- Foods to consider avoiding with an underactive thyroid
- Common foods that negatively affect people with Hashimoto’s
- What to Eat (and Avoid) for Thyroid Health
- Foods for boosting thyroid health
- Foods to avoid for thyroid health
- Similar articles
- The Thyroid Diet Plan
- After many years of trying different things, I’m finally putting the pieces together and calling it the Thyroid Diet Plan.
- #1 What should I REMOVE from my current diet and lifestyle that is sabotaging my immune system and thyroid?
- #3 How do I find a BALANCE in what I’m doing so that I don’t go crazy and, instead, really grow to like my “new life”?
- Pillar 1: Remove What is Detrimental and Toxic to Your Thyroid
- Pillar 2: Add What Your Thyroid Needs to Start Healing
- Pillar 3: Balance Based on Your Bio-Individuality
- Our body has an amazing ability to heal – just give it the right environment and tools and it will do all the work for you.
- There Are a Few Things You Can Do to Help Yourself on the Thyroid Diet:
- Healthy eating for a healthy thyroid
- How Should I Eat for Hypothyroidism?
- 7 TIPS TO COPE WITH HYPOTHYROIDISM
- The 14-Day Meal Plan For Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss
- Day #1 Monday
- Day #2 Tuesday
- Day #3 Wednesday
- Day #4 Thursday
- Day #5 Friday
- Day #6 Saturday
- Day #7 Sunday
- Bonus snack ideas
- Want the shopping list to print?
- The 12 Worst Foods for Hypothyroidism
- Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
- Tuna and Swordfish
- Hot Dogs and Pre-Sliced Sandwich Meats
- Calcium and Iron Supplements
- Bread, Pasta and Cereal
- Heated Food in Plastic
- Animal Products with Antibiotics and Hormones
- Fried Bar Food
- Processed Snacks
- The Truth About Cruciferous Vegetables and Your Thyroid (The Facts May Surprise You)
- Goitrogenic Foods and Cruciferous Vegetables
- Does Kale Lower Thyroid Hormones?
- Bottom line?
- Why Leafy Greens Are Great for Your Thyroid
- De-Activating Goitrogens
- What About Green Smoothies?
- A Word Of Caution
- The Bottom Line and My Final Thoughts
Foods to consider avoiding with an underactive thyroid
What you eat massively influences your health—especially if you have an autoimmune condition. In fact, your diet can actually trigger Hashimoto’s.
It’s important to be aware of possible food sensitives you may have, as they can cause damage to your gut—this is considered the first step in developing autoimmunities. And once you have Hashimoto’s, certain foods can trigger troublesome flare-ups.
In addition to processed foods typical of the Western pattern diet, below are foods that commonly cause issues for people with an underactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s, as well as for those at risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Common foods that negatively affect people with Hashimoto’s
This vegetable food group includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and potatoes (but not sweet potatoes). The problematic nature of nightshades are its compounds lectins and alkaloids. They’re actually considered antinutritional as they can bind to your gut, disrupt digestion, and cause ongoing inflammation (1).
Certain legumes and beans
Lectins are also found in soybeans, kidney beans, Escumite beans, and french beans. However, cooking legumes and beans well will destroy lectins and make them safer to eat (1).
Beyond lectins, for some people soybeans can mess with thyroid health by disrupting iodide uptake and blocking zinc from functioning (2). Soy also contains isoflavones—the main active component of soybeans (similar to the hormone estrogen) that produces both hormonal and non-hormonal effects (3).
This dairy drink contains a very high concentration of antigens and saturated fat—these substances promote inflammation (4). Animal milk also shares proteins that are very similar to human proteins, including some found in the thyroid, which can cause an autoimmune reaction.
Wheat, barley, and oats
You should eat a gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and/or a wheat allergy. And if your symptoms resolve when your diet is gluten-free, you might have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (5-8). Gluten’s component gliadin is toxic for some people as it can cause damage to the gut, which leads to inflammation that can trigger a chronic autoimmune reaction (9, 10).
Although nuts can protect against inflammation, for a small percentage of people nuts cause autoimmune flare-ups (11, 12). This can happen because of nuts’ high protein content, which can cause a reaction from immunes cells in the gut.
Try an elimination diet for 4–8 weeks if you suspect certain foods are negatively affecting you. It’s best to eliminate different foods once at a time to really pinpoint what’s harming you.
Track your symptoms and diet in BOOST Thyroid to help you understand your progress. After 4–8 weeks of elimination, slowly reintroduce the food to your diet to see if you have negative effects.
What to Eat (and Avoid) for Thyroid Health
Dr. Axe May 30, 2018 Food & Nutrition Email Print Twitter Pinterest Facebook
Your thyroid gland may be small, but it’s an important organ that has a major influence on your overall health. Located right at the base of your neck, your thyroid pumps out the hormones that control growth and development, while also regulating everything from body temperature and heart rate to metabolism and menstrual cycles.
A sluggish thyroid can cause symptoms like weight gain, depression and dry skin. It can also cause concentration and energy levels to crash. Meanwhile, an overactive thyroid gland can contribute to serious issues including anxiety, moodiness and hyperactivity.
Cleaning up your diet is one of the most effective ways to optimize thyroid health and balance your hormones. Certain foods are chock-full of nutrients that are vital to the thyroid, but others can actually interfere with thyroid function and wreak havoc on your health.
Here are a few of the top foods for thyroid health, plus which ones you may be better off without.
Foods for boosting thyroid health
1. Brazil Nuts
The nutrient-rich Brazil nuts are jam-packed with selenium, an important mineral that helps activate thyroid hormones as it simultaneously fights oxidative stress and alleviates inflammation. In fact, eating just one kernel (raw or roasted) can knock out your entire daily requirement for selenium, plus provide a host of other valuable micronutrients that are essential to just about every aspect of health.
Besides supplying plenty of protein, calcium and B-vitamins, yogurt ranks as one of the most iodine-rich foods available. Iodine is crucial when it comes to the production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency in this key mineral can impair thyroid function and cause weight gain, fatigue and hair loss. To maximize the thyroid-boosting benefits of yogurt, skip the sweetened varieties and opt for organic, grass-fed and raw yogurt whenever possible.
Both seaweed benefits and uses extend far beyond the standard sushi roll. In fact, making seaweed a regular part of your diet can have a powerful impact when it comes to thyroid health. In addition to potassium, vitamin K and magnesium, seaweed is also loaded with iodine to help support thyroid health and hormone production. I recommend enjoying dried seaweed as a savory snack, crumbling it up to add a tasty crunch to salads and soups, or even throwing it into your morning smoothie for a quick burst of nutrients.
