The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that releases hormones. Thyroid hormones help your body regulate a few things - not a big deal - just the metabolism of ALL cells. And this is critical for maintaining a healthy body weight and having the energy to live your life.
(Yes, your thyroid IS a big deal!)
It’s estimated that at least 3.7% of US adults have an underactive thyroid.
When you don’t have enough thyroid hormone, it’s called hypothyroidism. This can result in the slowing down of your metabolism and cause difficulty losing weight; and even weight gain. Some of the other symptoms can include fatigue, forgetfulness, dry hair and skin, constipation, muscle cramping, and feeling cold.
An underactive thyroid can be diagnosed from a blood test from your health professional.
How does the thyroid become underactive?
There are many reasons why your thyroid may become underactive. The most common is autoimmunity, where the immune cells attack other cells in the body; in this case, the cells of the thyroid gland.
It can also be the result of low levels of iodine, which is an essential mineral. Combining that with high levels of goitrogens (food substances that inhibit iodine from getting into thyroid) and you can be at risk for an iodine deficiency.
PRO TIP: Iodine-deficiency is not very common in the developed world, so supplements are likely not necessary, and may exacerbate certain thyroid issues. Check with your healthcare professional before taking supplements, and always read the label.
Foods and nutrients for your thyroid
Enough iodine from food - Iodine is naturally found in fish and seafood. Other foods that contain iodine are navy beans, potatoes, and eggs. Sometimes levels of natural iodine depend on the amount of iodine in the soil. Iodine is also added (i.e., fortified) to some foods.
PRO TIP: During pregnancy and breastfeeding iodine requirements increase by up to 60%, so pay attention to eat enough iodine-containing foods.
Enough selenium from food - Some people recommend selenium (another essential mineral) to support the thyroid. A recent review of several clinical studies showed that there is not enough evidence to recommend selenium supplements to people with certain thyroid conditions.
Because of this, it’s best to stick with selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts, mushrooms, meat, and fish.
Reduce goitrogens - Goitrogens are plant-estrogens that prevent the iodine in your blood from getting into your thyroid where it's needed to make thyroid hormones. Goitrogens themselves are not that powerful, unless they're eaten excessively, or are combined with a diet already low in iodine. They are found in "cruciferous" foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. Goitrogens can be deactivated by cooking the foods they're found in. Because these cruciferous vegetables are very nutritious, you may choose to cook them instead of eliminating them altogether.
Enough protein - One of the common symptoms of thyroid issues is the inability to lose weight. If this is the case, one thing you can eat more of is protein. Protein has a "thermogenic effect" because your body has to spend energy metabolizing protein; this means that calorie-for-calorie, carbs will promote weight gain more than protein will.
Gluten-free - Try going gluten-free. There is evidence of a link between underactive thyroid and gluten sensitivity. There may be a "cross-reactivity" where the immune cells that are sensitized to gluten can attack the thyroid cells by mistake; this is essentially how autoimmunity works and can affect more than just your thyroid. You might request getting tested for celiac disease if you are experiencing thyroid issues.
Lifestyle upgrade - Weight gain and difficulty losing weight are very common when it comes to thyroid issues. In this case, it’s important to get enough regular exercise, enough quality sleep, and reduce stress.
If you have concerns about your thyroid, then ask to be tested. That, along with testing for celiac disease, can help to confirm your best plan to move forward in good health.
Foods to support your thyroid include iodine- and selenium-containing foods, cooked cruciferous foods, and gluten-free foods. Don't forget to eat enough protein to help boost your metabolism. Also, consider reducing the amount of raw cruciferous foods you eat.
Supplementing with iodine or selenium should be done with a health professional’s advice.
And regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress-reduction are all part of the holistic approach to supporting your thyroid.
Do you or someone you know have concerns about your thyroid? What diet and lifestyle factors have you gotten the most benefit from? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (thyroid-supporting): Shrimp and Veggie Stir-Fry
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, halved
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp salt
½ pound shrimp, fresh or defrosted
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp coconut aminos or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce alternative)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 dashes cayenne pepper, optional
Heat wok or large skillet with oil.
Add Brussels sprouts and fry until they're golden (4-5 minutes).
In a bowl, make the sauce by combining the honey, aminos/tamari, garlic, and cayenne, if using.
Add mushrooms and salt and fry for 1-2 minutes.
Add shrimp and fry until they're cooked and turn pink.
Add sauce to skillet. Toss and cook until heated through.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Serve on a bed of cooked rice or quinoa.