Guide To Eating For Your Thyroid

Photo credit:  Kristina Paukshtite

Photo credit: Kristina Paukshtite

Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck that secretes hormones, which regulate growth and development, and the rate of your metabolism.

Problems with your thyroid gland, and thyroid hormone, can adversely affect nearly every part of your body.

Thyroid hormone synthesis is controlled by feedback mechanisms that involve communication between your hypothalamus, pituitary and thyroid glands.

When levels of thyroid hormone are low, your hypothalamus stimulates your pituitary gland to release TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), and TSH informs your thyroid gland to make more thyroid hormone.

Production of thyroid hormone requires tyrosine (an amino acid) and iodine. An enzyme, TPO (thyroid peroxidase) works to pull all the ‘pieces’ together to form T3 and T4.

T4 is the major hormone made and secreted by the thyroid gland, and about 80% of T4 gets converted to T3 outside of the thyroid gland (mostly in the liver and the kidneys). The enzyme that converts T4 to T3 requires selenium.

Your thyroid can be overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid).

There are different causes of hyperthyroidism, and Graves’ Disease is the most common. It occurs when your immune system makes an antibody that stimulates the thyroid leading to higher levels of thyroid hormone.

The most common cause of hypothyroid (low thyroid hormone) around the world is iodine deficiency. This is why we’ve been iodizing salt in the Western world.

Iodine deficiency in the U.S. today is rare, and hypothyroidism (in the U.S.) is most commonly due to autoimmune processes that attack the thyroid. Autoimmune hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

In autoimmune hypothyroid, your body develops antibodies against TPO, the enzyme that builds your thyroid hormones, and/or thyroglobulin, a protein made by your thyroid gland.

In autoimmune hyper or hypothyroidism, excess iodine exposure (usually as would come from supplements) can actually make the attack on your thyroid gland worse (1,2,3,4,5,6,7), and the best way to get your necessary iodine is from natural food sources of it, and not those fortified with it (like salt).

If you suffer from autoimmune hyper or hypothyroidism, keep in mind that any autoimmune process is due to 3 factors:

  1. A genetic predisposition

  2. A trigger that turns the gene on

  3. Leaky gut

While we can’t change our genes, we can identify and remove triggers, and we can address gut health, and therefore slow down, stop, and even reverse the autoimmune process and its destruction.

Remember too that thyroid dysfunction (among many of the adverse effects it has) can impair digestion and absorption of nutrients, disrupt gut function, and it can also adversely effect your skin.

Examples of GI issues that occur with hypothyroidism include decreased stomach acid (impairs digestion and absorption), lower motility (leads to constipation), and increased risk for gut infections, including SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).

The gastrointestinal effects of hyperthyroid may include increased appetite, diarrhea and malabsorption of fat and other nutrients, and dyspepsia (pain/discomfort in your stomach, indigestion).

Impaired gut health leads to skin rashes, including eczema and psoriasis, among a wide range of other health problems. Remember that health begins in the gut. It’s where 80% of your immune system is located. Therefore gut problems can have broad reaching, negative effects on any part of the body.

For you to feel better, we want to address your thyroid and gut health, and make sure both are working as optimally as possible.

From a nutritional perspective, with autoimmune disease you want to avoid gluten and gluten containing products, and foods you are allergic to. You can also eat foods that contain nutrients that support thyroid health.

Incorporate these nutrients into your diet for thyroid health

Nutrients important for thyroid health: Zinc, selenium, iodine, iron, copper, vitamins A, D, E, B2, B3, B6, B12, and C, turmeric, DHEA, tyrosine

Foods containing nutrients for thyroid health

Zinc: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa, turkey

Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, salmon, turkey, cod, chicken, lamb, beef

Iodine: Cod, shrimp, boiled egg, navy beans, baked potato with skin, turkey breast, seaweed

Iron (heme iron is found in animal products and nonheme iron is found in some plant foods): Beef, chicken liver, oysters, clams, tuna, mussels, raisins, prune juice, prunes, potato with skin, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, white beans, lentils, tofu, hazelnuts, cashews

Copper: Mushrooms (shiitake), nuts (cashews), seeds (sunflower seeds), garbanzo beans, lentils, lima beans, raw kale, oysters, avocado

Vitamin A: Beef liver, cod liver oil, egg, butter, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, cantaloupe, mango, spinach, broccoli, kale, collard greens, butternut squash

Vitamin C: All will be higher in vitamin C if uncooked: Bell peppers, papaya, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi

Vitamin D: Salmon, herring and sardines, cod liver oil, canned light tuna (lower in mercury), oysters, egg yolk, mushrooms

Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, turnip greens, asparagus, mustard greens

Vitamin B2: Yogurt, cheese, asparagus, spinach (dark green leafy vegetables), chicken, fish, eggs

Vitamin B3: Chicken, turkey, salmon, canned tuna packed in water, legumes, peanuts, whole wheat

Vitamin B6: Poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard), potatoes

Vitamin B12: Animal foods are the only natural source of vitamin B12, shellfish, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, beef, liver, chicken, fish, eggs, rainbow trout, haddock

Turmeric: Add this anti-inflammatory and antioxidant spice to foods and recipes, and use red and yellow curries

DHEA: Boost DHEA levels with an anti-inflammatory diet, and consume healthy fats and protein sources

Tyrosine: Tyrosine is made in your body from another amino acid, phenylalanine, and it is found in chicken, turkey, fish, beef, lamb, pork, eggs, cheese, peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, avocados, and bananas

Avoid High Mercury Fish

High mercury fish: Swordfish, shark, king mackeral, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, ahi tuna, bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna

Low mercury fish: Anchovies, catfish, flounder, hake, haddock, herring, salmon (farmed may contain PCBs, not good either), mackeral, canned light tuna, trout, whitefish, pollock, sardines, butterfish

General Recommendations

Go organic when possible for fruits and vegetables.

Go organic, pastured, free range, grass fed, wild caught, etc. for animal products.

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. For little ones, drink one 8 oz glass per year of age, per day.