4. Grass-Fed Beef
Need another excuse to fire up the grill and chow down on a juicy beef burger? Grass-fed beef is an excellent source of zinc, an essential micronutrient necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Not only that, but thyroid hormones also help increase zinc absorption, making it even more crucial to get in your daily dose if you have any sort of thyroid issue. Paired with other zinc-rich foods—pumpkin seeds, spinach and dark chocolate—a serving of grass-fed beef can cram in a good chunk of the zinc you need each day.
Related: 6 thyroid friendly foods
Foods to avoid for thyroid health
As the primary protein in grains (wheat, barley and rye), gluten is found in abundance throughout much of the Western diet. While consuming gluten is generally not a problem for most people, it can impair nutrient absorption and trigger inflammation in the gut for those with celiac disease. Unfortunately, people with hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s disease are also at a higher risk of being affected by celiac disease. That means it’s necessary for some people to avoid gluten completely in order to maintain thyroid function.
2. Raw Cruciferous Vegetables
Foods like broccoli, kale, spinach and cabbage are revered for their many health-promoting properties. However, going overboard on your cruciferous veggies may not be the best idea if you suffer from any type of thyroid problem. Raw cruciferous veggies release goitrogens, which are substances that damage the thyroid gland and increase the need for iodine. For best results, keep intake in moderation and cook your greens instead of eating them raw to reap the nutritional benefits while still supporting thyroid health.
There are plenty of reasons to keep soy out of your diet, starting with the detrimental effects that soy can have on your thyroid gland. Soy foods like tofu, edamame and soybeans contain isoflavones, which are compounds that act as goitrogens in your body and inhibit the production of thyroid hormones. Steer clear of soy products and select fermented soy foods to minimize the concentration of goitrogenic compounds in your diet. Good substitutions include tempeh and natto.
4. Green Tea
In moderation, green tea can be a great addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet. However, some animal studies show that green tea extract consumed in high amounts can actually alter thyroid function and throw hormone levels out of whack. Stick to one to two cups per day to squeeze in some extra nutrients and antioxidants without compromising the health of your thyroid.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with over 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reserve Disease.”
Tags dietDr. Axeiodinenutritionthyroid
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with over 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reserve Disease.”
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The Thyroid Diet Plan
These wise, ancient idioms were my guiding principals for developing a thyroid diet when all else (i.e.: western medicine) failed to help my thyroid drama (first Graves’ and later Hashimoto’s Disease).
“Let food be your medicine.” and “All diseases start in the gut.”
After many years of trying different things, I’m finally putting the pieces together and calling it the Thyroid Diet Plan.
I wish there were two different words to say what I want to say: one for “diet” as in when you want to lose weight and another “diet” as in a nourishing food change that will bring healing and joy. Oh well… But you know when I say “diet” I mean a protocol, a way of being, a way of living and eating that will free you from some or all of the fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight yo-yo’s, food frustrations, and infertility that have plagued you for some time now. I want to share with you what I know about the best healing diet for thyroid issues.
There are some people who say that there is no scientific evidence linking food to thyroid problems or healing. We have a choice to make about how we want to view things and about what we want to believe. Choice is a powerful tool. Let us never forget that. Even if there is supposedly “no evidence” that food is linked to thyroid healing, you could say to yourself, “What if I try something new and different for 3 weeks and just see how I feel.” Because really, what have you got to lose? Especially if you have been sick for a long time… You might learn something new and have fun along the way! You have a choice. You can choose to start a thyroid diet plan and see what happens.
Before you read on, it’s key to know that 90% of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. (Most people do not realize this, as doctors often don’t take time to explain things.) Most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut or our intestine (Did you know that?!) a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
To explain the Thyroid Diet plan foods, let me talk about the 3 pillars of my approach. I developed the 3 pillars while asking myself these questions:
#1 What should I REMOVE from my current diet and lifestyle that is sabotaging my immune system and thyroid?
#3 How do I find a BALANCE in what I’m doing so that I don’t go crazy and, instead, really grow to like my “new life”?
Here are the 3 Pillars of the thyroid diet plan I have developed, to answer the 3 questions above:
Pillar 1: Remove What is Detrimental and Toxic to Your Thyroid
a. Sugar Fluctuations
The first essential step in a thyroid diet plan is to normalize sugar cravings, hypoglycemia and/or insulin resistance. Without fixing your sugar issues, your thyroid will never improve. This is because the pancreas is responsible for sugar metabolism and because, like the thyroid, the pancreas is part of the endocrine system. As you can imagine, these glands are all intricately interconnected. A few tips for you here on how to adjust your diet for thyroid health:
- Start reading product labels to see how much sugar is in your food; 4g = 1 teaspoon. For example, a Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks has 64g of sugar = 16 spoons of sugar. Activia’s yogurt proclaimed as a “healthy food” has 7 spoons of sugar. Try not to consume more than 5 spoons of sugar per day if you have a sugar problem.
- Start the day with a high-protein, high-fat breakfast; this is a big secret in the weight-loss industry as well. It will help you stabilize your sugar levels for the day. You won’t crash at 11am and won’t crave sugar and snacks during the day. I’ve got a library of breakfast recipes here for you.
- Reduce processed carbs: we are a carbs-obsessed and carb-addicted nation with carbs constituting 50-60% of most people’s diets, much of which is coming from grains. Grains contain starch that feeds the pathogenic bacteria (read below about your digestive system) in your gut and worsen the problem.
- Reduce starch; again, this is sugar too, especially from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and processed food.
b. Food Intolerances
Do you see “gluten-free”, “dairy-free” etc. popping up at the health stores today? This is because many people get off the “big five” (gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and soy) and experience significant changes. To find the culprits, I always start off with an Elimination Diet and this produces clear, unbiased results. You can also get a food intolerance test (not allergy; it’s different) done but they are far from accurate. Gluten is an infamous food for contributing to thyroid conditions, and eliminating it is key. However, often times, you would need to cut out more than just gluten if you wish to shape your diet for thyroid fitness.
c. Fix Your Digestive Tract (Gut)
As mentioned above, most thyroid conditions are auto-immune diseases. There are tons of lymphocytes and other immune cells in the gut, which protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. This is why most people with thyroid conditions also experience frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A diet change will help your gut tremendously. “All disease begins in the gut“, said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. I’m not sure why this is not taught in schools today, but it’s an important part of the thyroid diet plan.
d. Reduce Toxicity
You need to reduce the toxins you ingest from additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, and trans-fats and try to eliminate toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is a HUGE problem in thyroid conditions. Most public water systems in the US have fluoride added, which is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the altered production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
You want to detox your liver and your gut, as this is where the T4 hormone (inactive hormone) gets converted to T3, the active hormone that actually powers us up. Most of our body cells need T3, not just T4. If you are taking Synthroid, you are taking a synthetic version of T4 that still needs to be converted to T3. If you have a sluggish liver and gut, you won’t convert properly.
