Fiber: The Role in Weight Loss for Thyroid Patients

high-fiber, vegetables, fiber, glycemic index, weight loss, thyroid
A high-fiber diet for thyroid patients should emphasis high-fiber vegetables, versus grains and fruits. freedigitalphotos.net

Getting enough fiber in your diet is one of the essential tactics that most thyroid patients need to follow as part of a successful weight loss program.

Benefits of Fiber for Thyroid Patients

Fiber has so many benefits for everyone, but especially for people with an underactive thyroid -- hypothyroidism -- who are trying to lose weight.

  • Fiber helps with constipation. People with hypothyroidism often have slowed digestion, and chronic constipation is a common complaint, even when an underactive thyroid is being treated. Getting sufficient levels of fiber can help promote regularity in bowel movements, and relieve chronic constipation.
  • Fiber can minimize blood sugar swings. Higher-fiber foods are digested more slowly, and their sugars are also released more slowly. This means that these foods have a lower "glycemic index." Choosing higher-fiber foods can, then, help blunt more dramatic swings in blood sugar, and the resulting decrease in normal insulin response (insulin resistance) that can develop. Difficulty properly metabolizing carbohydrates and handling glucose appear to be more common in thyroid patients, who also face a higher risk of insulin resistance.
  • Fiber can help lower the glycemic load of foods. Apart from choosing high-fiber foods, you can also take fiber supplements along with higher-glycemic foods, and in a sense, "transform" a high-glycemic food into a lower-glycemic food. For example, if you HAVE to have that sugary dessert, or bowl of pasta -- both high in sugar and high on the glycemic index -- some experts recommend taking several tasteless capsules of psillium with your food. Psillium is an excellent source of fiber, and when taken along with high-glycemic foods, it can help slow the digestion and minimize the glucose spikes that are typical after a high-carbohydrate treat or meal.

    As I wrote in my book, The Thyroid Diet Revolution:

    One study found that adding 14 grams per day of fiber was associated with a 10% decrease in energy intake and body, and weight loss of 5 pounds over 4 months.
    In another study, among a group of 53 women who were moderately overweight, following a 1200 calorie a day diet, over 24 weeks, half were given a fiber supplement, half received placebo. They were given 6 grams of fiber a day to start, down to 4 grams. After treatment, the fiber group lost a mean amount of 17.6 pounds versus 12.76 pounds in the placebo group.

    How Much Fiber Do You Need?

    Men up to 50 typically require 30 to 40 grams of fiber a day, and women need around 25 to 30 grams. The typical American diet, however, includes around 10 grams a day or less of fiber.

    How to Get Enough Fiber

    You will want to incorporate as many fiber-rich foods as you can. Our About.com Weight Loss Expert Malia Frey has an excellent list of high-fiber foods. But keep in mind, many thyroid patients are sensitive to grains, and in particular, wheat, and so high-fiber grains, breads and pastas may deliver fiber, but can also derail weight loss efforts.

    When using fiber to aid in weight loss, you will want to focus on the highest-fiber vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and to a lesser extent, fruits.

    You have to eat a great deal of food in order to get to targeted fiber levels. To get to the optimal intake of fiber a day, you will probably have to add a fiber supplement, in addition to emphasizing fiber-rich foods in your diet.

    Start slow, don't go from “10 to 30” in one day -- you need to give your intestinal system time to adjust, and adding too much fiber too quickly can cause discomfort.

    Fiber Supplements

    There are a number of different fiber supplements available. My favorites include:

    • Psyllium. One study found that women who took 20 grams of psyllium before a meal ate less fat, and felt full more quickly during that meal, helping with weight loss. Psyllium husk is found in commercial products like Metamucil. You can also get psillium powder, or my preferred form, in capsules. Psillium is inexpensive, and when taken in capsules, it's easily portable, and easy to take -- no drinking of gloppy, sludgy fiber powder in water.
    • Guar GumGuar gum is a high-fiber supplement. It's found in a popular fiber product, Benefiber, which comes as a powder. Unlike some other fibers, including psillium, guar gum dissolves completely into drinks (like juice, water or smoothies), with no grit or bulk. You can easily add it to juice or water, and it has no taste -- you won't even know it's there.

    Important Warnings About Fiber for Thyroid Patients

    If you switch from a low-fiber to high-fiber diet, there are two things you should be careful about in your diet.

    First, be very careful that you are taking your thyroid medicine at least an hour before eating or drinking coffee in the morning, so your absorption is not impaired. High-fiber diets can significantly change your thyroid drug dosage requirements, so 6 to 8 weeks after starting a high-fiber diet, you should have your thyroid function tested to make sure you don't need a dosage change.

    Second, be careful about raw juicing of cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables like kale and spinach are high-fiber, and popular in smoothies. When raw, however, they are also high in "goitrogens," naturally-occurring chemicals that can slow down the thyroid, enlarge the thyroid (goiter), and even trigger hypothyroidism. Steaming or lightly cooking these vegetables prior to juicing can get rid of much of the goitrogenic dangers. 

    Some Additional Reading

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