Learn which foods can help fight hypothyroidism

October 9, 2015

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn't manufacture or release enough hormone, leading to a slowdown of metabolic processes. We'll teach you more about this condition and how certain foods can help.

Learn which foods can help fight hypothyroidism

Understand the condition

  • A drop in thyroid hormone depresses energy levels, compromises nutrient absorption, and promotes weight gain.
  • Symptoms that can accompany an inactive thyroid include constipation, depression, goiter (enlargement of the thyroid), dry skin, fatigue, and sensitivity to cold.
  • Research indicates that people who suffer from the disorder have an elevated risk for heart disease because they can develop high levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.
  • Experts estimate that between 10 and 25 percent of the North American adult population may be afflicted with some form of hypothyroidism. The condition is most prevalent among the elderly, and women are up to 10 times more likely than men to have an underactive thyroid.

Learn the causes

  • The most common cause of hypothyroidism in Canada is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, in which immune cells accumulate in ­thyroid tissue and impede the production of thyroid hormone.
  • An inactive thyroid can also be caused by treatment for hyper­thyroidism such as surgery on the thyroid gland, radiation, a hormonal imbalance elsewhere in the body, or medications. Genetic factors also play a part.
  • In some instances, insufficient amounts of the mineral iodine (which is a major constituent of thyroid hormone) can cause hypothyroidism. However, iodine is abundant in the food supply and in iodized salt, so iodine deficiency is rare in developed countries.
  • Iodine is needed to create thyroid hormone, which in turn regulates energy production. When iodine is lacking, the thyroid gland swells to better capture iodine. This is known as goiter.

Find out how food can help

  • Because of their sluggish metabolism, people with hypothyroidism may require only half the calories of a healthy adult, at least until their medication succeeds in normalizing their metabolic rate.
  • Opting for fibre-rich, nutrient-dense foods cuts calories and satisfies the appetite, helping to stave off the weight gain frequently associated with hypothyroidism.
  • A plant-based diet high in complex carbohydrates may ease the depression symptoms linked with hypo­thyroidism, and complex carbs support weight loss when eaten in moderation.
  • Several vitamins and minerals are essential for normal thyroid function, including zinc and vitamin E, which work together to assist in the synthesis of thyroid hormone. Dietary sources of zinc include poultry and shellfish, and vitamin E is found in sunflower seeds and wheat germ.
  • Vitamin B6, plentiful in bananas and salmon, is also required for thyroid hormone synthesis and proper iodine absorption.
  • The mineral selenium, present in nuts and whole grains, is thought to activate thyroid hormone.
  • Cholesterol levels are often elevated among people with hypothyroidism. Substituting healthy fats for harmful fats is a key to managing cholesterol.
  • To combat constipation, drink plenty of water and eat a diet plentiful in both insoluble and soluble fibre. Fibre may also protect against high cholesterol and weight gain.

Avoid these foods

  • Because raw goitrogens may interfere with the body's absorption of iodine and the synthesis of thyroid hormone, it may be advisable for people with hypothyroidism to avoid foods containing goitrogens.
  • These foods include raw cruciferous vegetables, peanuts, pine nuts, and soybeans.
  • Remember that heat inactivates goitrogens, so you can still enjoy these foods provided that you cook them well.

Load up on these foods

Beans, beets, lentils, pomegranates, iodized salt (in moderation), saltwater fish, and seaweed are all foods that are high in the nutrients that can help fight hypothyroidism. 

Hypothyroidism is a serious condition, but it can be managed with medication and proper diet. Use this guide to better inform your food decisions, and speak with your doctor to ensure that you're receiving all of the necessary treatment for a healthy thyroid.

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