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?
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