorder. In this case, continuing to eat gluten would wreak havoc on your body.
Similarly, if inflammation is causing your thyroid conditions (thyroiditis) or exacerbating the symptoms, try eliminating gluten for a month or two to see if your symptoms improve. Those without celiac disease may still have a sensitivity.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley. The #1 hidden source of gluten is soy sauce.
2. Soy & Soy Protein
While soy is often mentioned when discussing foods to avoid for thyroid, know there is some conflicting evidence on soy making hypothyroidism worse.
Some studies show no affect – others show it may force you to increase your hypothyroid medication or increase the risk of hypothyroidism for those with compromised thyroids.
On the hyperthyroid side, it may interfere with treatment.
There are many other reasons to avoid/reduce soy intake – from getting too much estrogen exposure to the fact that it’s one of the most common food allergies around.
Perhaps, then, it’s not a bad idea to stay on the safe side of those thyroid studies and not overdo the soy in your regular diet.
There are plenty of other non-meat protein choices: quinoa, lentils, beans, etc. Also, look into ingredients like pea protein if you want a plant-based protein powder.
3. Green Tea
While a nice mug of hot green tea should be just fine, studies have shown that high doses of green tea extract can alter your levels of T3 and T4.
This can be problematic for anyone on a thyroid treatment plan who is trying to keep balanced hormones.
Simply avoid foods, supplements, or drinks with this high content of green tea extract. Your doctor may be fine with an occasional cup green tea – but double check first!
First off, we know that sugar consumption isn’t good for anybody’s health. But there are a few ways it can impact the thyroid specifically.
- Research has shown that people with Hashimoto’s Disease (the #1 cause of hypothyroidism) are often more sensitive to high carb and high sugar diets – leading to blood sugar imbalances.
- Similarly, sugar may make symptoms worse for those with Graves’ disease (the #1 cause of hyperthyroidism)
- People with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) have a higher chance of developing a thyroid disorder, and people with a thyroid disorder have a higher chance of developing diabetes.
Make soda, juice, or sweetened coffee drinks the first thing to go. Then focus on finding ways to lower your sugar intake regularly. For example:
- Fruit is already sweet – don’t add any honey to your morning smoothie
- Find sauces and marinades without too much added sugar – better yet, make your own!
- Swap a square or two of dark chocolate or an apple and peanut butter for your normal dessert
Good and Bad? Thyroid Foods That Can Harm or Help, So Study Up!
Finally, we get to a list of foods that can impact your thyroid hormones. Depending upon hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, these may help or harm.
1. Seaweed and Seafood
Foods found in the sea are high in iodine. Iodine happens to be an important mineral for the thyroid – the thyroid actually uses it to create the T3 and T4 hormones.
- When you have too little iodine, you are at risk for hypothyroidism.
- When you have too much iodine, you are at risk for hyperthyroidism.
So, if you are a patient with hyperthyroidism, your doctor may want you to reduce or eliminate foods with high iodine content. With the reverse, those with hypothyroidism may benefit.
Best bet: just ask your doctor!
To avoid iodine deficiency, iodized salt has become a staple in many countries. This ensures the average person has the right amount of this trace mineral.
However, if you are needing to lower your iodine due to hyperthyroidism or if you don’t want to mess with your current level of thyroid hormone, you may want to switch to a non-iodized salt.
Once again: consult your doctor!
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
There’s no doubt about it: cruciferous vegetables are some of the healthiest around. They are full of vitamins and minerals and may even help fight cancer. They include:
- Collard greens
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bok choy
- Mustard seeds/leaves
But cruciferous veggies are goitrogens, which means they interfere with thyroid hormones. They can block iodine and even lower your levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (the important hormone created by the pituitary gland that tells your thyroid what to do).
These problems make cruciferous vegetables problematic for hypothyroid patients in particular – though hyperthyroid patients may not want this type of interference with their hormones either.
Pro tip: if you do eat cruciferous veggies with a thyroid disorder, you must boil them for about 30 minutes. This will greatly reduce their goitrogenic affect.
You and Your Thyroid Working on a Diet Together
Remember: the goal is to eat an overall healthy diet that not only makes you feel good, but also feels sustainable for the long haul.
As long as you are getting plenty of fresh produce, nutritious protein sources, nuts, seeds, etc. your thyroid should be thanking you. Adding in these extra foods and avoiding the others will be an added bonus!
That leaves 2 steps to ensure you have the best diet for your thyroid:
- Talk to your doctor about whether or not he/she believes you can eat high-iodine food
- Get tested for celiac disease to see if you need to drop the gluten
Let food be thy (thyroid) medicine!