Look into doing a yearly or bi-yearly detox by fasting, juicing, etc. to give your body a break. We have designed a thyroid and hormone-supporting detox program which is available in a DIY version and Live (we typically run it two times per year).
Looking for a high-quality supplement to aid in your detox, see our very own Hormone Balance Nutritionals
Try this: Detox Kickstart
f. Address Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
This is huge topic, especially with women. You won’t be able to fix your thyroid without fixing the adrenals. The adrenals are also part of the endocrine system and fire up when you are stressed out. I recommend looking up adrenal fatigue symptoms to see if you have them. De-stressing by working with a therapist or life coach, getting into meditation, breathing, or positive thinking – or whatever works for you – is key.
Stress can also be caused by chronic digestive issues. When the small or large intestine is in distress (ywhen you are always constipated, bloated, suffer from gas, pain, loose stool etc.), the body sees it as a state of stress. Cortisol is a potent hormone we won’t function without. However, when in excess, it can have a detrimental impact on the thyroid and the immune system (one of the functions of cortisol is to modulate the immune system).
g. Reduce ONLY Raw Goitrous Food (Crucifers) – But Don’t Cut Them Out
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you should not eat them raw. Goiter is a substance that inhibits iodine uptake to create the T4 hormone. The family of crucifers are: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, soy, soy milk, soy lecithin (often used as a filler in vegetarian food) and tofu. Cooking them reduces their goitrous properties, however, so they can still be an important part of a diet for thyroid health.
Like many progressive thyroid practitioners, such as Dr K and Dr Wentz, I believe there is no need to cut these wonderful vegetables 100% out of our diets. The reason is: all crucifers are high in DIM (di-indolyl-methane) which is a substance that supports the liver detoxification pathways. This detoxification process helps us eliminate metabolized (or “used up”) hormones like estrogen as well as thyroid hormones to make space for new ones.
Soy is the only exception – we should not consume it at all, unless it’s in the fermented form (like miso or tempeh) and then only in small amounts.
In summary, I do NOT believe that we need to cut these wonderful vegetables out. Just don’t juice them and don’t eat them excessively in a raw form. Their nutritional profile is so high that we are doing ourselves a dis-service by cutting them out, only to load up on supplements instead. Most people who suffer from hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease – you need to take care of your gastrointestinal health as your #1 priority, followed by stable sugar levels (see above) and lastly, by supporting your liver function
Pillar 2: Add What Your Thyroid Needs to Start Healing
a. Nutritionally-Dense Food, Macro- and Micro-Nutrients in Good Ratio
Some tips here:
- always organic, they are more nutrition-packed and free of hormones that are known to interrupting our endocrine system
- meat must be at least organic but pasture-raised is best. We want to eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones from our diet
- food that is FERMENTED the traditional way, so things like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir (dairy if you can tolerate or water kefir) are all rich in a wide spectrum of probiotics.
- introduce homemade bone broths from chicken and beef bones – they have an incredibly high nutritional profile – high in calcium, magnesium, phosphate, collagen and gelatin – the latter ones being instrumental in digestive lining recovery. You can check out my beef bone broth recipe here – it is inspired by the “Nourishing Traditions” cookbook.
b. Proteins and Fats
They are the building blocks of your digestive tract and of our hormones. We are fat-phobic in America, and low-fat diets are one of the worst things we’ve ever invented. Europeans and Asians have fat-rich diets (traditionally) and enjoy much better health than we do. Good fat tips: avocados, walnuts, coconut oil, coconut butter. Animal fats are the best in restoring a troubled digestion; ghee (clarified butter), butter, chicken and beef fat are essential but need to be rendered and not in fried or processed form.
c. Probiotics – Essential for Restoring Your Digestive Tract
Everyone has bacteria in their digestive tract, or gut, that is essential to the function of the human body. A healthy adult has about 1.5 – 2 kg of bacteria in their gut, both good and bad. Normal levels of bacteria, or flora, in the gut protect against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites. When the good and bad bacteria in the gut get out of whack (i.e. more bad than good), a whole host of negative reactions can occur in the body. Undigested foods can leak through into the bloodstream causing food allergies and intolerances, vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed, leading to deficiency, and the bad bacteria can produce a whole host of toxins, leading the immune system to not function properly. An effective thyroid diet includes probiotics that you can get from fermented foods.
- Sauerkraut (pick properly fermented, not in vinegar)
- Kim chee (Korean fermented veggies)
- Kvass (potent liver tonic)
- Kefir (has different bacteria than yoghurt, also super beneficial)
- Kombucha tea – although many people have a reaction to it, so apply your own “investigative” feel
- Vegetable medley (fermented)
- Coconut water kefir
It’s also good to supplement food with a good quality probiotic.
d. Herbs, Supplements, and Vitamins that Benefit the Thyroid
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
- most people are Vit D deficient, taking Vit D in 2,000 units is safe and good to do as Vit D is actually a hormone, connected to the thyroid. Always D3 and not D2.
- calcium is key but needs to be taken with magnesium and vitamin D for full absorption.
- for hypothyroidism: selenium, turmeric/curcumin, phytosterols and for GI support; probiotics and L-Glutamine are key.
- for hyperthyroidism: copper and magnesium are a common deficiency in people with hyper.
Try our own Hormone Balance Nutritionals: D3 Maximus and Magnesium Replenish
e. Simple Meditation, Breathing, and Visualization Techniques
A complete thyroid diet solution includes more than just food. I cannot emphasize how important these are for managing stress and emotions, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc. fires up the adrenals which release cortisol, and cortisol has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
f. Movement Plan
Whether it is sports, dancing, or yoga that gets you moving, it is important to engage in movement that does not drain your adrenals or your thyroid yet gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, be sure to be very gentle with your body and don’t do excessive cardio work-outs and switch to light weight lifting, yoga, pilates, gentle cycling, hiking, dancing, etc.
Pillar 3: Balance Based on Your Bio-Individuality
No one diet or plan works for everybody, including the thyroid diet that I’ve described here, as each person has a unique way of healing. There is a saying: “One person’s food is another’s poison.” It’s always worth remembering that just because one diet worked for one person it does not mean it will work for you too. One person could have healed their thyroid by just changing the water filters (by getting rid of fluoride) alone, while another needs to implement five major diet and lifestyle changes to start feeling just a little better. Let’s respect our differences.
