As a dietitian I have a lot of thoughts about the best diet for hypothyroidism because it is the most common endocrine disorder worldwide.
Today’s article will cover important nutrients to consider along with my thoughts on the best foods for hypothyroidism and foods to avoid. There is so much misinformation out there, so it’s time to clear things up.
What is hypothyroidism?
Do you have hypothyroidism? If so then you are not alone subclinical hypothyroidism is estimated to occur between 3-15% of the general population and is more common in women, the elderly or people with low iodine levels.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormone (thyroxine).
Hypothyroidism may be complete, meaning that the thyroid gland has lost most of its function and produces no hormone at all, or the thyroid may be under-functioning with some amounts of hormone still being produced. The latter case is called subclinical hypothyroidism.
Signs of hypothyroidism
It is important to pay attention to how you feel and what signs your body is giving you. If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, you should talk to your doctor:
- Intolerance to the cold
- Mood swings (forgetfulness, depression and irritability)
- Hair loss
- Low libido
- Unexplained weight gain
The best diet for hypothyroidism
No matter what you read on the internet, there is no scientific literature studying any dietary model for hypothyroidism. And yet it is so. So everything you read about the need to follow a ketogenic diet or diet vegan or a gluten-free diet, is just someone’s opinion …
Of course, the fact that the data does not give us the “perfect” diet for hypothyroidism, does not mean that you should not try to nourish your body. After all, we have a picture of specific nutrients and foods that can be a problem for someone with low thyroid function.
In addition, hypothyroidism can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and constipation, so we definitely want to deal with the above with the help of diet. My advice? Consume more plant foods. Plant nutrition is a healthy nutritional pattern rich in nutrients, whole plant foods and is based on one of the best studied nutritional standards that exist: the Mediterranean diet.
Eating more high-fiber plant-based foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, will support healthy bowel movements, helping you to minimize constipation.
In addition, these same plant foods provide the body with vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, helping to support overall health. Eating more plant-based foods will also help you reduce your intake of saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels while providing monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds) that are essential for heart health.
Specific nutrients to look out for when you have hypothyroidism
Iodine is important for the production of thyroid hormone and is usually found in seafood, algae and dairy. However, the iodine content of plant foods is generally low to non-existent and depends on soil iodine levels, which of course are reduced when the soil is away from the sea.
Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of thyroid problems. That is why in 1949 Canada recommended the iodization of salt. But while we need 150 mcg of iodine a day, however if you have a thyroid problem, it is not recommended to take a supplement, because too much iodine is also harmful.
The iodine content of algae can vary widely (from low to extremely high), so it is also not considered a suitable choice. Instead, you can eat less processed foods, which tend to be high in salt, and choose healthy home-cooked meals seasoned with iodized salt to get the amount of iodine you need.
Selenium is an important trace element that helps fight oxidative damage in the body. For this reason, it is believed that selenium can help protect the thyroid from further autoimmune damage. But clinical trials have had mixed results. For this reason – and the fact that excess selenium is dangerous – taking supplements is not recommended. But getting enough selenium can be done from the diet and the best source is Brazil nuts.
Decreased vitamin B12 levels have been associated with increased hypothyroidism in clinical trials. Those who follow a vegan diet, as well as those over 50, should know that a daily B12 supplement is helpful in maintaining stores of this nutrient. We need 2.4 mcg a day, but most supplements offer more. If you can find a supplement with 50mcg or 500mcg, it would be great – but the most common is 1000mcg and it is not harmful.
Should You Avoid Gluten?
As a general recommendation, this advice is 99.9% without scientific evidence. It comes from the fact that as an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can overlap with celiac disease. But if you think gluten is making things worse (think: bowel problems, joint pain, difficult thyroid levels), ask your doctor for a celiac disease test.
For the rest? The evidence simply does not justify the removal of gluten. I was only able to find 1 pilot test of 34 women that suggests some benefit. And I was able to find another study that had a higher incidence of Hashimoto’s in a wheat-sensitive group, but again, that really can’t be applied to the general public.
I will certainly challenge the idea that gluten is bad for the thyroid, but I will also acknowledge that we are all different. If for you, not eating gluten makes you feel good, that’s okay, as long as you make sure you get all the nutrients you need, which can be low when gluten is not in your diet.
There are many views on the internet on the best diet for hypothyroidism, but most of them have little or no basis for factual scientific evidence. This article is so long that we have not even had the opportunity to talk about supplements or its emerging role microbiome in thyroid disease. Therefore, be careful when searching the internet and listening to your body.