These wise, ancient idioms were my guiding principals for developing a thyroid diet when all else (i.e.: western medicine) failed to help my thyroid drama (first Graves’ and later Hashimoto’s Disease).
“Let food be your medicine.” and “All diseases start in the gut.”
After many years of trying different things, I’m finally putting the pieces together and calling it the Thyroid Diet Plan.
I wish there were two different words to say what I want to say: one for “diet” as in when you want to lose weight and another “diet” as in a nourishing food change that will bring healing and joy. Oh well… But you know when I say “diet” I mean a protocol, a way of being, a way of living and eating that will free you from some or all of the fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight yo-yo’s, food frustrations, and infertility that have plagued you for some time now. I want to share with you what I know about the best healing diet for thyroid issues.
There are some people who say that there is no scientific evidence linking food to thyroid problems or healing. We have a choice to make about how we want to view things and about what we want to believe. Choice is a powerful tool. Let us never forget that. Even if there is supposedly “no evidence” that food is linked to thyroid healing, you could say to yourself, “What if I try something new and different for 3 weeks and just see how I feel.” Because really, what have you got to lose? Especially if you have been sick for a long time… You might learn something new and have fun along the way! You have a choice. You can choose to start a thyroid diet plan and see what happens.
Before you read on, it’s key to know that 90% of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. (Most people do not realize this, as doctors often don’t take time to explain things.) Most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut or our intestine (Did you know that?!) a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
To explain the Thyroid Diet plan foods, let me talk about the 3 pillars of my approach. I developed the 3 pillars while asking myself these questions:
#1 What should I REMOVE from my current diet and lifestyle that is sabotaging my immune system and thyroid?
#2 What should I ADD to my life to boost my immune system, detox my body, and help my thyroid?
#3 How do I find a BALANCE in what I’m doing so that I don’t go crazy and, instead, really grow to like my “new life”?
Here are the 3 Pillars of the thyroid diet plan I have developed, to answer the 3 questions above:
Pillar 1: Remove What is Detrimental and Toxic to Your Thyroid
a. Sugar Fluctuations
The first essential step in a thyroid diet plan is to normalize sugar cravings, hypoglycemia and/or insulin resistance. Without fixing your sugar issues, your thyroid will never improve. This is because the pancreas is responsible for sugar metabolism and because, like the thyroid, the pancreas is part of the endocrine system. As you can imagine, these glands are all intricately interconnected. A few tips for you here on how to adjust your diet for thyroid health:
- Start reading product labels to see how much sugar is in your food; 4g = 1 teaspoon. For example, a Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks has 64g of sugar = 16 spoons of sugar. Activia’s yogurt proclaimed as a “healthy food” has 7 spoons of sugar. Try not to consume more than 5 spoons of sugar per day if you have a sugar problem. Learn more about reading product labels in my How to Food Shop Guide.
- Start the day with a high-protein, high-fat breakfast; this is a big secret in the weight-loss industry as well. It will help you stabilize your sugar levels for the day. You won’t crash at 11am and won’t crave sugar and snacks during the day. A good starting point is to try smoothies, you can get a few recipes here.
- Reduce carbs: we are a carbs-obsessed and carb-addicted nation with carbs constituting 50-60% of most people’s diets, much of which is coming from grains. Grains contain starch that feeds the pathogenic bacteria (read below about your digestive system) in your gut and worsen the problem.
- Reduce starch; again, this is sugar too, especially from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and processed food.
b. Food Intolerances
Do you see “gluten-free”, “dairy-free” etc. popping up at the health stores today? This is because many people get off the “big five” (gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and soy) and experience significant changes. To find the culprits, I always start off with an Elimination Diet and this produces clear, unbiased results. You can also get a food intolerance test (not allergy; it’s different) done but they are far from accurate. Gluten is an infamous food for contributing to thyroid conditions, and eliminating it is key. However, often times, you would need to cut out more than just gluten if you wish to shape your diet for thyroid fitness.
c. Fix Your Digestive Tract (Gut)
As mentioned above, most thyroid conditions are auto-immune diseases. There are tons of lymphocytes and other immune cells in the gut, which protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. This is why most people with thyroid conditions also experience frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A diet change will help your gut tremendously. “All disease begins in the gut“, said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. I’m not sure why this is not taught in schools today, but it’s an important part of the thyroid diet plan.