Our body has an amazing ability to heal – just give it the right environment and tools and it will do all the work for you.
There Are a Few Things You Can Do to Help Yourself on the Thyroid Diet:
1. Find Out What Food Intolerances You Have
IgG testing and muscle testing are not accurate; therefore the most reliable way to find out what your body / digestive tract is struggling with is to do the Elimination Diet.
2. Address Your Toxic Load
As explained above, toxicity in thyroid conditions is very common and needs to be addressed for your thyroid and the immune system to function properly. You can learn more the 7 Toxins Impacting Your Thyroid free workshop. Thereafter, there is an option of joining a 12-day detox program to jumpstart your thyroid health.
3. Order Your Own Labs
You can order thyroid tests yourself. Most people do not know that. You can do so by going to Direct Labs. They cover more than just TSH and T4 – you will get the full spectrum of results which you need to know to manage your thyroid and Hashimoto’s. Finding out this information about yourself will help you better understand how the thyroid diet can help you.
4. Get The Right Probiotic
I have found great results with this spore-based probiotic. In this video, I talk about how it helped me overcome my gluten and dairy intolerance so I can have it occasionally without reacting.
I would also like to invite you to our Facebook Hormones Balance to like us and get daily tips, interviews, recipe and nutrition nuggets.
I hope this article gain a holistic view of thyroid health and given you some ideas how to start your own thyroid diet plan protocol.
Healthy eating for a healthy thyroid
You don’t need to follow a special diet while on thyroid hormone medication, with a couple of exceptions. Limit foods high in soy protein, because large amounts of soy might interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone. Also avoid excessive amounts of iodine, either in medications or supplements, as this could potentially alter your thyroid hormone level. Most iodine-rich foods, such as iodized products or fish, are acceptable. Aside from these restrictions, you are free to eat whatever you want, but aim for a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Adopting a nutritious diet for your thyroid not only keeps you feeling good once your thyroid levels are normal, but it helps your digestive system function smoothly and your heart pump efficiently—both of which support healthy metabolism. If you still don’t feel well despite your medication, improving your diet and starting an exercise program may help. Following are some tips for healthy eating.
Eat nutritious foods. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain foods to improve your overall health. Protein should come from lean sources, such as fish or beans. Rely on healthy oils, such as olive oil.
Cut down on “bad” fats and simple carbohydrates. Certain dietary fats contribute to heart disease and some forms of cancer. Reduce saturated fats, which come mainly from animal products such as meat and cheese, and trans fats, which take the form of hydrogenated oils in processed foods and many margarines. Instead, choose fats that help reduce LDL cholesterol. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils, and omega-3 fats found in certain kinds of fish. Seeds, nuts, and legumes are also healthy choices.
Stick with complex carbohydrates found in whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables, and minimize soft drinks, potato chips, candy, crackers, and other junk foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. Getting enough protein should not be a problem. Most people in developed countries get plenty of protein in their diets.
Increase dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps improve digestion. Eating whole-grain foods and a variety of vegetables and fruits ensures that you have an ample supply of dietary fiber.
For information on thyroid function in older adults, buy Thyroid Disease, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
How Should I Eat for Hypothyroidism?
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you might feel relief to finally understand why you’ve been feeling down or have had trouble losing weight, yet still a bit frustrated with the symptoms. You are not alone. Almost 5 out of 100 people 12 years and older have hypothyroidism. The majority are middle-age women, but it can impact people of all ages.
WHAT IS HYPOTHYROIDISM?
Hypothyroidism is one of the main types of thyroid disorders. It occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone resulting in a slower metabolism. In the United States, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. With Hashimoto’s, the thyroid gland becomes inflamed because the immune system attacks the gland as if it were a dangerous invader to the body (as it would a virus, bacteria or other germs). As a result, the thyroid gland produces less thyroid hormone.
Less often, hypothyroidism can have a nutritional cause. Being iodine deficient can lead to hypothyroidism because iodine is a critical nutrient for thyroid hormone production. Keep in mind, this cause isn’t as common in the US, where iodine deficiencies are rare.
SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE HYPOTHYROIDISM
Those with hypothyroidism may be more sensitive to cold temperatures, feel fatigued and have difficulty thinking and concentrating. They experience mild weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, muscle cramps and heavy or irregular menstruation. These signs and symptoms can also be the result of a host of other conditions, so don’t self-diagnose. Instead, work with your health-care team to be properly tested. They will perform a physical exam and often require bloodwork and other procedures to check the health and function of your thyroid, then follow up with proper treatment.
The great news is that hypothyroidism is manageable. Once diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you’ll work with a health-care team to regularly monitor your hormone and medication levels. The most common treatment is to take medication (usually synthetic hormones) to supplement the decreased hormone production. Most people go on to live normal, healthy lives. So, what next?
READ MORE > THE PROBLEM WITH BMI AND THE NUMBER YOU SHOULD WATCH
7 TIPS TO COPE WITH HYPOTHYROIDISM
In addition to medication, healthy eating and exercise are critical for managing hypothyroidism.
1. DON’T KEEP SECRETS FROM YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER
Tell your doctor and registered dietitian if you are taking any supplements. This is important since certain herbs and dietary supplements can interfere with the way thyroid medications work.
2. MAKE HEALTHY EATING A HABIT
Weight gain and difficulty losing weight are common concerns here. Your best bet is to focus on a heart-nourishing diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Be aware of portion sizes and practice portion control even with healthy foods.
3. AVOID MILLET
This gluten-free grain has been shown to reduce thyroid function when eaten frequently even in those with adequate iodine.
4. CONSIDER YOUR IODINE INTAKE
Most Americans get enough iodine from food and drinks, especially in the form of iodized salt. Foods like fish and seaweed are naturally rich in this mineral as well. If you are in the rare minority that doesn’t get enough iodine from the diet and you eat large amounts of soy and cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, this could have a negative impact on thyroid function. However, for people who regularly get enough iodine, eating soy and cruciferous vegetables is not a concern.
5. GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN D
Hashimoto’s has been linked to low vitamin D levels. Though you can make vitamin D from sunlight exposure, be sure to regularly eat foods that are high in Vitamin D, such as fatty fish, eggs, fortified milk and mushrooms.
6. BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
Go to the gym, take a power walk or try a dance fitness class to keep it interesting. Exercise is not only important for weight management, but it can help maintain healthy hormone levels, keep your heart healthy and combat depression, anxiety and fatigue.
7. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Know that you are doing your best. Practice body kindness, and accept yourself as you are right now. Positive thinking can help keep you motivated and happy.
Remember that the first step is to work with a qualified health professional to assess your thyroid function and determine proper treatment. He or she can also test and monitor your nutrient status ensuring that your vitamin D, vitamin B12 and other nutrient levels remain normal. From there, you and your health-care team will be able to determine the best course of action where the tips above may come in handy.
Got some tips and tricks of your own? Share in the comments below.
Have you been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid or suspect you have one?
Looking for a sample meal plan tailored to your condition… one that you can follow right now?
The 14-Day Meal Plan For Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss is a Dietitian-made plan to help make life easier (and more delicious) when learning what you should and should not eat with an underactive thyroid.
It’s designed to be:
- Simple to follow for busy folks with many mouths to feed
- Realistic, with recipes that beginners can master
- Gluten-free (which often appears beneficial for those with Hashimoto’s)
- Loaded with nutrient-dense foods (especially spinach and legumes for folate: see the )
- Naturally rich in selenium, zinc and iodine for thyroid health, and vitamin B12 for more energy
- Budget-friendly (except for two worthwhile investments: chia seeds and quinoa).
You can follow the entire plan for the whole 14 days, or simply choose your favourite recipes and include them into your current diet. Many are recipes from qualified Dietitians that I strongly encourage you to follow!
Note that if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, I recommend you read this guide as well as this one. Also this is not suitable for those following the Autoimmune Protocol.
You can still follow this plan if your thyroid is healthy, but then I also recommend browsing through these 33 low-carb lunch and dinner recipes for more ideas.
The 14-Day Meal Plan For Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss
Must-Read Starting Notes:
- Consult with your personal doctor or Dietitian first: While I am a qualified Dietitian, I’m not familiar with your personal medical history, your current medications or additional factors that need to be considered when altering your diet or fitness regime.
- Thyroid hormone should be consumed fasting: At least 1-2 hours before your first food (being conservative). This could mean you skip breakfast altogether, which is fine if it suits you. It just depends on your eating habits and what works best for your lifestyle.
- Goitrogens, soy and legumes: Goitrogens and soy seem to be safe in moderate amounts (1, 2), but you can always leave them out. The same goes for legumes, often left out of Paleo diets (although I don’t recommend they be left out). If legumes give you digestive stress, it could be the FODMAPs.
- Choose water as your drink: The meal plan does not include drinks, but keep a bottle of water with you at all times and drink up. Tea is also fine, but anecdotal reports suggest more than 300 mg per day of caffeine (2-3 regular coffees) can aggravate the thyroid.
- Flexibility is key: Of course this plan cannot meet all your individual needs, so if there is an ingredient you don’t eat then replace it or leave it out. Also it pays off to batch prepare some meals ahead of time so you can simply reheat and go.
- Limit or eliminate junk foods and highly processed products: This plan focuses on whole, unrefined foods as they are fundamental to a healthy diet. Realistically it’s very difficult to eliminate all highly processed (often pre-packaged) foods, but just be mindful of cutting down. Likewise, snacks listed are optional depending on your regular eating habits, and there are bonus snack recipe ideas if you scroll to the bottom.
- The recipes sourced often make 2-4 servings: Consider this when writing your shopping list. You will have leftovers. Feed the family or save the leftovers to have in place of a meal on another day. Recipes toward the end of the week factor in leftovers.
Day #1 Monday
Breakfast: 1 large Banana.
Remember only have breakfast at least 1-2 hours after taking thyroid hormone.
Lunch: Greek Yogurt Tuna Salad. Greek yogurt is high protein and low sugar, while tuna is a rich source of iodine and healthy omega-3 fats.
Dinner: Healthy Chipotle Chicken Sweet Potato Skins. Sweet potato is just one of my all time favourite foods.
Snack: 2-3 Brazil nuts. High in protein, fibre and healthy fats, Brazil nuts are a fantastic source of selenium (for thyroid health). What’s more, the addition of nuts to the diet does not increase body weight (3).
Day #2 Tuesday
Breakfast: Overnight Chocolate Chia Pudding. Chia seeds are a wonderful source of protein, fibre and magnesium. As the name implies, this should be made ahead of time in large batches.
Lunch: Gluten-free sandwich with tinned tuna (or your favourite sandwich topping).
Dinner: Egg Shakshuka + rice to serve. This Tunisian dish is a wonderful source of vegetables and eggs, a source of iodine. Plus rice is naturally gluten-free.
Snack: 1 cup of carrot and cucumber sticks + cottage cheese or hummus (DIY Spicy Peanut Butter Hummus).
Day #3 Wednesday
Breakfast: Gluten-free toast with eggs over-easy.
Lunch: Middle-Eastern Mason Jar Salad. So smart and so simple. Mason jar optional of course, but you need a jar of some type.
Dinner: Shrimp, Zucchini & Pesto Angel Hair Pasta. You should choose gluten-free pasta for this recipe (doesn’t need to be angel hair). Shrimp is a good source of iodine.
Snack: 1 banana.
Day #4 Thursday
Breakfast: Green Monster Smoothie. Again, this requires a blender and is another way to make use of your chia seeds, but brush your teeth before work!
Lunch: Pumpkin Soup Like You’ve Never Tasted Before. I’m a big fan of soups, especially in winter. They tend to be lower-calorie than regular meals, rich in vegetables, and can keep you full for longer.
Snack: 2-3 Brazil nuts.
Day #5 Friday
Breakfast: Choose your favourite.
Lunch: Choose your favourite or leftovers.
Dinner: One Pot Cheesy Taco Skillet. For some reason I like the idea of Mexican on Friday nights, and this creates a fun, communal feel that your family will enjoy.
Snack: 1 cup of carrot and cucumber sticks + cottage cheese or hummus.
Day #6 Saturday
Breakfast: Choose your favourite
Lunch: Quinoa Salad with Nuts. Quinoa is a versatile grain that is naturally gluten-free and high protein. This recipe has many tasty alternatives depending on what vegetables and nuts you have leftover.
Dinner: Choose your favourite / leftovers / eating out
Snack: Paleo Sweet Potato Fritters
Day #7 Sunday
Breakfast: California Sweet Potato Hash with Feta and Eggs. Because it’s Sunday. And sweet potato is good at breakfast too.
Lunch: Choose your favourite / leftovers / eating out
Dinner: Quinoa Crusted Chicken Parmesan + vegetables to serve. Delicious way to serve chicken (you can use regular milk if lactose is no problem for you), and you can make use of any leftover vegetables and cheese.
