Let’s begin with the functions of the thyroid. This tiny butterfly-shaped organ impacts almost every organ system in the body. The thyroid is responsible for hormone secretion into our bloodstream and plays a crucial role in metabolism (1).
This powerhouse organ helps control heartbeat, metabolism, digestion, temperature and how our bodies utilize energy. When the thyroid is not properly functioning, unexplained weight gain or loss, fatigue, anxiousness, and many more symptoms can occur.
Two different disorders can occur if the rate of hormone secretion is altered. Hypothyroidism is a condition where your thyroid does not produce hormones efficiently. Some symptoms include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Body aches and pains
- Dry skin and nails
- Weight gain
This is common in women but can often go untreated because symptoms are similar to aging. Letting hypothyroidism go untreated can lead to further complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, infertility, obesity and heart disease (2).
Another condition that can occur is hyperthyroidism. Opposite of hypothyroidism, this condition is when the thyroid produces an abundance of hormones. It can also be called overactive thyroid (3). Since thyroid hormones regulate many systems within the body, if the thyroid is overactive, the body could experience increased functioning of systems. Related symptoms could include:
- Increased heart rate
- Frequent bowel movements
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased appetite
Both conditions, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, may require medication so I recommend speaking with your physician. However, let’s dive into what we can work on nutritionally to help both conditions.
Aspects Affecting Thyroid Health
Your thyroid function can be affected by genetics, lifestyle, stress, nutrition habits and overall diet. Poor gut health can play a vital role in causing imbalances as well. Implementing an overall healthy diet and lifestyle can greatly impact your thyroid health and regulation. Every individual is unique and may respond differently to certain diets. Still, research shows that incorporating these foods into your diet can positively impact your thyroid health.
Increase Micronutrient Dense Foods
Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains will incorporate many unique and diverse micronutrients to your diet (4). Try to avoid fatty, processed meats and choose lean meats and protein sources. In addition, cut back on simple carbohydrates (processed), and increase heart-healthy fats. By incorporating these types of foods, your fiber intake will also increase which is important to improve and support digestion.
Iodine is naturally found in an abundance in seaweed. Iodine and selenium are two micronutrients that are required for thyroid hormone synthesis and function (5).
This lean source of protein food also contains heart healthy fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Many of the micronutrients, including iodine and selenium, are found in the yolk.
Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in antioxidant balance within the body. If thyroid hormones are imbalanced, inflammation and oxidative stress could occur (6). Eating a variety of berries with high antioxidant properties could potentially benefit thyroid hormone imbalance.
Healthy fats such as olive oil can help maintain a healthy weight and also support metabolism. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and contains many antioxidant nutrients including oleuropein and polyphenols (7) (8).
Iodine sources can vary in dairy products due to the uncertainty of iodine intake in dairy cows’ diet. However, many dairy sources can be a major source of iodine (9). Milk and dairy products can contribute to around 13-64% of the recommended daily iodine intake. It is also important to watch fat intake from dairy products. Choose low-fat sources for overall health especially heart health.
The lentil family includes a wide variety of colors, polyphenols, and nutrients that support thyroid function. The consumption of lentils can be linked to a decrease in thyroid diseases in addition to diabetes, obesity and cancers (10). Lentils are also a great source of plant-based protein that delivers iron in our diet. Iron deficiency is linked to poor thyroid function (11).
Selenium is a key factor in supporting the immune system. This trace element is also known for its antioxidant properties and catalyst for the production of active thyroid hormone (12). Only about 6-8 nuts can provide more than enough of the daily recommended selenium intake (13).
Thyroid Nutrition Bottom Line
To support a healthy thyroid and the vast functions that thyroid hormones help regulate, it is important to have a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains. As everything with nutrition, every individual and their metabolism is unique and may require different nutrition recommendations. Speak with your physician to determine if you are experiencing a thyroid disorder.
Once diagnosed, please speak to a registered dietitian. Diet recommendations may differ between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism diagnosis. Depending on thyroid hormone production, a diet high in iodine and selenium or a diet low in iodine and selenium may be recommended. Whether you believe your thyroid is not functioning properly or not, these diet recommendations can be useful and are recommended for an overall healthy living.
I hope you found this article beneficial and can use this information to implement a healthy diet into your life!
Master of Science in May 2020