The Thyroid – Diet Connection : An Exclusive Renegade Health Article by Dr. J.E. Williams

Wednesday Jun 22 | BY |
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Iodine is a key food for a healthy thyroid. For vegetarians, kelp is the most common vegetable seafood and a rich source of the essential element.

Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM

The Thyroid – Diet Connection

You are what you eat—and what you drink and breath, and the environment you are exposed to. And, all of these influence your thyroid gland, the master gland of metabolism. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped endocrine organ, is tucked in your neck just in front of the larynx, or Adam’s Apple. Since it’s so close to the surface of your body, and not usually covered by clothing, the thyroid gland is highly sensitive to environmental changes, oxygen levels in the air, and exposure to toxic chemicals. It is also dependent on elements in the foods you eat.

Thyroid Friendly Foods

For a healthy thyroid gland, there are several critically important foods to include in your daily diet, and key among them is iodine.

Iodine is an essential element that helps the thyroid gland produce thyroid hormones. Three iodine molecules are needed to make T3 (triiodothyronine), and four for T4 (thyroxine), the active hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Without enough iodine, you won’t have a healthy thyroid gland. Seafood is naturally rich in iodine. Cod, sea bass, haddock, and perch are good sources. For vegetarians, kelp is the most common vegetable seafood and a rich source of iodine. Other seaweeds also contain iodine. Other vegetable sources include all plants grown in iodine-rich soil.

Selenium is another trace mineral necessary for healthy thyroid hormone function. Shellfish, like oysters, are rich in selenium. Vegetarian sources include sunflower and sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, mushrooms, garlic, onions, and kelp.

Vitamin A is needed for optimal hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis function, as it increases conversion from T4 to T3. Vitamin D is needed for thyroid hormone to affect cells activity and metabolism. Both Vitamins A and D are found in cod liver oil and other cold-water ocean fish oils. Vitamin A can be made in the body from carotinoids that are found in abundance in green leafy vegetables.

Foods that may help your thyroid gland:

  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Virgin coconut oil
  • Cold pressed virgin olive oil
  • Unrefined sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, wakeme)
  • Ocean fish and shellfish

Food Enemies of Your Thyroid

Many foods inhibit thyroid hormone function and some block absorption of the elements necessary for healthy thyroid hormone activity. Goitrogens are naturally occurring substances that interfere with the function of the thyroid gland. Goitrogens get their name from the term “goiter,” enlargement of the thyroid gland.

Cooking inactivates goitrogenic compounds in food. Isoflavones (in soy foods) and isothiocyanates (in cruciferous vegetables) are heat-sensitive and cooking lowers the activity of these compounds. As much as one third may be deactivated when broccoli is boiled.

Avoid these foods if you have low thyroid function:

  • Soybeans and soy-related foods such as tofu and tempeh, or any of the other soy products on the market, even soy sauce.
  • Cruciferous vegetables (Brassica family) such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, rutabagas, turnips, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, kale, garden cress, bokchoy, and kohlrabi. These foods may be eaten in small amounts, but they should always be cooked. This is because, in their raw state, they contain an acid that blocks absorption and inhibits thyroid hormones.
  • Lima beans, millet, peaches, peanuts, pine nuts, radishes, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and tapioca.
  • Refined sugar and processed foods containing sugar (maltose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup).
  • Dairy products, though some cheese and organic non-fat yogurt is acceptable.
  • Wheat and wheat-containing products (pasta, muffins, gravy). And avoid commercial baked goods that may contain bromine.

If you’ve gained weight and cannot get it off, and have an underlying hypothyroid condition (low thyroid hormone levels), don’t under consume. Dropping your calorie intake too low, under 1,200 calories daily, will slow your metabolism down more, causing your body to hold on to fat and fluid, and make you tired so you can’t exercise.

Thyroid Friendly Dietary Guidelines

Though there is no specific diet that corrects hypothyroidism, there are guidelines that help your thyroid gland. A thyroid-friendly diet is much like a hypoglycemic diet – high in protein with a list of foods to avoid, which influence goiter formation (goitergens). It is also like an anti-autoimmune diet in that it is high in fish oils. Remember to eat healthy, whole, fresh, organic foods. Avoid processed foods, hormone-containing meats, dairy products, and transfats.