Snack: 200g (7oz) plain Greek yoghurt + 1 small banana
Bonus snack ideas
Additional healthy treats and snack ideas… because life happens:
- Cashew Butter Green Smoothie.
- 5-Ingredient Sweet Potato Chips. I recommend soaking the potato for 1 hour beforehand to remove some starch, so they will bake crispy.
- Raw Wild Blueberry Snack Balls
- Spicy Honey-Roasted Chickpeas. Fantastic spin on nutritious chickpeas.
- Super Simple Banana Bread. Only 4 ingredients and perfect for toddlers too. Use rice flour for a gluten-free version.
- Homemade Hummus. Alternate home-made hummus recipe
- More healthy snack ideas for busy people.
Want the shopping list to print?
To make it easy for you, I’ve compiled all the ingredients for each week of the Hypothyroid Meal Plan into a shopping list . You can then save it to your phone or print it out:
SEND ME THE MEAL PLAN &
Wish you could go back to how you felt before thyroid symptoms?
Now you can.
Introducing my Thyroid “Time Machine” meal plan. .
The 12 Worst Foods for Hypothyroidism
If you’re constantly tired, weepy, and irritable, it might be a sign of thyroid problem. As many as 60 percent of the almost 20 million Americans who have a thyroid problem don’t even realize it, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Your thyroid is the little butterfly-shaped gland at the front base of your neck. It regulates the release of hormones and regulates your metabolism. The most common issue is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid condition that leads to extreme fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and weight gain. It can also increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
While you can’t control all the risks that come with hypothyroidism, experts recommend following a nutritious diet and loading up on a variety of nutrients. “Be mindful of what you’re eating, get in colors and organics and no artificial colors or flavors. It’s about balance, right?” says Marcelle Pick, a nurse practitioner of functional medicine in Falmouth, Maine, with a program for balancing hormones and reducing fatigue. Read up on the worst foods for hypothyroidism, and then check out these 15 Subtle Thyroid Disease Symptoms You’re Ignoring.
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Cruciferous vegetables—such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts—are super-good for you, but you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to your thyroid. These vegetables contain goitrogens, which can aggravate hypothyroidism, according to the Indian Journal of Medical Research.
It’s more of a problem for people with iodine deficiency or those who eat huge amounts of goitrogens. “Goitrogens are not as active when they’re cooked, so eat them cooked,” says Fiorella DiCarlo RDN, CDN, with both clinical and research experience in medical nutrition therapy in New York City. “The last thing I want to do as a dietitian is to tell people to not eat vegetables!,” she adds. It sounds weird, but if you have a precondition, eating these vegetables raw and in large quantities could affect your thyroid.
Avoiding daily installments of ice cream scoops (sigh), fudgy brownies and cookies, and bowls of jelly beans may be a (sad) reality check for your health, in general. But limiting sugar can also help you reduce inflammation—a root cause of chronic illness—in the body, says Dr. Susan Blum, MD, an integrative medicine physician and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York. Many studies show an inflammatory microenvironment in your body weakens your immune response toward the spread of thyroid cancer spread in advanced stages, according to the Endocrine-Related Cancer journal.
Cancer isn’t the only risk: You can also develop thyroiditis—an inflamed thryoid—thyrotoxicosis (high thyroid hormone levels in the blood), and hypothyroidism, according to the American Thyroid Association. But you can fight inflammation by incorporating these 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods into your diet.
Tuna and Swordfish
Large predator fish—tuna, swordfish, shark, kingfish, mackerel—often have more mercury than smaller fish, as they’ve lived longer and had more time to accumulate harmful chemicals. Don’t eat more than two to three servings of these fish a week, Blum says. Also, farmed fish like salmon can have higher levels of mercury because they’re often fed the chum of other fish. All fish have a little mercury, so don’t freak out about it. Just don’t order in sushi every weeknight.
Too much iodine can damage your thyroid and make you feel sluggish, a symptom of hypothyroidism. “It’s like Goldilocks: If you have too much, it’s no good. If you have too little, it’s no good,” Blum says. You’ll find iodine in iodized salt, supplements and those same large predator fish. Ask your doctor to give you a 24-hour urine test for iodine. If you have too much, stop taking the types of multivitamins that have iodine. You want your keep iodine levels between 100 to 200 mcg/L range, Blum says.
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
Hot Dogs and Pre-Sliced Sandwich Meats
Processed meats or anything that says “meat product” in it, like hot dogs and pre-sliced, packaged sandwich meats, are serious offenders of artificial additives that aggravate thyroid issues. “Think processed foods in which the ingredient label doesn’t have much whole food, like additives and foods that don’t exist in nature,” DiCarlo says.
Calcium and Iron Supplements
Whether you take these minerals in a multivitamin or alone, calcium and iron supplements may counteract the medication you take to treat your underactive thyroid. These supplements may affect your ability to absorb levothyroxine, the synthetic thyroid hormone found in medications such as Synthroid and Levothroid, according to the Mayo Clinic. “There’s a very strict way to take thyroid medication,” Blum says. You take it the same way every day, at least one hour before food and never with calcium, iron or other minerals. Blum recommends taking your thyroid medication as soon as you wake up and consuming the mineral supplements with food at dinnertime or before bed.
Bread, Pasta and Cereal
People with celiac disease who can’t tolerate the gluten found in many baked goods, pasta and cereals often have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and vice versa. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. Once rare, Hashimoto’s is now the most common autoimmune disease, according to the May 2017 study in the journal Endocrine Connections.
Heated Food in Plastic
Think twice before reheating your plastic bowl of takeout soup or keeping that frozen dinner in its original container when you microwave it. Put it on a plate or in a bowl made from ceramics like bone china, stoneware, porcelain or glazed earthenware. Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system, and you can disrupt it by heating food in plastic. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says endocrine disruptors are in many everyday plastic products, including bottles, food, and containers with BPA. Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body, like thyroid hormones.
Animal Products with Antibiotics and Hormones
Think milk, butter, cheese, and meat. If you buy the cheap, conventionally raised versions at the supermarket, those types of deliciousness can also disrupt all your thyroid’s hard work. You omnivores (like us) can avoid this dilemma by choosing organic, or at least antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats and dairy. It’ll save you in the end, with fewer medical costs down the line.
Fried Bar Food
Eat This, Not That!
High-fat fried foods, like mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and um…fried chicken and French fries can contribute to inflammation in the body, says Blum. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism primarily affects middle-aged women, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it can target anyone at any age.
