How to eat for your ideal thyroid health.
Hypothyroid or low thyroid function is a common ailment especially among women; we see it daily with our clients. Some people are even taking thyroid medication and have “normal” lab results but still experience symptoms. There are many nutrients needed for optimal thyroid health so a supporting diet and lifestyle can help greatly.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
- Brain fog
- Constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn
- Inability to balance weight
- Cold hands and feet
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
Your thyroid hormones assist many functions of your body including metabolism, digestion, mood, energy levels and even cellular repair. To understand how to use nutrition to balance your thyroid lets explain thyroid metabolism and the lab markers.
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) – is the communication between your brain and your thyroid gland. Your brain is constantly scanning your body to make sure you have enough thyroid hormone. If not, your brain sends a message to your thyroid gland via TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which says, “hey thyroid gland, make more hormones.” When TSH rises, your thyroid gland responds by making more thyroid hormones in the form of T4. The increase in T4 sends a message back to your brain saying, “yup, got the message, more hormones were made.” Next your brain lowers the TSH signal since the hormones were released. So, there is an inverse relationship between TSH and thyroid function: when TSH is high, thyroid hormones and function is low. Unfortunately, the thyroid gland does not always have the ability or ingredients to make T4, so TSH remains high. This is when you start feeling the symptoms of constipation, weight gain, dry skin, fatigue, depression, and cold hands and feet.
T4 (thyroxine) – is made by your thyroid gland from the amino acid tyrosine (which you get from eating protein) and the mineral iodine. T4 is inactive, it must be converted into T3 to do all the important thyroid work.
T3 (triiodothyronine) – the active form of thyroid hormone. T3 goes into your cells and creates the thyroid actions of metabolism for weight balance, energy and mood, body temperature control, movement of the digestive system, hair growth and more. T3 is also made from tyrosine and iodine. Also important are the nutrients that help T4 convert into T3 especially selenium and zinc. Plus, digestion and stress play a role in conversion, more on that below.
Take a second look at your lab results. The reference ranges that denote “normal” are not necessarily where everyone feels their best. I find that clients feel their best when TSH is between 0.5-2.0; Free T4 is between 1.1-1.5; and Free T3 is between 3-4. It is also important to test for antibodies, TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibodies) and TG (thyroglobulin antibodies), to see if your immune system is mounting an attack against your thyroid, which is very common.
Nutrients for a Hypothyroidism Diet
- Selenium – helps T4 convert into T3; is an antioxidant; and can lower thyroid antibodies.
- Foods: Brazil nuts, halibut, sardines, beef, turkey, and chicken.
- Zinc – helps T4 convert into T3; helps heal skin and tissues including the gut lining.
- Foods: shellfish, scallops, shrimp, oysters, cremini mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, liver, and beef/bison.
- Amino acids, including tyrosine, are building blocks for the thyroid hormones.
- Foods: fish, eggs, poultry, beef/ bison, legumes, and nuts.
- Tip: if you are experiencing gas, especially if odorous, you may not be digesting your protein. Digestive bitters, betaine HCl or digestive enzymes can help.
- Iodine – building block for thyroid hormones and important for breast health. Iodine may be contraindicated for Hashimoto’s but I’ve also seen it really help balance thyroid function even in those with Hashimoto’s. Check with your health care practitioner to see if its right for you. Tip: measure your iodine levels with a urine test; ask your doctor.
- Foods: Celtic sea salt, sea vegetables such as nori, kelp, arame, dulse, hijiki; choose dried seaweed “snacks”, seaweed salads, and kelp sprinkles from Sea Seasonings, Braggs, and Maine Coast brands.
- Iron – is needed for hair growth. If you are experiencing hair loss have your iron and ferritin (the storage form of iron) tested. Only take a supplement if your levels are low but eating iron-rich foods can safely boost your levels and keep them optimal.
- Foods: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beets, spinach and apricots.
- Anti-inflammatory foods – your thyroid is sensitive to inflammation so an anti-inflammatory diet abundant in fresh vegetables and fruit and healthy fats while limiting all processed, artificial ingredients is ideal.
T4 to T3 Conversion is Crucial
Since T3 is the active thyroid hormone, its conversion from T4 is important to feel your best. As mentioned above, the necessary nutrients for conversion are zinc and selenium. Since the conversion takes place in the gut and liver any digestive issues can impede your thyroid function and liver detox may be helpful. Stress is a big inhibitor of T4 to T3 conversion. The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha helps balance the stress response and improves conversion. Mindfulness activities like meditation can greatly reduce cortisol and improve many health aspects including thyroid health.
Thyroid is linked to many frustrating symptoms. Fortunately, there are many accessible diet and lifestyle supports to help you balance your thyroid.
Recipes for Thyroid Nutrients
(adapted from Izabella Wentz, ThyroidPharmacist.com)
- 1 cup mixed baby greens (avoid raw kale since it’s a goitrogen and can be detrimental to thyroid health)
- 2 large carrots
- 1 ripe avocado
- ¼ cup blueberries
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 cucumber
- 1 bunch of basil leaves (optional)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ tsp turmeric (optional)
- 1 TBSP pumpkin seeds, ground flax seeds or chia seeds
- 1 TBSP coconut oil or Bulletproof MCT oil (this provides an energy boost)
- 1 scoop protein powder: we recommend a hemp protein from Nutiva, bone broth protein from Ancient Nutrition, or collagen powder.
Blend until smooth.
Nori Seaweed wraps
2 wraps with a side salad makes a good lunch
- Use one sheet of nori (find in Asian aisle of grocery store, sold in flat sheets)
- Add quinoa, chicken/ turkey, beans, diced veggies (fill with anything!)
How to prepare:
- With your finger and water moisten a strip 1 inch wide across the entire length-wise end of the sheet
- Roll entire sheet up around the fillings gently and “stick” closed with the moistened side
- Cut into bite sized pieces or eat like a burrito
Essential Sea Vegetable Salad
(from the The Whole Foods Market Cookbook)
Makes 8 servings
- 1 ounce arame
- 1 ounce hijiki
- 1 ounce dulse, cut into strips
- 1 cup grated carrots
- ¼ pound baby spinach leaves, washed and stemmed
- 1/8 cup coconut aminos
- 1 TBSP minced fresh ginger
- ½ cup sunflower seeds, toasted
- 3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/8 cup brown rice vinegar
How to prepare:
- Place arame and hijiki in a large bowl.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and pour over the arame and hijiki.
- Allow the sea vegetables to soak for 30 minutes. Drain into colander and rinse with cold water.
- Place the plumped up sea vegetables into a mixing bowl; add dulse, carrots, spinach, coconut aminos, ginger, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and rice vinegar, and mix well.