Certain foods can help support your thyroid, and there are certain foods you should avoid. Here, we dig into foods that are good for hypothyroidism, plus foods to limit.
Pictured Recipe: Seared Tuna Tataki Quinoa Bowl
About 5 percent of Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid—a butterfly-shaped gland in the base of the neck—doesn't make enough thyroid hormone. If you're one of those unlucky souls, you probably know the symptoms all too well: Fatigue. Forgetfulness. Dry skin and hair. Muscle aches. Weight gain. Depression. And—as if all that's not enough—a weird sensitivity to cold. Because the thyroid regulates your metabolism, heartbeat, temperature and other crucial functions, you may feel like your whole body is slowly ... grinding ... to ... a ... halt.
Luckily, hypothyroidism is fairly simple to treat. A simple blood test, and your doctor can prescribe the exact amount of replacement thyroid hormone you need. After that, treatment is often as easy as downing a daily pill.
Just because your thyroid is out of whack doesn't mean you can't enjoy plenty of good food. Below are some smart choices that support thyroid health. Most of them will fill you up for not a lot of calories—a plus if you're trying to lose weight.
Pictured recipe: One-Pot Garlicky Shrimp & Spinach
Think of seafood as your thyroid's BFF. Many kinds of fish are rich in iodine and other nutrients your body needs to make and use thyroid hormone efficiently. Best bets:
•Cod, tuna, seaweed, shrimp and other shellfish are excellent sources of iodine, essential for the production of thyroid hormone. Most Americans get enough iodine in iodized table salt, but people with low thyroid function may need more.
• Tuna and sardines are rich in selenium, a mineral that helps activate thyroid hormone.
• Oysters, Alaskan king crab and lobster are high in zinc, a mineral that helps regulate the release of thyroid hormone and helps the body absorb it.
Caution: Talk with your doctor if you have Hashimoto's disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Getting too much iodine may cause side effects for you. For most adults, the recommended daily allowance for iodine is 150 mcg. The American Thyroid Association warns against taking daily supplements with more than 500 mcg of iodine.
Pictured recipe: Grilled Chicken Taco Salads
Beef and chicken are excellent sources of zinc, a nutrient our bodies need for proper thyroid function. Not a meat eater? Beans (think kidney beans, baked beans and chickpeas) and fortified breakfast cereals are good choices too.
If you want to show your thyroid some love, try eating a few Brazil nuts every day. Just 1 ounce (about 6 to 8 nuts) provides a whopping 544 micrograms of selenium, making it one of the richest sources around. Other thyroid-friendly choices: cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
Snack on a handful of nuts, swirl sunflower-seed butter on top of oatmeal or add cashews to your salad.
Pictured recipe: Air-Fryer Kale Chips
Dark, leafy green veggies like spinach, collard greens and kale score big in three ways: They're high in iron, magnesium and vitamin A—all nutrients your thyroid needs to thrive. Vitamin A helps your thyroid produce thyroid hormone, while both iron and magnesium help the body absorb it. One small study of healthy women ages 17 to 50 found that getting enough vitamin A may help lower the risk of mild hypothyroidism in premenopausal women.
Another plus: Leafy greens are loaded with fiber, which improves digestion. If hypothyroidism gives you problems with constipation, a fresh salad or a serving of greens can get things moving again.
Pictured recipe: Avocado Egg-in-a-Hole Toasts
Egg whites are packed with protein, which can help boost a slow metabolism. Don't skip the yolks, though—they're high in both iodine and selenium and deliver a fair amount of protein too. One whole egg has 6 grams of protein and about half of that protein is in the yolk.
Read more: Can Eating Protein Help Me Lose Weight?
Pictured recipe: Tahini-Yogurt Dip
Yogurt, milk, cheese and other dairy foods are all good sources of iodine—1 cup of low-fat yogurt provides half of your daily iodine needs. Dairy foods also deliver vitamin D, a nutrient many people with hypothyroidism need more of.
Some otherwise-nutritious foods contain goitrogens, compounds that can keep your thyroid from working like it should. Cooking seems to reduce the effect, and many foods with goitrogens can and should be part of a healthy diet. Still, some research suggests that eating these foods in large amounts may cause thyroid problems, especially if you don't get enough iodine:
• Cabbage, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables
• Coffee, green tea and alcohol
If you have celiac disease, you may have a higher risk of other autoimmune diseases, including thyroid problems. Some studies show that switching to a gluten-free diet may prevent hypothyroidism in people with celiac disease. Learn more about starting a gluten-free diet.
Most weight gain due to a low-functioning thyroid comes from excess salt and water. Once you've started treatment, you can expect to lose a little—usually around 10 percent or less of your total body weight, according to the American Thyroid Association. Cutting back on processed, high-calorie foods (like, say, almost everything in the snack aisle) will help you get your weight back on track. Get 10 science-backed weight loss tips here.
There is no magical diet to eat when you have hypothyroidism, but some foods can help. Your thyroid condition and your health are individual, so be sure to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find an eating plan that works for you.