Hypothyroidism Diet: Foods to Eat—and Some to Avoid
Pictured recipe: One-Pot Garlicky Shrimp & Spinach
Despite the online buzz, there's really no such thing as a hypothyroid diet. No food can cure a sluggish thyroid. But combining a healthy, balanced eating plan with the right medical treatment can help ease your symptoms and help you feel like your old self again. Certain foods can help support your thyroid, and there are certain foods you should avoid or limit to support thyroid help. Here, we dig into foods that are good for hypothyroidism, plus foods to limit.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
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've been diagnosed, you probably know the symptoms of hypothyroidism all too well: fatigue, forgetfulness, dry skin and hair, muscle aches, weight gain, depression and 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 diagnose and 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.
The Best Foods to Eat for Thyroid Health
Just because your thyroid is not functioning properly doesn't mean you can't enjoy plenty of good food. Below are some smart choices that can help support thyroid health. Most of them will fill you up for not a lot of calories, which can be a plus if you're trying to lose weight.
Seafood & Seaweed
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.
Nuts & Seeds
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, chard, 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. Research has found that getting enough vitamin A may help lower the risk of hypothyroidism, especially for those who are obese or recently underwent a gastrectomy.
Another plus: leafy greens are loaded with fiber, which can help improve digestion. If hypothyroidism gives you problems with constipation, a fresh salad or a serving of greens can get things moving again.
Egg whites are packed with protein, which can help boost a slow metabolism. Don't skip the yolks, either—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?
Yogurt & Other Dairy
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.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
Foods with Goitrogens
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.
Highly Processed, High-Calorie Foods
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 may also help with weight loss if that is your goal. 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.