Low thyroid hormone levels can cause many symptoms from fatigue to sensitivity to cold. But the most notable symptom may be how it makes weight loss nearly impossible, which may have you searching for the perfect hypothyroidism diet.
Hypothyroidism is a chronic condition that requires medical management. If you're struggling with your weight, or any of the other symptoms related to low thyroid levels, consult with your health care provider before seeking advice from the World Wide Web.
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Your Thyroid Hormones
Your body is filled with many different hormones that serve as messengers, telling your various body parts and systems what to do. For optimal health, these hormones need to remain in balance. Too much or too little can affect how your body operates and cause uncomfortable symptoms that may also affect your health.
Thyroid hormones are responsible for supporting some pretty important functions, including:
- Metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories)
- Heart rate
- Body temperature
- Muscle control
- Bone health
These hormones are made in your thyroid gland, which is found in your neck. There are three primary types of thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4); 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine (T3) and reverse 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine (rT3). These hormones are controlled by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is made in your pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland found in your brain.
Low Thyroid Levels
It's estimated that as many as five out of every 100 people in the United States have low thyroid levels, also known as hypothyroidism, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This means your body isn't producing enough of these hormones to carry out the necessary functions.
Hypothyroidism is more common in women than men, and you may be at risk if it runs in your family, you have a history of a goiter (an enlarged thyroid), or you were pregnant in the last six months. Other chronic health conditions, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, also place you at greater risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include:
- Unexpected weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
If you're experiencing these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your primary health care provider. You can't self-diagnose hypothyroidism. The only way to know for sure if your thyroid levels are low is through a blood test.
The primary treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which is prescribed and adjusted by your primary care physician based on your hormone levels.
The Hypothyroidism Diet
If only it were as easy as adding foods good for thyroid health to help get your hormones back up to speed. Unfortunately, that's not quite how it works. While you may find many hypothyroidism diet plans on the internet, there's no evidence to support that any diet, food or supplement can reverse your condition or help your body produce more hormones, say the experts at the Mayo Clinic.
Once you start supplementing with your hormone replacement prescribed by your doctor, many of your symptoms should disappear, including the issues you may be having with your weight. However, if you're still struggling with fatigue or weight problems, you can make a few tweaks to your diet and exercise routine.
Harvard Health Publishing recommends you fill your diet with nutrient-rich foods such as beans and peas, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry, and healthy fats and oils. You should avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates (like white bread and snack foods) and unhealthy saturated and trans fats. These types of foods offer very little nutritional value and they can increase your risk of more serious health issues such as heart disease.
Thyroid Diet Precautions
While there's no special hypothyroidism diet, you do need to be careful with some of your diet choices when taking your prescription thyroid hormones. Harvard Health Publishing warns that you should limit your intake of soy foods when taking thyroid hormone medication as they may affect absorption of the hormone.
Soy foods include:
- Soybean flour
- Tofu and tempeh
- Soy nuts
- Many vegetarian meat alternatives (read the label)
MedlinePlus also warns against taking your thyroid hormone medication with walnuts and foods high in fiber. Mayo Clinic says it's OK to include walnuts and foods high in fiber in your diet when taking your medication for hypothyroidism; just make sure you wait several hours after you take your medication before eating these foods.
Although not widely consumed in the United States, cassava is a root vegetable that contains toxins that can slow down an already underactive thyroid, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and cassava should be avoided with hypothyroidism.
You may also want to be careful with certain types of cruciferous vegetables, namely cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy and kale. In large quantities, these foods may affect iodine levels. However, you can enjoy cauliflower and rutabaga without any concerns, says Cleveland Clinic.
Foods Good for Thyroid
If you have concerns about your thyroid, and you're trying to reduce your risk of developing a thyroid condition, there are certain foods good for thyroid health that may offer some protection.
Your body needs a mineral called iodine in order to make thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is rare in the United States, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. However, not getting enough of this trace mineral may increase your risk of developing a goiter and hypothyroidism. Iodine is found in a variety of foods, including fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Iodine has also been added to table salt, referred to as iodized salt, to ensure needs are met.
Selenium is also a trace mineral essential for the production of thyroid hormones. According to a January 2017 review study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, an adequate intake of selenium may prevent thyroid disease. Like iodine, most Americans are able to get enough selenium in their diet to meet their needs. Good food sources include: Brazil nuts, tuna, shrimp, cottage cheese, brown rice and eggs.
Read more: Selenium & Brazil Nuts
While iodine is needed to support thyroid health, if you have low thyroid levels or hypothyroidism, you need to be cautious about not getting too much iodine, warns NIDDK. You should avoid eating large amounts of high-iodine foods — kelp, dulse and other seaweed — and you shouldn't take iodine or kelp supplements.
According to the International Journal of Endocrinology study, selenium supplements may be beneficial to those with autoimmune-related hyperthyroidism (producing too many hormones). If you do decide to supplement with selenium, don't take more than 200 micrograms, warns the Cleveland Clinic. You should also talk to your health care provider before adding any supplements, including selenium, to your routine.
- StatPearls: "Physiology: Thyroid Hormones"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Hypothyroidism"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hypothyroidism Diet: Can Certain Foods Increase Thyroid Function?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Healthy Eating for a Healthy Thyroid"
- University of California at San Francisco: "A Guide to Foods Rich in Soy"
- MedlinePlus: "Levothyroxine"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Thyroid Issues: What You Need to Know About Diet and Supplements"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Iodine"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Selenium"
- International Journal of Endocrinology: "Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.