Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid or low thyroid, refers to a condition in which the thyroid gland is not able to make enough hormones to keep the body running normally.
The activity of the small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck affects a variety of systems in the body. The hormones produced by this gland (TSH, T3 and T4) regulate mood, metabolism, energy levels, body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
Some symptoms of an underactive thyroid include constant fatigue, sudden weight gain and inability to lose weight, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, extremely dry skin, puffy face, hoarseness, high blood cholesterol levels, muscle aches, joint pain, thinning hair and impaired memory.
The symptoms may be mild in the beginning, but as your metabolism continues to slow, they become more noticeable.
To treat your underactive thyroid, medications are needed. Treatment of hypothyroidism with synthetic thyroid hormones is a simple, safe and effective option. However, certain foods can also help improve thyroid health and boost the effectiveness of your metabolism.
Here are the top 10 foods to eat to improve an underactive thyroid.
1. Brazil Nuts
Selenium is an important mineral for proper thyroid functioning. It protects the thyroid from inflammatory by products of hormone production.
A 2015 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism notes that low selenium is associated with increased risk of thyroid disease. Moreover, increased selenium intake may reduce this risk.
The best source of selenium is Brazil nuts. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that eating two Brazil nuts on a daily basis is effective for increasing selenium status.
In fact, including this high-selenium food in your diet could prevent the need for fortification or supplements to improve the selenium status.
Furthermore, because Brazil nuts are rich in the amino acid L-arginine, they even help reduce weight.
You can eat 2 or 3 Brazil nuts as a healthy snack, or include a few in salads or stir-fries.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains healthy medium-chain fatty acids that help people suffering from hypothyroidism. These fatty acids stimulate thyroid hormone production as well as keep the gland functioning normally.
Furthermore, coconut oil promotes weight loss and reduces cholesterol levels, two common issues related to underactive thyroid.
Replace your regular cooking oil with extra-virgin coconut oil. In baking, you can use coconut oil in place of butter. You can also eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin coconut oil daily by adding it to your milk, tea, hot chocolate or smoothie.
Note: Do not consume more than 3 tablespoons of coconut oil a day.
Yogurt is also good for your thyroid health, due to its high vitamin D content. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is linked to Hashimoto’s disease, one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism.
A 2013 study published in Endocrine Practice reports that vitamin D has a potential role in development of Hashimoto’s disease and/or its progression to hypothyroidism.
Moreover, probiotic yogurt helps maintain the balance of “good bacteria” in the gut. Yogurt also contains significant amounts of calcium, protein and iodine that are important for thyroid as well as overall health.
Aim to eat at least 1 cup of yogurt daily, either plain topped with fresh fruits or as an ingredient in a smoothie.
Salmon is one of the best fish that you can eat for your thyroid health and metabolism. It also boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties, due to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content. Numerous studies document the health benefits of salmon.
A 2010 study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggests that fatty acids signal thyroid cells in the liver to burn more fat.
A 2014 study published in Acta Physiologica Hungarica reports that omega-3 fatty acids could be useful as a neuro-protective agent against cognitive impairment due to hypothyroidism.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of heart disease, another side effect of unmanaged hypothyroidism.
As most salmon sold in the United States is farm raised, which are contaminated with PCBS (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury, it is recommended to opt for wild salmon. When buying salmon, make sure it is labeled as wild. Eat it at least twice a week.
To help your thyroid gland function properly, iodine is necessary. Iodine attaches to the amino acid tyrosine to form thyroxin, which is essential for your thyroid to function properly.
An inadequate level of iodine in the body inhibits the production of metabolism-regulating thyroid hormones.
To get your daily dose of iodine without increasing your salt intake, seaweed is one of the best options. This sea vegetable is also packed with other nutrients, including calcium, fiber, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, manganese, iron and vitamins A, B, C, E and K.
You can use seaweed in sushi, soups and salads. Seaweed snacks are also available in the market, which are great as a healthy low-fat alternative to chips.
Note: If you have autoimmune thyroid problems, avoid seaweed and other sea vegetables in excess amounts, which may worsen your condition.
6. Brown Rice
People who have hypothyroidism often crave carbohydrates more than other types of food. This happens due to a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Carbohydrates tend to raise serotonin levels.
In addition, carbohydrates have a direct effect on thyroid function as insulin is needed for the conversion of the inactive T4 hormone into the active T3 hormone. Insulin is found to be quite low among people following a very low-carbohydrate diet.
It’s important to eat healthy carbohydrates, such as brown rice. Being rich in complex carbohydrates, brown rice helps ease digestion and promote bowel movements, alleviating common digestive problems faced by people who have hypothyroidism.
It also helps increase energy levels, while reducing and balancing blood sugar.
Note: Brown rice is rich in fiber, which can interfere with synthetic thyroid hormones. It is recommended to take your thyroid medication a couple of hours before or after eating foods rich in dietary fiber.
7. Kidney Beans
Eating beans, especially kidney beans, may help boost your thyroid function. Kidney beans contain a good amount of the mineral iodine along with other essential nutrients, such as protein, copper, potassium, calcium and folate that help maintain thyroid health and promote hormone production.
Beans are even a great food source for sustained energy.
Being rich in fiber, beans are helpful for people who suffer from constipation, which is common among people who have hypothyroidism.
Enjoy ½ cup of kidney beans, 3 or 4 times a week, by adding them to soups, salads or stews. Always soak kidney beans in water overnight and toss the water before cooking.
Eggs are a good source of three of the most important nutrients that the thyroid gland needs to function properly – tyrosine, iodine and selenium. A deficiency of any of these nutrients can cause thyroid problems.
Eggs are also a good source of protein. Without adequate protein, the thyroid cannot function properly, even if you are taking thyroid medication.
This versatile, healthy food also supplies the body with vitamins A and D, zinc, calcium, antioxidants and more.
Eat 1 to 2 eggs daily. You can enjoy them as omelet, boiled or scrambled eggs.
Oysters are one of the best dietary sources of zinc, a mineral needed for a healthy thyroid function. Zinc aids the conversion of T4 to T3 in people with low T3 levels and leads to normalization of TSH levels.
A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Trichology notes that zinc deficiency may contribute significantly to the development of hypothyroidism.
Symptoms like depression, taste acuity, loss of appetite, skin lesions and hair loss can improve with zinc supplementation.
Oysters are also rich in vitamin D. People with hypothyroidism have been found to have low vitamin D levels.
Oysters can be eaten raw, smoked, boiled, roasted, canned, steamed or broiled. Care should be taken when consuming raw oysters, as they may contain bacteria.
Chicken is good for people suffering from hypothyroidism. This animal protein source contains a good amount of amino acids, especially tyrosine. This particular amino acid is the building block of thyroid hormones.
In addition, the vitamin A in chicken liver plays a key role in nursing a sluggish thyroid back into health.
Opt for organic chicken breasts to ensure a high-quality source of protein. Chicken soup or grilled chicken makes a healthy dinner or lunch. Even sautéed chicken liver, 2 or 3 times a week, is a good option.