Key Aspects of the Thyroid Friendly Diet:

  • Eat more protein and consume some type of protein with each meal. Drink a rice protein shake as a meal replacement if you are vegetarian.
  • Keep the transfats, fried foods, and unhealthy oils out of your kitchen and off your table.
  • Consume complex carbohydrates like whole grains, squash, and rice.
  • Eat more fish, especially salmon, and take fish oil supplements.
  • Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but avoid those that are goitergenic.
  • Eat small amounts of seaweed (kelp, wakeme, dulse) daily.

We want to know your thoughts: What foods do you eat to help support the thyroid?


Here’s How You Can Access Some of Dr. Williams’ Most Important Health Secrets and Protocols…

Dr. J. E. Williams has over 30 years of clinical experience in the natural health world and has had over 100,000 patient visits over that time.

We’ve recently created a selection of programs based on his work, to help you get real, tested and effective natural solutions.

These programs include how to improve thyroid function, how to read your blood tests, and how to support your adrenals naturally.

To learn more about these programs or to get one today, please click here!

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Elisabeth says:

    well that’s just frustrating. all those foods on the “not thyroid friendly list” is basically all i eat. no wonder my neck is feeling tight lately. my recent blood test also showed that i’m hypothyroid. i think my thyroid was damaged long time ago as i was always feeling cold starting when i was a teenager. i’m now 47 and started feeling pretty lousy for the last few years. i went on a gluten free diet a year ago hoping this would fix my thyroid. the ultra sound of my thyroid show nothing. i now have an appointment with an endocrinologist in august. so what do i eat if i also have several food allergies. among them are nightshades, tropical fruit, rice is giving me problems also and some i have not figured out yet. mayor bummer!!

  2. Elisabeth says:

    ops, major not mayor!

  3. Jenn says:

    I agree on some things but not others, then again perhaps having NO thyroid things like the goitrogens simply have no affect on me(I do feel better eating fish fr protein).

    I love all your info for the general public or with hypothryoidism on thyroid health, I almost ordered the thryoid books even but realize that like many other things I come across most thryoid info out there is how to fix a slightly not working one, very little of the data is on living with NO thyroid and how to adapt or deficiencies to look(I figured out most by myself last few years)

  4. lisa says:

    certain yoga postures are beneficial for optimal thyroid functioning, so instead of eating fish, do fish pose 😉

  5. Cassandra says:

    Thank you, I love how straight and to the point this is; all the basic information, with just enough explanation. Thyroid problems have been running rampant in my family for so many years and I’m convinced it is a significant cause of my health problems, despite “normal” testing.

    I did notice my thyroid swelling significantly while I was taking holy basil…so I’m not sure if mine is overactive or underactive, because holy basil can increase the amount of thyroid hormone present in the body. Guess I just have to keep experimenting until something works, and since this is a very anti-autoimmune diet, I guess it’s worth a shot either way!

  6. a says:

    for people who hate the taste of sea veggies and any sort of sea food, any other recommendations? I have an iodine supplement that I use. I don’t understand how anyone likes the taste of kelp and other seaweeds 🙁

  7. Cassandra says:

    I like wakame because it’s not too strong, and sometimes sushi nori which I cut into little strips for my salads. kelp I think tastes very strong and overpowers other flavors (but really, a little of it goes a long way, it is very high in iodine). I soak the wakame in whatever dressing I’m using on my salad and make sure I have a lot of other bold flavors in the mix, like onion, garlic, daikon radish, etc. It helps cut the taste immensely!

    I also have started adding E3 Live blue green algae to my smoothies. 1 tbsp doesn’t make a difference taste-wise but I should start feeling it soon 🙂 algae contains iodine and I think vitamin A too.

  8. Sandy says:

    The trouble with eating fish is that the more you eat the more mercury you get. You then have to detox the mercury. Same applies to seaweed unless you make sure it has been grown in unpolluted waters and is guaranteed free from heavy metals.

  9. ani says:

    I consume juiced collards, put up broccoli every year for both my husband and I, as well as cauliflower. We eat the daikon radish, and the Japanese mild mustard greens. Plus we consume fresh raw milk from our own animals. We do not consume any flesh food of any kind — based on scripture. Read Genesis.