Processed snacks, such as cookies, chips, crackers and–even some protein bars–often contain high fructose corn syrup. “The body processes it so much more differently than sugar,” says DiCarlo. “Those foods in and of themselves can cause hormonal imbalances and weight gain, more-so with people with hypothyroidism,” she adds. So what do you eat when jonesing between meals? You can try these healthy snack ideas instead of junk food. By sticking to food in its whole, original form, you can stay away from the 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America.
Get the New Book!
Want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds—all without dieting?! Get your copy of Eat This, Not That: The Best (& Worst) Foods in America!, and learn how to indulge smarter and lose weight fast!
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No, you should keep enjoying them. It is true that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower contain natural chemicals called goitrogens (goiter producers) that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. Other foods that contain these chemicals include corn, sweet potatoes, lima beans, turnips, peanuts, cassava (YUCA), canola oil and soybeans. Fortunately, the goitrogens in these foods are inactivated by cooking, even by light steaming, so there is no need to forego the valuable antioxidant and cancer- protective effects cruciferous vegetables afford.
However, if you habitually eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables raw, you should let your physician know. A simple blood test can reveal whether or not the dose of the thyroid hormone replacement drug you are taking is adequate. You should have a blood test once a year in any event. Your dose may need to be adjusted if you gain or lose weight, if you are pregnant, and, sometimes, if you start or stop birth control pills. Some medications, including antacids containing aluminum, can also interfere with thyroid hormone absorption and require an adjustment in dosage.
You should further be aware that excess consumption of soy can be a problem when you’re taking thyroid replacement medication. Be sure to tell your physician how much soy you’re eating so your dosage can be adjusted, if necessary. Eating soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone can interfere with its absorption so, to be safe, don’t eat soy within three hours of taking your medication. You are unlikely to run into a problem with moderate soy consumption – one serving a day of whole soy products, such as one cup of soy milk or one half cup of tofu, soy protein (tempeh), or crispy soy nuts.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
The Truth About Cruciferous Vegetables and Your Thyroid (The Facts May Surprise You)
Green is the new black – when it comes to food.
Green smoothies have been trending for several years now in the kitchens of clean eaters and in hipster and health cafes. With ingredients like kale, celery, mint, cucumber, spinach leaves and avocado, they offer a super-nutrient hit.
But are cruciferous vegetables like kale and collard greens a good choice for women who are seeking hormone balancing diets? And most importantly, are they the right choice for your body?
Or, could that morning smoothie or plate of bok choy with broccoli be upsetting your thyroid function and causing symptoms of hormone imbalance? And could it be upsetting your thyroid gland?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple. It works like the gas pedal for your metabolism and also regulates your weight, energy, gastrointestinal health, nervous system, and hormone balance. It produces two important hormones:
- T4 (Thyroxine): This is produced by your thyroid gland when it binds with iodine. It is largely an inactive hormone but gets converted to the more active T3.
- T3 (Triiodothyronine): This is the Queen of thyroid hormones. It’s the more active thyroid hormone and is produced from T4 by a metabolic conversion that happens in your gut and liver.
Goitrogenic Foods and Cruciferous Vegetables
Women who are balancing hormones through diet often eat these. They include:
- Arugula (rocket)
- Bok choy
- Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
Does Kale Lower Thyroid Hormones?
There are very few human studies like this one that measures how the thyroid is affected by crucifers.
Of the available evidence, there is very little to suggest that foods like broccoli upset natural hormone balance and thyroid health.
In this study involving the University of California, researchers concluded that though collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and some Russian kale (Brassica napus) contain enough goitrogenic compounds to potentially decrease iodine uptake, that’s not true for all cruciferous vegetables. The researchers found that turnip tops, broccoli, broccoli rabe, and kale contain less than 10 μmol of goitrogenic chemicals per serving of 100g, concluding that those foods can be considered minimal risk.
In another small study, participants were given 150g of Brussel’s sprouts daily for 4 weeks. Even though these sprouts contained a super high 220 mg per 100 g. of sulfurous chemicals called glucosinolates, they did not affect thyroid function. Measurement of thyrotrophic hormone, thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine in the study subjects was unchanged. The researchers believe this was because the Brussels sprouts were cooked and produced myrosinase, an enzyme that helps to deactivate the glucosinolate levels.
There is no evidence that cruciferous vegetables slow down or “kill the thyroid.” Unfortunately, there are many health bloggers who don’t fact-check and have cut and re-pasted incorrect statements claiming that “all leafy greens are bad for your thyroid,” when that’s not the case.
In fact, cruciferous vegetables are super nutritionally dense foods so they are good for women with thyroid issues who are often depleted in micronutrients.
Why Leafy Greens Are Great for Your Thyroid
While it’s possible that large amounts of raw cruciferous foods can somewhat inhibit the thyroid gland’s ability to take up iodine to produce the T4 hormone, there’s a bigger picture. If you have a condition such as Hashimoto’s, the primary focus should be restoring your digestive tract and detoxifying the body – as they are usually the original triggers for thyroid conditions. Avoiding cruciferous vegetables completely does not help improve those health issues.
Leafy greens are richer in vitamins and minerals than any other of their distant veggie cousins. As most Americans are undernourished, cutting out these foods then makes us rely further on supplements – which is not the way we should be living and healing.
Since 90% of thyroid problems occur for autoimmune reasons, I believe it’s more important to restore the health of your immune system through your gut, than obsess about cutting out all crucifers.
I have found that for most women who experience hormone imbalance symptoms, the benefits of cruciferous vegetables outweigh the very small risks. The color and sharp, often bitter flavor of cruciferous veggies confer an impressive range of health benefits that largely come from their levels of glucosinolates, which are powerful plant chemical compounds which come in around 120 different varieties.
Facts about cruciferous vegetables
- Are potent anti-inflammatory agents
When you chew and digest your leafy greens, glucosinolates break down into biologically active nutrients called isothiocyanates, which have anti-inflammatory actions. The two most powerful varieties are called sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol. These protect you against disease. They help switch on antioxidant genes and enzymes in specific immune cells and may neutralize cancerous cells so that they don’t grow and multiply.
- Support liver function and thyroid hormone conversion
Studies also show that these glucosinolates support your liver function by activating phase 2 detoxification. A well functioning liver is critical in helping the conversion of T4 to T3 and that is particularly important for thyroid patients. That conversion in part happens in the liver via a process called deiodination.
- Help combat estrogen dominance (the leading cause of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer!)
