The most common question I get asked is, “what should I eat?”
I never have a clear, exact answer since each person is so unique and has a completely different medical and social history. It takes me a good hour long session with someone to understand their background and be able to give clear and specific recommendations. However, there are a few key foods or food groups that are more likely to help or hinder the thyroid condition.
What I am about to describe are generalities and should not be thought of as a diet therapy. The foods mentioned below are the foods that we currently have the most research on regarding autoimmune nutrition and thyroid nutrition. Always check with your own healthcare provider before beginning a new plan.
Foods I Avoid
Research explains that soy may interfere with thyroid hormone, and overall be likely to cause lower T3 levels in those who consume soy consistently. I generally avoid soy protein fortified foods, processed fake “meat” soy products, edamame, and tofu. In addition, soy is a food that may carry much higher levels of pesticide residues which may impact thyroid health.
This a controversial one. Some practitioners theorize that gluten appears similar to thyroid tissue, and the body may falsely recognize it as thyroid tissue and increase the autoimmune attack. For some, gluten may be a food that generally causes inflammation as it is a common food allergen. Other research and health experts argue that gluten deteriorates the health of the intestinal tract, and avoiding it may help improve the health of the intestinal tract, and therefore, improve an autoimmine condition. In addition, a small percentage of people who have Hashimoto’s may also have Celiac disease. I recommend Celiac testing before going 100% gluten free to rule this out. I highly recommend this article and video about Dr. Fasano’s point of view on gluten to learn more on the topic. I have also written this article on gluten and Hashimoto’s previously.
I continue to avoid gluten, and it has taken my body a long time to heal after 25+ years of gluten ingestion. I feel as if I am still continuing to recover slowly but surely to my most optimal health. However, I am doing extremely better than 5+ years ago!
What do I often tell my clients? At the least, trial a gluten free diet for 30 days. Journal and record symptoms and what you eat. Ideally, do this under the care of a Registered Dietitian who can help guide you with this. See if you feel better? The majority of my clients report they feel significantly better and do not want to go back to eating gluten.
I strive to avoid added sugar daily. I make conscious decisions. Why? Excess sugar leads to excess inflammation. Limiting excess sugars can help promote better blood sugar balance and more optimal insulin levels which promotes longevity and lessens inflammation as well. This also helps to manage cravings and supports a healthier intestinal tract!
What counts as added sugar? Check labels for: cane sugar, anything with the word “syrup” like corn syrup and brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, agave. I continue to stevia to sweeten a few things here and there like a smoothie or a recipe.
Research has shown that millet, a type of gluten free grain, lowers thyroid hormone. It also does not contain much nutrition.
Foods to Use Caution With
This is a common food allergen and/or intolerance for many people in the general population. Some have sensitivities, in particular, to the casein protein in dairy (dairy is made up of casein and whey protein). Others have lactose intolerance to some degree which can cause issues with digestions and nausea. Do you feel you are sensitive? You can get tested with MRT LEAP, or keep a food symptom journal as you eat to see if you notice a trend of increased symptoms with dairy consumption.
Many functional medicine practitioners recommend avoiding dairy for autoimmune thyroid conditions, however, I am on the fence. I do not believe that it is a must avoid. I believe it should be avoided on a case by case basis. Why? I know that I am able to tolerate dairy and still feel my best. However, I do not eat excessive amounts. And, I recommend the same for many of my clients: maximum of 2-3 servings of dairy per day, and choose high quality dairy from grass fed animals and organic varieties.
Less than 4 cups of raw cruciferous veggies daily
There is anectdotal research that more than 4 cups of raw cruciferous veggies may impact the thyroid enough to cause thyroid enlargement due to goitrogens. If we cook cruciferous veggies, the goitrogens are reduced. Cruciferous veggies include brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and bok choy, for example. I highly recommend eating these veggies since they contain many amazing health benefits, but not overdoing it on the raw form.
Nuts and Seeds
The main issue here is that I find various nuts and seeds can be a common allergen or food sensitivity. Or, they can be difficult to digest for those with more severe bowel disease. However, they provide excellent nutrients and excellent healthy fats and should not be avoided if there is no allergy issue. I did not discover I was extremely sensitive to almonds until I was tested! This is one where you may want to test and not guess.
Foods to Eat More of
These days it seems everyone is on a form of a low carb diet. However, this is one starchy veggie not to skimp on as it contains loads of vitamins, minerals, great fiber, and phytochemicals that are all healthy for thyroid support. One neat fact about the sweet potato is that is is less likely to raise blood sugar as much as other refined carbohydrates like white rice!
Carrots are another excellent food to include as vitamin A in this food form may help improve thyroid levels!
Especially organic varieties… Spinach is not a goitrogen, and contains loads of nutrients like iron which I find many women with thyroid conditions may run a little low on. Spinach is easy to eat in salad form, cooked as a side with garlic and olive oil, and tossed into a smoothie for added nutrients.
Pineapple contains bromelain which is a nice enzyme that aids in digestion in our stomachs. Those of us with autoimmune thyroid conditions can get all the help we need for our digestion! Pineapple adds a nice sweetness to meals when we are avoiding the added forms of sugars as well!
High Quality Proteins
Proteins like non-processed chicken (pasture raised is ideal), turkey, grass fed beef in moderation, eggs (if not sensitive), low mercury fish like salmon, and plant proteins (quinoa, sprouted legumes) provide excellent vitamins and amino acids to support thyroid funtion and to help maintain nice lean muscle mass to support optimal health. A Registered Dietitian can also help give you specific recommendations on how much protein you need in a day.
There are many more foods that I encourage eating, but it depends on the individual and their health history.
Avoid Extreme Low Carb Diets
You can read more about this here, on another blog post that I wrote about avoiding the extreme low carb.
This is not the end of the list or a complete guide for how to eat. However, I hope that is gives you are starting point for where to look next in your quest for optimal eating and optimal health!
- Gaitan E, Lindsay RH, Reichert RD, et al. Antithyroid and Goitrogenic Effects of Millet: Role of C-Glycosylflavones. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1989;68(4):707-714. doi:10.1210/jcem-68-4-707
- Farhangi MA, Keshavarz SA, Eshraghian M, Ostadrahimi A, Saboor-Yaraghi AA. The effect of vitamin A supplementation on thyroid function in premenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012;31(4):268-274.
- Mori, K. Does the gut microbiota Trigger Hashimoto’s Disease? Discovery Magazine, November 2012
- The Immunology of Immediate and Delayed Hypersensitivity to Gluten – European Journal of Inflammation Vol 6 No. 1 1-10 (2008) Editorial – A. Vojdani Beverly Hills, CA (now Los Angeles, CA) T. O’Bryan, Warrenville, IL,( now Chicago, Il), G. H. Kellermann Neuroscience, WI, USA
- The Immunology of Gluten Sensitivity Beyond the Intestinal Tract – European Journal of Inflammation Vol 6 No 2, 0-0 (2008) Aristo Vojdani, PH.D, M.T., Thomas O’Bryan, D.C., CCN, DACBN
- Fasano A. Leaky Gut and autoimmune disease. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Feb;42(1):71-8.
- Ulluwishewa, et.al. Regulation of Tight Junction Permeability by Intestinal Bacteria and Dietary Components. The Journal of Nutrition. March 23, 2011