    The Japanese vegetarians are the healthiest folks on the entire planet. You can find info about this by looking up Connie Chung and Japanese vegetarians. And, they do consume seaweed. So do we. We eat peanuts, the raw ones from south America. We break all of your rules or suggestions. Everyone is different. Low thyroid runs in our family and my belief is that diet corrects many deficiencies.

    We also consume chestnuts and water chestnuts, lotus root, bamboo shoots, and I sprout my own soy and mung beans as well as alfalfa, broccoli, etc. I use raw sesame oil on my salad made with my own garden vegetables except for tomaters (I spell it that way for fun) and onions, and burdock root. We also eat taters — both the sweet and the regular. The white sweet ones available in December sometime through part of January are the absolute best that I can find and I put them up every year so that we have them throughout the whole year — a jersey type sweet.

    I drink a quart of fresh made juice every day which is mainly carrot. Lakewood brand juice makes and sells purple carrot juice. A quart bottle is 6 regular price, but we watch and buy a bunch when it is on half price sale.

    We never have colds, flu, etc. My thyroid has always checked out normal. Plus our energy levels are good. We are in our 60’s and still have our natural color of hair.

    Your diet would not work for me as any flesh food makes me seriously ill, and that includes eggs which are literally unborn chickens.

    You have your way, we have ours. We are all different. However, I am glad for someone when they can find relief from any ailment.

  10. Ellen says:

    Thanks for the great article. I burned my thyroid out eating a raw diet because I was eating a lot of those veggies raw. Even though I was eating lots of thyroid boosting food as a counterbalance, it didn’t matter.

    I read everything about raw food diet and thyroid and natural herbs to resolve the problem through diet alone. In the end it didn’t work. I started eating cooked grain, steamed veggies, cooked beans, cut out nightshades and doubled my protein intake and I felt so much better. I now listen to my body and change what I eat from day to day.

  11. Anna21 says:

    Excellent article. I have a thyroid imbalance (hypothyroidism), and avoid cruciferous veggies, but did not know that sweet potatoes could also impair thyroid function. No wonder I always felt lousy after eating them.

    Some doctors think there is a connection between hypothyroidism, leaky gut, candida & poor adrenal function. They think that healing the gut and taming the candida can help heal thyroid & adrenal issues. After all, many hormones (e.g. T4 to T3 thyroid hormones) are converted in the gut. However the conversion may not happen in a leaky gut. I wonder what Dr. Williams thinks about this?

  12. rachel says:

    I did understand about cruciferous vegetables before reading this. However, I had never read
    before that they SHOULD ONLY BE COOKED. I make my own Sauerkraut and Kimchi, raw, and believe they are healthy.
    WHAT does cooking do that changes the “harmful” issue around these vegetables? please answer.
    Does this mean that all of the Asian people who consume lots of KimChi, and the Europeans who consume lots of Sauerkraut therefore have thyroid problems???. This may not be valid.
    I love sea vegetables, they can be used in soups, stews, cooked grains or vegetables. I also add them to my KimChi.
    namaste’, rachel

  13. CJ says:

    Like Jenn on comment #3, I would like more information for people who have had their thyroid irradiated or have what is considered to be a ‘dead thyroid’. Should they follow the same protocols and where can I go to find out more?

  14. Staciejung says:

    Oops W/O typos, please use this.

    Hi Kevin,
    I really feel the need to clarify something here. I have been hypothyroid for 15 years. I have an autoimmune condition that caused my body to destroy my thyroid. That is, I have no thyroid at all. None, zero, zip. I take a teeny wheeny synthetic thyroxin pill daily and I’m very healthy. I even had a very healthy pregnancy (twins!) during that time while being carefully monitored by my endocrinologist.
    I had heard about soy and cruciferous vegetables interfering with my thyroxin and I asked the doctor about it. Apparently it only interferes if it is eaten at the same time as the thyroxin. If I take the thyroxin, wait an hour to absorb it all, and then I can eat anything I want. Once the thyroxin is in my blood and adhering to my hemoglobin, these foods have no affect at all. They only inactivate the free form while it’s in my stomach. Iron and calcium also interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of the oral thyroxin if taken at the same time. This is why I have to wait 2 to 3 hours after eating to take it, and wait 1 hour after taking it to eat again.
    I thought in the interest of truth you’d like to know this so that people are not misled. Also want to add that people who are not hypothyroid normally make what ever they need themselves and will make up for any thyroxin that is used up or inactivated immediately themselves. If they do not, they need to get blood tested by an endocrinologist to determine if they need additional thyroxin.
    Have a good one,

  15. Sharon says:

    I’ve had an underactive thyroid for years and struggled with my weight. Last year I added in salmon oil (wow what a difference in my skin!), then salmon and a few months ago started using Siberian Chaga (click my name if you want to know more about that) and now my weight is not only stable but I’ve lost a few pounds and so has my daughter who also has a slow thyroid.

