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Best Diet for Hypothyroidism: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid

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Best Diet for Hypothyroidism

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What is Hypothyroidism ?

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain crucial hormones. The main hormone produced by the thyroid is thyroxine, also called T4. When the thyroid does not produce enough thyroxine, many of the body’s functions start to slow down.

Hypothyroidism is a common disorder, with prevalence rates of 3-5% in the general population. However, it’s estimated that around half of cases go undiagnosed. Women are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men, and risk increases with age.

The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory

Hypothyroidism is most frequently caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes gradual thyroid failure. Other causes include surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid, radiation treatment of the thyroid, or medications that inhibit thyroid production. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Overview of Dietary Needs with Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. This can slow down metabolism and affect energy levels.

Diet plays an important role in managing hypothyroidism. Here are some key dietary considerations:

  • Increased calorie needs – People with hypothyroidism tend to have a slower metabolism, so their calorie needs are lower than normal. However, as metabolism improves with treatment, calorie needs increase. Work with your doctor or dietitian to determine your calorie needs.

  • Micronutrients – Thyroid hormones are involved in using and metabolizing micronutrients like iron, iodine, selenium and zinc. Make sure to get adequate amounts of these in your diet or through supplements:

    • Iron – Found in meat, poultry, seafood, beans, lentils, spinach. Iron supplements may be recommended.

    • Iodine – Found in seafood, eggs, dairy, grains. Iodized salt and supplements can help.

    • Selenium – Found in brazil nuts, tuna, beef liver, eggs, brown rice. Selenium supplements may be suggested.

    • Zinc – Found in seafood, meat, nuts and seeds, legumes, dairy. Zinc supplements can fill any dietary gaps.

  • Avoid goitrogens – Goitrogens are substances that interfere with thyroid hormone production. Foods high in goitrogens like cruciferous veggies, soy, strawberries and peanuts are fine in moderation in cooked form, but avoid large amounts of raw goitrogens.

Following these dietary recommendations can help provide the calories, nutrients and thyroid support needed when living with hypothyroidism. Consult a doctor or dietitian for personalized diet advice.

Best Foods to Eat with Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism requires careful attention to diet, as the right nutrients can help manage symptoms. Focus on incorporating these beneficial foods:

Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, both of which support thyroid function. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are great choices. Shellfish like oysters and mussels are also high in selenium.

Eggs and lean meats provide high-quality protein, which is important for hormone production. Grass-fed beef, organic chicken, turkey, and pork are healthy options. Eggs are also a great choice, loaded with protein and nutrients.

Fruits and vegetables deliver powerful antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin A, and selenium, which reduce inflammation and protect thyroid cells. Brightly colored produce is especially nutrient-dense. Some great options are berries, citrus fruits, squash, spinach, tomatoes, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage.

Nuts and seeds offer healthy fats and nutrients for the thyroid. Brazil nuts, walnuts, and macadamia nuts provide selenium. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are high in omega-3s.

Legumes like lentils, beans, and chickpeas are excellent plant-based protein sources. They also provide plenty of fiber, which is often lacking in hypothyroid diets. Choose a variety for balanced nutrition.

By emphasizing these wholesome, nutrient-rich foods, you can nourish your thyroid and body back to health. Focus on getting a variety of veggies, quality proteins, healthy fats, and fiber.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

While hypothyroidism does not necessarily require a restrictive diet, there are some foods that can potentially interfere with thyroid hormone production or absorption. Limiting or avoiding these foods may help improve thyroid function in some cases.

  • Soy and cruciferous vegetables: Soy and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale contain compounds called isoflavones and goitrogens which may disrupt thyroid hormone production in high amounts. Moderate intake is likely safe, but limiting soy and cooking cruciferous vegetables may be beneficial.

  • Gluten-containing grains (for those with sensitivity): Some individuals with autoimmune hypothyroidism also have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Eliminating gluten from grains like wheat, barley and rye may help improve symptoms in those cases.