Most pre-menopausal women I work with have some level of estrogen dominance, which is barely surprising, given the estrogenic cocktail of skincare products, cleaners, packaging and food we are exposed to in our modern world. Leafy greens can reduce the load. Goitrogenic vegetables are rich in a substance called DIM (diindolylmethane) which is key in liver detoxification as well as the elimination of mutated estrogen metabolites. This, in turn, helps women maintain a healthy balance of estrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormone, which is critical if you want to naturally balance hormones.
As a result, you can better filter estrogen metabolites from your body, suggests this research from The Institute for Hormone Research.
In this study, after indole-3-carbinols from crucifers were given to people in supplement form, urine samples were taken. The results showed that increased concentrations of estrogen metabolites were filtered from the body, including greater removal of estradiol, estrone, estriol and 16-alpha-hydroxytestrone. As these estrogen byproducts can be harmful if they keep circulating at high levels, women who eat their leafy greens may reduce Estrogen Dominance. Stabilizing estrogen can also help stabilize many other hormones. I offer other tips on how to do this here in this article.
- Have protective benefits against cancer: Leafy greens not only help prevent cancer and block the new blood vessels that cancerous tumors set up to feed on, they can also help to improve odds of survival for women with breast cancer.
For other natural ways to combat breast cancer, check out this recent post.
- Benefit good bacteria
The rich soluble dietary fibers in crucifers include hemicellulose and pectin. These have been shown in studies to help stabilize blood glucose levels and lower cholesterol. Most importantly, they provide food for different kinds of healthy bacteria.
These bacteria can help to increase your levels of serotonin (which helps boosts your mood) and melatonin (helps aid in sleep) and lower your levels of insulin (protects against weight gain and Diabetes Type 2). Resistant starch can also boost your levels of good bacteria. Learn more about resistant starch foods and how they benefit thyroid health here.
There are two effective ways to reduce the goitrogenic content of foods like broccoli, kale, silverbeet, and cauliflower:
- Cook Your Crucifers
As I have explained, cruciferous foods are goitrogenic when raw. But once cooked, the glucosinolates they contain are deactivated, losing up to 80% of their goitrogenic chemicals, so that they no longer block the uptake of iodine. Research from the University of Illinois shows that when lightly cooked but still al dente (after being steamed for three to four minutes), the short exposure to heat warms up broccoli enough to destroy a protein it contains that holds on to sulfur. At the same time, lightly cooking broccoli activates (but does not destroy) the myrosinase enzyme that helps release the broccoli sulfurs. This ensures the sulfurs are more bio-available to be absorbed when eaten, while the goitrogenic effects are lessened.
Boiling can also be very effective because it allows the glucosinolates to leach into the water.
Do you find yourself bored by your usual recipes containing crucifers? Add this delicious Cauliflower and Coconut Red Lentil Dal dish to your cooking repertoire.
- Ferment Your Crucifers
Fermented vegetables are powerful hormone balancing foods because they contain good bacteria to boost your gut health. And, though fermented crucifers like sauerkraut are raw, you don’t need to cut them out. It’s okay to have one or two small tablespoon servings of fermented foods like broccoli, cabbage, kale or cauliflower a day.
Mix up your ferments so they are not all filled with cruciferous vegetables and don’t forget about fermented foods like miso, dill pickles, coconut water kefir and coconut yoghurt. For a tasty fermented drink, try my recipe Kvass, a Probiotic Beetroot Tonic.
You can also consider cooking crucifers then mixing them in with raw vegetables like carrot and beetroot, for fermentation.
What About Green Smoothies?
Some experts who specialize in female hormone imbalance believe that women with thyroid problems can eat goitrogenic foods with no problem.
Others believe that cruciferous vegetables like kale, compromise or worsen thyroid function. They recommend that women with Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease or suspected thyroid problems, avoid eating crucifers altogether. Let me share with you that in my experience, having worked over the years with so many Hashimoto’s patients, I have not seen anyone heal by just avoiding cruciferous vegetables.
Therefore, my recommendation is:
- Eat cooked cruciferous vegetables in abundance as they pose little risk to women with thyroid conditions and help your liver and gut, which are the key organs you need to support.
- Reduce intake of raw crucifers if you have a low thyroid function (don’t toss raw kale in your green smoothie every day). If you enjoy raw crucifers and their health benefits, limit your intake to 2 or 3 servings per week. Try this Creamy Asparagus Broccoli Salad for a quick and delicious way to toss together some greens.Or serve this super simple Massaged Kale Salad with some protein for dinner.
- Minimize oxalates: These are found in foods like kale and they can deposit themselves in the thyroid gland and cause damage. In turn, the thyroid does not produce enough of the T4 hormone. People suffering from poor gut health are particularly susceptible. Oxalates also bind to minerals like calcium, so they’re not easily absorbed.
- Eat Iodine Rich Foods: If you don’t have an overactive thyroid but you are worried leafy greens could reduce your intake of iodine, eating foods rich in iodine may help counter possible impacts of the goitrogens. Good choices include seaweed, yoghurt and eggs (if they are not reactive for you), fish and shellfish, prunes and of course, Celtic or Himalayan pink salt, which is rich in iodine and minerals.
- Minimize or avoid intake of soy: Soy (milk, tofu, tempeh, soybean oil) is not only goitrogenic, it also contains phytates, which can bind up your minerals like zinc and magnesium, so you don’t absorb them. For this reason I suggest that you shift from soy to coconut milk in your morning bowl of millet or daily turmeric latte. If you’d like to try making y our own coconut milk, I show you how in this step-by-step quick video cooking presentation. I think you’ll be surprised at just how easy it is to make it yourself.
A Word Of Caution
Having said that crucifers should not be banned from a hormone balancing diet, I want to add a few qualifying comments:
- If you have hypothyroidism due to a deficiency in iodine, goitrogenic foods could lower your iodine further. So eat them with caution.
- If you suspect you might have thyroid issues, you may still be making some of your own thyroid hormones in low amounts and goitrogenic foods could deplete that production further.
- I know many women with thyroid problems who have had great health results when they limit their intake of foods high in goitrogens.
- I have also met many newly converted vegans and vegetarians who developed thyroid symptoms months after replacing meat protein with lots of soy foods, and goitrogenic foods like kale.
The Bottom Line and My Final Thoughts
The key to treating thyroid conditions (since most of them are autoimmune conditions triggered by troubled digestive health), is to restore your digestive health. This article gives more information on how digestion impacts hormones and weight gain.
Estrogen dominance is the leading cause of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer – the fastest growing cancer in the United States. Cruciferous vegetables help with estrogen detoxification and prevent the development of nodules and cancers.