I hear often how people struggle with their weight and can’t seem to lose it no matter what. There may be an underlying issue going on with their thyroid. If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid issue, here are some tips for you. But first, a little bit about the thyroid and what foods to choose to help with your thyroid health.
Thyroid issues can cause several seemingly unrelated issues throughout the body. These include changes to your weight, energy, digestion, and mood. These are all linked to the thyroid because it aids in important processes that happen throughout the body.
Thyroid hormones help control your metabolism. When the levels are too low, metabolism slows down. This is called hypothyroidism. Symptoms can include feeling chilly, fatigued, getting constipated, feeling down, and gaining weight.
Want some good news? There are some important foods and nutrients that can help you feel better. By providing your body with proper nutrition—along with prescribed medications—you can help reduce your symptoms.
Before we dive into my nutrition tips for you, let’s start by understanding the thyroid and why it’s so vital for your body and mind.
First, what does your thyroid do?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck that secretes thyroid hormones. These hormones control your metabolism, which is the way your body uses energy. These hormones affect several processes throughout the body, including your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and brain. When thyroid hormones are high, many systems speed up. When hormone levels are low, they slow down.
Thyroid hormones are extremely essential during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Not only for the health of the mother but also for the developing baby. Thyroid hormones help with the proper development of babies’ bones, brains, and nervous systems. So as you can see, the thyroid has a very important role in the body.
Low thyroid – Hypothyroidism
Low levels of thyroid hormone, which is called hypothyroidism are quite common. Nearly 1 in 20 Americans aged 12 or older experience underactive thyroid. Overactive thyroids, or hyperthyroidism, is much less common—affecting just 1 in 100 Americans. Thyroid problems occur most often in women, people over 60 years old, and those with a family history of thyroid issues.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. This is an autoimmune condition that happens when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body’s own cells. The immune system is designed to fight off germs and infections, not attack the body’s own cells. People with other autoimmune disorders like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, or lupus are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease than those who do not have an autoimmune disease.
Other less common causes of hypothyroidism are inflammation, iodine deficiency, other diseases, medications, or it can be present at birth.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
There are many symptoms of hypothyroidism. Some common ones include:
- Fatigue and weakness (feeling unusually tired, having less energy)
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold (you feel chilly when others around you feel fine)
- Depression, difficulty concentrating, memory problems
- Joint and muscle pain
- Puffy face
- Dry or thinning skin, hair, and nails
- Heavy or irregular menstrual problems or fertility problems
- Slow heart rate
These symptoms can vary from person to person and may have causes other than low thyroid. Hypothyroidism develops gradually over time, so it’s possible not to notice symptoms for months or even years.
Testing and treatment of hypothyroidism
Some symptoms of hypothyroidism like weight change or fatigue can be subtle. Blood tests can confirm whether thyroid hormone levels are too low. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider to see if you should be tested. Left untreated, hypothyroidism increases the risks of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The standard treatment for an underactive thyroid is a medication that replaces the hormones your thyroid can no longer make. Once you and your doctor find the right dose, many symptoms may improve dramatically.
Some autoimmune diseases can exist for years without any obvious symptoms. Then, once the body becomes over-stressed, e.g., after a pregnancy or an illness, the symptoms may appear. These can include Hashimoto’s and celiac disease.
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, be sure to stick to your gluten-free diet. If you need some guidance with a gluten-free diet, check out my meal plan that is made specifically for a gluten-free lifestyle. Some people have reported needing lower amounts of thyroid hormone medications after a period of time on a gluten-free diet. One reason is that with the gluten-free diet the intestines are healing and they may be better able to absorb the medication. Another reason may be that the gluten-free diet reduces the levels of inflammation in the body, including inflammation of the thyroid gland, so they need less medication.
Thyroid and weight
The thyroid helps to regulate metabolism, so it can directly impact your weight. With hypothyroidism, the body isn’t metabolizing or using energy as well as it could be. This means that more of the foods and drinks we consume aren’t being used. This can lead to some weight gain.
Weight gain is just one of many symptoms of hypothyroidism. Many things can cause weight gain, and therefore, it may not be a result of hypothyroidism. In fact, if weight gain is the only symptom you are experiencing, it’s less likely to be from hypothyroidism. Other factors that can affect your weight are other hormones, food intake, and your own body weight.
In general, weight gain associated with hypothyroidism is about 5-10 pounds. This means that when hypothyroidism is diagnosed and treated, weight loss is fairly small. Typically, successful treatment of hypothyroidism results in a return to the bodyweight before hypothyroidism developed.
The essential mineral for thyroid hormones
Thyroid hormones contain the mineral iodine. This means that the thyroid needs iodine to make its hormones. Iodine deficiency is uncommon in the United States but occurs in other areas of the world.
It is recommended that adults consume 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 220 – 290 mcg per day. The American Thyroid Association recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy, pregnant, or breastfeeding take a multivitamin containing 150 mcg iodine per day and get the rest of the daily iodine from food and drinks throughout the day.
Iodine is found in seawater and some soils. Food sources of iodine are iodized salt, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs, and soy products. Seaweed may also have high amounts of iodine.
A word of caution. It’s possible—especially with autoimmune thyroid disorders—to be sensitive to side effects from too much iodine. Some supplements and medications, like some cough syrups, contain high levels of iodine. Too much iodine may worsen hypothyroid symptoms and can increase the risk of developing an overactive thyroid. Be sure to check your product labels or ask your healthcare provider.
Soy and cruciferous vegetables which include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower contain compounds known as “goitrogens.” These can interfere with the thyroid’s ability to take in dietary iodine. Consuming large amounts of these is not a concern for people who have sufficient levels of iodine.
Nutrition tips for taking thyroid medications
There are special dietary considerations if you’re taking thyroid medications.
Be sure to follow the instructions for taking your meds. This may mean taking it with water on an empty stomach to avoid potential interactions. After you take it, you might need to wait several hours before taking any supplements or other medications that contain iron, calcium, or magnesium. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of high-fiber foods, soy, and walnuts for those few hours, as they may reduce how much your body absorbs.
If you take thyroid medication, avoid consuming grapefruit or its juice, as these may interact. This effect may last more than several hours, so if you love grapefruit, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if your medication needs to be adjusted.
Eating a healthy diet for your thyroid can help you feel better. The following foods and nutrients do this by supporting your metabolism, digestive system, heart, and brain.
A thyroid-healthy diet includes:
- Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (these contain essential vitamins and minerals and are also sources of dietary fiber for digestive health)
- Lean protein such as eggs, poultry, lean meats, legumes (with their fiber), and fish and shellfish (with their omega-3s for heart and brain health)
- Whole grains (avoid gluten-containing grains if you have celiac disease)
- Heart-healthy oils like olive oil (with its unsaturated fats)
Cut down on processed foods—especially those that contain hydrogenated oils and excess sodium and sugar. Minimize soft drinks, potato chips, candy, etc. that are high in calories and low in nutrients.
For thyroid health, nutrition is extremely important. Knowing what to eat when your metabolism is slow can help you feel better and decrease your symptoms. It’s also important to know what foods and drinks to avoid in the few hours before and after taking your medications.
If you feel that you have symptoms that may be related to thyroid issues, speak with a healthcare provider. They will review your history, symptoms, and help you decide if you need testing or treatment. Never stop taking your medications without speaking with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Need nutrition support for your thyroid? Book an appointment with me to see if my program can help you.
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