  • Added sugars: Added sugars provide calories with little nutrition and can be inflammatory. Limiting intake of sweets, soda, juices, and desserts may help manage weight and symptoms.

  • Processed foods: Heavily processed foods like fast food, pre-packaged meals, chips, and snacks are often high in unhealthy fats, sugars, sodium and preservatives. Choosing fresh, whole foods is recommended.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol may interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis and cause hormonal imbalance. Limiting alcohol intake to occasional or moderate amounts is advised.

Focusing on a diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and fiber can help support thyroid health. Being mindful of limiting processed foods, added sugars and potential goitrogens may also be beneficial for those with hypothyroidism.

Sample Meal Plan

When living with hypothyroidism, structuring your meals and snacks to include the right nutrients and foods can be helpful. Here are some meal and snack ideas to get you started:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal made with milk or a milk alternative like almond or coconut milk, topped with fruit, nuts, chia seeds, or nut butter
  • Eggs cooked any style with vegetables, avocado, and/or whole grain toast
  • Greek yogurt parfait with berries, chia seeds, and sliced almonds
  • Banana protein pancakes made with eggs, oats, banana, cinnamon, and almond milk

Lunch

  • Salad with leafy greens, vegetables, beans or lentils, avocado, nuts/seeds, and olive oil vinaigrette
  • Veggie and hummus wrap in a whole wheat tortilla
  • Quinoa bowl with sautéed veggies, avocado, chicken or beans
  • Lentil vegetable soup with whole grain bread or crackers

Dinner

  • Baked salmon with roasted vegetables and sweet potato
  • Turkey or veggie chili served over brown rice with shredded cheese
  • Veggie stir fry with tofu over quinoa or brown rice
  • Chicken thighs with roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash

Snacks

  • Apple with peanut or almond butter
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Veggies with hummus or guacamole
  • Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • Smoothie with leafy greens, berries, nut butter, and milk/milk alternative

Lifestyle Changes For Hypothyroidism Management

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can be very helpful for managing hypothyroidism. Focusing on stress management, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly are all important.

Managing Stress

Chronic stress can negatively impact thyroid function, so finding healthy ways to manage stress levels is essential. Practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and journaling have all been shown to reduce stress. Set aside time each day to prioritize relaxation and self-care.

Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation can disrupt thyroid hormone regulation. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Avoid screen time before bed. Consider supplements like melatonin if needed.

Regular Exercise

Exercise helps regulate thyroid hormone levels and can reduce thyroid antibody levels. Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise most days. Walking, swimming, strength training, and yoga are great options. Check with your doctor before starting new exercise programs. Start slow and work up to higher intensity and duration.

Making lifestyle adjustments to manage stress, improve sleep quality, and incorporate regular exercise can all help optimize thyroid function and hypothyroid management. Work with your doctor or healthcare provider to develop a lifestyle plan that supports your thyroid health.

Supplements

Along with dietary changes, certain supplements may help manage hypothyroidism symptoms. It’s best to discuss supplements with your doctor, as needs are individual. Some supplements that may help include:

  • Selenium: This essential mineral plays a role in thyroid hormone metabolism. Selenium levels tend to be low in people with hypothyroidism. Taking a selenium supplement with the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin may help normalize thyroid hormone levels. Suggested dosage is 200 mcg per day.

  • Zinc: Zinc is another essential mineral important for thyroid function. People with hypothyroidism sometimes have zinc deficiency. A supplement may help if levels are low. Take up to 60 mg of zinc per day.

  • Iron: Iron deficiency can often accompany hypothyroidism. Always have your levels checked. If deficient, an iron supplement can help improve thyroid function. Take around 30 mg per day.

  • Vitamin D: Many people are deficient in vitamin D, which is needed for healthy thyroid function. Get your vitamin D levels tested. If low, take a daily supplement with at least 1000–4000 IU of vitamin D3.

  • Probiotics: There’s a strong gut-thyroid connection. Imbalances in gut bacteria negatively affect thyroid health. Probiotic supplements can help restore gut microbiome balance and reduce inflammation. Take at least 20–50 billion CFUs daily.