d. Reduce Toxicity
You need to reduce the toxins you ingest from additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, and trans-fats and try to eliminate toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is a HUGE problem in thyroid conditions. Most public water systems in the US have fluoride added, which is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the altered production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
You want to detox your liver and your gut, as this is where the T4 hormone (inactive hormone) gets converted to T3, the active hormone that actually powers us up. Most of our body cells need T3, not just T4. If you are taking Synthroid, you are taking a synthetic version of T4 that still needs to be converted to T3. If you have a sluggish liver and gut, you won’t convert properly. Look into doing a yearly or bi-yearly detox by fasting, juicing, etc. to give your body a break. We have designed a thyroid and hormone-supporting detox program which is available in a DIY version and Live (we typically run it two times per year).
f. Address Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
This is huge topic, especially with women. You won’t be able to fix your thyroid without fixing the adrenals. The adrenals are also part of the endocrine system and fire up when you are stressed out. I recommend looking up adrenal fatigue symptoms to see if you have them. De-stressing by working with a therapist or life coach, getting into meditation, breathing, or positive thinking – or whatever works for you – is key.
Stress can also be caused by chronic digestive issues. When the small or large intestine is in distress (ywhen you are always constipated, bloated, suffer from gas, pain, loose stool etc.), the body sees it as a state of stress. Cortisol is a potent hormone we won’t function without. However, when in excess, it can have a detrimental impact on the thyroid and the immune system (one of the functions of cortisol is to modulate the immune system).
g. Reduce Raw Goitrous Food (Crucifers) – But Don’t Cut Them Out
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you should not eat them raw. Goiter is a substance that inhibits iodine uptake to create the T4 hormone. The family of crucifers are: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, soy, soy milk, soy lecithin (often used as a filler in vegetarian food) and tofu. Cooking them reduces their goitrous properties, however, so they can still be an important part of a diet for thyroid health.
Like many progressive thyroid practitioners, such as Dr K and Dr Wentz, I believe there is no need to cut these wonderful vegetables 100% out of our diets. The reason is: all crucifers are high in DIM (di-indolyl-methane) which is a substance that supports the liver detoxification pathways. This detoxification process helps us eliminate metabolized (or “used up”) hormones like estrogen as well as thyroid hormones to make space for new ones.
Soy is the only exception – we should not consume it at all, unless it’s in the fermented form (like miso or tempeh) and then only in small amounts.
In summary, I do NOT believe that we need to cut these wonderful vegetables out. Just don’t juice them and don’t eat them excessively in a raw form. Their nutritional profile is so high that we are doing ourselves a dis-service by cutting them out, only to load up on supplements instead. Most people who suffer from hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease – you need to take care of your gastrointestinal health as your #1 priority, followed by stable sugar levels (see above) and lastly, by supporting your liver function (listen to our free Workshop Video #1 on thyroid and liver connection).
Pillar 2: Add What Your Thyroid Needs to Start Healing
a. Nutritionally-Dense Food, Macro- and Micro-Nutrients in Good Ratio
Some tips here:
- always organic, they are more nutrition-packed and free of hormones that are known to interrupting our endocrine system
- meat must be at least organic but pasture-raised is best. We want to eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones from our diet
- food that is FERMENTED the traditional way, so things like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir (dairy if you can tolerate or water kefir) are all rich in a wide spectrum of probiotics.
- introduce homemade bone broths from chicken and beef bones – they have an incredibly high nutritional profile – high in calcium, magnesium, phosphate, collagen and gelatin – the latter ones being instrumental in digestive lining recovery. You can check out my beef bone broth recipe here – it is styled on the “Nourishing Traditions” cookbook.
b. Proteins and Fats
They are the building blocks of your digestive tract and of our hormones. We are fat-phobic in America, and low-fat diets are one of the worst things we’ve ever invented. Europeans and Asians have fat-rich diets (traditionally) and enjoy much better health than we do. Good fat tips: avocados, walnuts, coconut oil, coconut butter. Animal fats are the best in restoring a troubled digestion; ghee (clarified butter), butter, chicken and beef fat are essential but need to be rendered and not in fried or processed form.
c. Probiotics – Essential for Restoring Your Digestive Tract
Everyone has bacteria in their digestive tract, or gut, that is essential to the function of the human body. A healthy adult has about 1.5 – 2 kg of bacteria in their gut, both good and bad. Normal levels of bacteria, or flora, in the gut protect against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites. When the good and bad bacteria in the gut get out of whack (i.e. more bad than good), a whole host of negative reactions can occur in the body. Undigested foods can leak through into the bloodstream causing food allergies and intolerances, vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed, leading to deficiency, and the bad bacteria can produce a whole host of toxins, leading the immune system to not function properly. An effective thyroid diet includes probiotics that you can get from fermented foods.
