3 Diet-Related Goals for Thyroid Patients

Tips for Thyroid Weight Loss

What is the best thyroid diet?. istockphoto

One of the most common questions I get on the Facebook Thyroid Support page, when I'm doing workshops, and in emails is, not surprisingly, related to weight loss: "What is the best thyroid diet?"

Is there a "best" thyroid diet? The best diet for you as a thyroid patient depends on your goal. So let's take a look at some of the ways that diet can impact your thyroid, and related symptoms.

1. Goal: Weight Loss

Difficulty losing weight is a common complaint of people with an underactive thyroid.

So the majority of people who ask about the best thyroid diet are really asking: "How do I lose weight when I'm hypothyroid?" 

I wish there was a magic answer, or a single supplement, or one dietary change that would miraculously cause weight loss in people with hypothyroidism.

What I've found is that successful weight loss for thyroid patients is a multi-step process that includes the following key steps:

1. Optimize Your Thyroid Treatment

It's not enough for thyroid levels to be "normal" or in the reference range, for many patients to lose weight, they need to be optimal. That means a TSH typically below 2.0, Free T4 and Free T3 in the upper end of the reference range, and lower Reverse T3. For more information, read Help, I'm Hypothyroid and I Still Don't Feel Well: Your Next Steps.

2. Optimize Blood Sugar and Leptin Levels

Do you know your leptin level? Fasting blood sugar? If you don't, this is an important next step.

And if these levels are imbalanced, you'll need to use diet, supplements or medications to get them back on track. Learn more in Long Term Weight Loss for Thyroid Patients: Hormonal Factors That Affect Diets: An Interview with Kent Holtorf, MD.

3. Balance Other Hormones

If sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), and adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA) are out of balance, this can make weight loss more difficult.

Perimenopause and menopause, as well as estrogen dominance, can cause a shift of weight to the belly, and make weight loss more difficult. Lack of testosterone in men and women can make it harder to build muscle. Adrenal imbalances can make you tired, less responsive to thyroid treatment, and less able to lose weight. Evaluating these hormones, and resolving imbalances may be a key step in helping you in your weight loss effort.

4. Get Enough Sleep

I can't emphasize this enough: a lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, and makes weight loss more difficult. Aim for seven or more hours per night.

5. Eliminate Toxins and Allergens

Wheat and gluten products have a relationship to autoimmune thyroid disease, and eliminating gluten entirely can help some thyroid patients reduce inflammation and lose weight. Similarly, other food allergens—some common culprits are dairy foods, soy, nuts, and certain fruits—can cause inflammation, and make weight loss more difficult. Consider an elimination diet or allergy testing to determine food sensitivities, and make dietary changes to reflect any allergies or problems.

6. Move!

Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, raising metabolism is important for thyroid patients trying to lose weight.

Daily movement— whether exercise, or through regular physical activity—is crucial for thyroid patients.

7. Change What and How You Eat

Many thyroid patients find that eliminating sugar and starches, limiting fruit, dairy and grains, and getting carbohydrates mainly from vegetables, while rounding out the diet with lean proteins, and healthy fats, will help with weight loss. In addition, eating two to three meals a day, no snacks, and avoiding food after 8 p.m. seem to help balance hunger hormones and blood sugar, and promote fat burning. I've outlined this approach in detail in my book, Thyroid Diet Revolution.

2. Goal: Help Your Thyroid

In some cases, you may not be concerned about weight loss, but instead, you want to know what to eat to help - and not hurt -- your thyroid function. Here are some tips.

8. Avoid Iodine-Deficiency

Iodine is a building block for thyroid hormone. To that end, you want to make sure that your diet is not iodine-deficient. The best way to include iodine in your diet is with iodine-rich foods—seaweed, shrimp, dried prunes, lobster, cranberries—or use an iodine rich salt. (Himalayan salt is less processed than typical iodine-fortified table salt.)

9. Watch Goitrogens

You should also be careful about overdoing it with goitrogenic—goiter-promoting—vegetables, that can slow down the thyroid. Typically, steaming or cooking these veggies -- like spinach broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts -- reduces their thyroid-slowing abilities. Be careful about raw juicing, or large raw quantities of these vegetables. Learn more in All About Goitrogens: Why Thyroid Patients Are Warned About Cruciferous Vegetables.

10. Limit Soy

Also be careful about overdoing it with soy foods, which can block your body's ability to absorb thyroid hormone. To lean more, read Soy and Thyroid Health: What You Need to Know: Dos and Don'ts for Thyroid Patients.

11. Consider Eliminating Gluten

Gluten comes up again, because in some patients, sensitivity to gluten is the trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease. In a subset of patients, going gluten-free actually eliminates antibodies and causes a remission of thyroid disease. It's worth a trial of a gluten-free diet—followed up by antibodies testing—to determine if eating gluten-free may help your thyroid function and/or symptoms.

12. Get Thyroid-Supportive Nutrition

Selenium, the B vitamins, and zinc are important for thyroid function. Make sure your diet has enough of these nutrients, or talk to your practitioner about adding supplements.


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