Along with the above supplements, eating a nutritious hypothyroidism diet can help manage symptoms. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the optimal nutrition plan for your individual needs. Consistency with dietary changes and supplements is key.

Considerations for Pregnancy

Pregnancy places additional nutritional demands on women with hypothyroidism. Here are some key considerations:

  • Iodine needs increase during pregnancy because iodine is essential for fetal brain development. The American Thyroid Association recommends all pregnant and breastfeeding women take a prenatal vitamin containing 150 mcg of iodine. Consume iodized salt, seafood, eggs, dairy products, and breads made with iodized flour to help meet iodine needs.

  • Omega-3s are especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding to support fetal brain and eye development. The best sources are fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and cod liver oil. If fish intake is low, an omega-3 supplement may be beneficial.

  • Avoid excessive vitamin A intake, which can cause toxicity at high doses. This means being cautious with supplements, liver products, fish liver oils, and fortified cereals. Focus instead on carotenoid forms of vitamin A from colorful fruits and vegetables.

Monitoring iodine, omega-3, and vitamin A intake ensures the nutritional needs of pregnancy are met while avoiding toxicity. Consulting with a doctor or dietitian can help hypothyroid women follow an optimal prenatal diet.

Considerations for Children with Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can affect children differently than adults. Two key considerations for children with hypothyroidism are:

Potential for Stunted Growth

Children need adequate thyroid hormone levels to support proper growth and development. Untreated hypothyroidism in children can lead to growth problems and short stature. This is because thyroid hormones play an important role in bone growth and maturation.

Getting the right thyroid hormone replacement dose is critical for children with hypothyroidism. Doses need to be adjusted regularly as the child grows. With proper treatment, children with hypothyroidism can achieve a normal adult height. However, delayed treatment can result in permanent stunted growth.

Micronutrient Needs

Children with hypothyroidism have increased needs for certain micronutrients, including:

  • Iodine – Critical for thyroid hormone production. Adequate iodine intake supports growth and brain development.

  • Iron – Hypothyroidism can lead to anemia, which is common in children with thyroid disorders. Ensuring adequate iron intake prevents problems.

  • Selenium – Important cofactor for thyroid hormone activation and metabolism. Selenium deficiency may exacerbate symptoms.

  • Zinc – Supports immune health and growth. Zinc deficiency is more common with hypothyroidism.

  • Vitamin D – Essential for bone growth and neuromuscular function. Autoimmune thyroid disease increases vitamin D requirements.

Getting enough of these micronutrients can help optimize health and minimize hypothyroid symptoms in children. Working with a pediatrician and dietitian helps ensure adequate intake from the diet or supplements.

When to See a Doctor or Dietitian?

Even with dietary and lifestyle changes, some people with hypothyroidism continue experiencing symptoms or have difficulty finding the right balance with their diet. In these cases, it can be very beneficial to work with a doctor or dietitian.

Here are some key reasons you may want to seek professional help:

  • If experiencing continued symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, or others despite making dietary changes. A doctor can evaluate if medication adjustments are needed, while a dietitian can take a deeper look into your nutrition status and needs.

  • To help develop a balanced meal plan tailored for your specific calorie, nutrient, and dietary needs. A dietitian can provide personalized meal planning guidance.

  • To monitor nutrient status like iron, B12, folate, calcium, vitamin D, and others. Bloodwork can identify any deficiencies, which are common with hypothyroidism. A doctor may recommend supplements.

  • If you have other medical conditions or food restrictions/allergies that make dietary changes for hypothyroidism more complicated. A professional can ensure your diet addresses all needs.

  • If pregnant or breastfeeding, to ensure nutrition needs are met for both mother and baby. Hypothyroidism can impact fertility, pregnancy, and development.

Working with a doctor and/or registered dietitian provides expert guidance as you manage your hypothyroidism through diet and lifestyle. They can support you in finding the optimal nutrition approach for your unique situation and needs.