    I think all coconut products are beneficial, not just the oil. The oil can be rubbed on the thyroid as well. Use it on your skin too.

    I get itchy from raw cruciferous veggies. I’ve often thought they were not meant to be consumed raw.

    Some essential oils can also help balance the thyroid.

    As Sandy stated fish and seaweed may contain mercury so proceed with caution and check your sources well. I’ve found the benefits of the protein to outweigh the negatives but for someone with an overload (mercury collects in the thyroid), it could make the problem worse.

  16. Sharon says:

    Kim Chi and sauerkraut have the outer cell walls broken down. The result is similar to cooking but of course it is enzymatically alive so much healthier than cooked. Cruciferous sprouts are also okay as far as I know.

  17. Phyl says:

    For the posting on not liking the test of seaweed: put some in with your cooking – like in rice or soups and stews. It’s like adding salt.

    Regarding mercury in fish: always choose fish that come from shallow waters and those which are not long livers. The latter become larger and have more time to eat other fish and load up on more mercury.

  18. Rachel says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I have hypothyroidism, and I recently started a raw food diet. I have already started to lose weight, not an easy thing to do when your hypo. I support my thyroid every day by including: cold pressed, virgin coconut oil, kelp powder, iodized sea salt, calcium and vitamin d supplements, raw soaked brazil nuts, and the amino acid l-tyrosine. L-tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that combined with iodine helps to support T3and T4 production.

  19. jim says:

    i need to lose 50 lbs

  20. Sarah says:

    Apparently my TSH blood reading is very high, so I am hypothyroid. The Doc originally told me I was hyperthyroid. I am a ‘medical mystery’. I am 5’5″ and weigh 108 pds. My weight has always been consistent and I have a lot of energy. My heart races, unlike the slow heartbeat of hypothyroid. I am taking some natural Thyroid pills, along with my fish oil, Vit D, Holy Basil, and granular lecithin. I was just diagnosed about 5 weeks ago and am 50. My Mom is built like me and is also hypo- she found out at age 55. My main symptom besides the high resting heartrate, is palpitations, which is scary. I’ve had the EKG and stress test and my heart and blood pressure are normal. I have always eaten a lot of kale & broccoli (steamed) and can’t see myself not eating those good foods.

    • Charissa says:

      Sarah, read “Why do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?” by Kharrazian. People with Hashimotos can swing between hypo- and hyper thyroid. (Also remove gluten, if you haven’t already) Hope this helps!

  21. Having had part of my thyroid removed and being told that the part removed had hashi mottoes. For most of the time now I feel good but on occasions I feel really rough and just want to sleep. I offen wonder if there is a link to what I either eaten or drunk. The common foods that I have work out are Indian (curries) and Red wine. Is there any evidence of these foods being the problem

  22. Jen says:

    So what can you eat? And cheaply? Because fish and hormone-free meat is expensive.

  23. I have macular degeneration and should be eating all the greens that are listed as being bad for you if you are hypothyroid which I am. I am concerned that cooking them will remove the lutein and zeanthenan that are the beneficial nutrients in the greens for my eyes. Any comments?

  24. Pamela says:

    Foods I eat to improve my thyroid: Almond Butter, Fresh Vegetables and Fresh Fruits from local trees that are not sprayed, natural honey in small amounts, and small amounts of meat.

    I don’t eat Soy products, or Peanut Butter, or any goiteroid vegetables because they swell my throat up.

    I do not take thyroid medicine. I control my thyroid with my diet.

    As far as supplements go, I take 225mcg of Icelandic Kelp. I also take a one a day vitamin.

  25. Lisa says:

    I am so bored of just taking my tablets for an underactive thyroid, i am always tired and lacking in energy.. brilliant to have found this information.. am now going to implement in my kitchen… thank you..
    Any good books anyone can recommend?

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