Here are examples of traditionally fermented food you could incorporate to your diet:
- Sauerkraut (pick properly fermented, not in vinegar)
- Kim chee (Korean fermented veggies)
- Yoghurt (this is my recipe to make your own yoghurt) – only if you can tolerate diary
- Kefir (has different bacteria than yoghurt, also super beneficial)
- Kombucha tea – although many people have a reaction to it, so apply your own “investigative” feel
- Vegetable medley (fermented)
- Coconut water kefir
It’s also good to supplement food with a food quality probiotic. My favorite brand is GutPro – it contains 8 strains, is free of all fillers, is free of l-acidophilus (which people with dairy sensitivities can react to) and it’s the only supplement I do sell on my website – you can get it here.
d. Herbs, Supplements, and Vitamins that Benefit the Thyroid
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
- most people are Vit D deficient, taking Vit D in 2,000 units is safe and good to do as Vit D is actually a hormone, connected to the thyroid. Always D3 and not D2.
- calcium is key but needs to be taken with magnesium and vitamin D for full absorption.
- for hypothyroidism: selenium, turmeric/curcumin, phytosterols and for GI support; probiotics and L-Glutamine are key.
- for hyperthyroidism: copper and magnesium are a common deficiency in people with hyper.
e. Simple Meditation, Breathing, and Visualization Techniques
A complete thyroid diet solution includes more than just food. I cannot emphasis how important these are for managing stress and emotions, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc. fires up the adrenals which release cortisol, and cortisol has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
f. Movement Plan
Whether it is sports, dancing, or yoga that gets you moving, it is important to engage in movement that does not drain your adrenals or your thyroid yet gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, be sure to be very gentle with your body and don’t do excessive cardio work-outs and switch to light weight lifting, yoga, pilates, gentle cycling, hiking, dancing, etc.
Pillar 3: Balance Based on Your Bio-Individuality
No one diet or plan works for everybody, including the thyroid diet that I’ve described here, as each person has a unique way of healing. There is a saying: “One person’s food is another’s poison.” It’s always worth remembering that just because one diet worked for one person it does not mean it will work for you too. One person could have healed their thyroid by just changing the water filters (by getting rid of fluoride) alone, while another needs to implement five major diet and lifestyle changes to start feeling just a little better. Let’s respect our differences.
Our body has an amazing ability to heal – just give it the right environment and tools and it will do all the work for you.
There Are a Few Things You Can Do to Help Yourself on the Thyroid Diet:
1. Find Out What Food Intolerances You Have
IgG testing and muscle testing are not accurate; therefore the most reliable way to find out what your body / digestive tract is struggling with is to do the Elimination Diet. I’ve created the Elimination Diet Guide which is only $17 and it contains all the information you need to get started. It also contains a thyroid-catered meal plan and recipes.
2. Address Your Toxic Load
As explained above, toxicity in thyroid conditions is very common and needs to be addressed for your thyroid and the immune system to function properly. We have developed a thyroid-specific detox program which you can get for $97 as a DIY program. It’s a 12-day guided, step-by-step and very safe program. We do not push supplements and shakes at you – the idea is for your body to do the job and for you to just assist it with real food and herbs.
3. Order Your Own Lab Work
You can order thyroid tests yourself. Most people do not know that. You can do so by going to Direct Labs or you can order the panels Direct Labs designed for us (it works out cheaper) – you can see the testing options here. They cover more than just TSH and T4 – you will get the full spectrum of results which you need to know to manage your thyroid and Hashimoto’s. Finding out this information about yourself will help you better understand how the thyroid diet can help you.
4. Get The Right Probiotics
Not all probiotics are made the same. Many have too few strains to make it worthwhile and use fillers that people with digestive sensitivities react to. As you may know by now, I am not a big proponent of putting people on supplements, as we over-rely on them in lieu of giving food and a clean diet a proper chance to heal us. Probiotics are one of the very few supplements I do recommend to take to speed up the healing process. My favorite brand is GutPro – it contains 8 strains, is free of all fillers, is free of l-acidophilus (which people with dairy sensitivities react to) and it’s the only supplement I do sell on my website – you can get it here.
5. Get Support
Often times you may find yourself totally alone in this journey, feeling as if nobody else around you has a thyroid condition and if they do, they are not willing to make the changes you want to make or have been making. Get support – it’s important to be surrounded with like-minded people when you are going through this journey. Join our Hormones Community Calls for targeted thyroid and hormone nutrition tips, interviews and open Q&A calls.
I would also like to invite you to our Facebook Hormones Balance to like us and get daily tips, interviews, recipe and nutrition nuggets.
I hope this article gain a holistic view on thyroid health and given you some ideas how to start your own thyroid diet plan protocol.