Bio-Individual Nutrition: Unlocking Your Unique Thyroid Diet
Average Read Time: 5 minutes
“What you eat has nothing to do with your thyroid. Take your medication, eat less, exercise more and you’ll be just fine.”
Ever hear those words from your MD?
When I was diagnosed 19 years ago, I sure did. And following that advice only made me sicker, despite the effort I put into eating less and exercising more.
As I restricted myself to a low-fat/low-calorie version of the Standard American Diet (SAD), my symptoms increased. I also developed new ones. Ones that not only hit my productivity and appearance, but also my sanity. Rock bottom was two to three panic attacks a day as my hair turned into a Brillo Pad and then fell out. It was time for help. Better help. Nutritional help that was specific to my needs.
Eighteen years later, I have regained my health and my Hashimoto’s is in remission. Helping others achieve similar results became my passion over the years, and I began a journey of education for better patient care. As proof that our greatest challenges can become our greatest strengths, I became a holistic nutritionist.
Don’t Tax the Thyroid
Here’s what I know now: Diet does have an impact on thyroid health. A big one. Heavy hitters include gluten, soy, and dairy, but the small guys make an impact too, like the artificial sugar in diet soda and chewing gum. Everything we eat and drink impacts thyroid health, either positively or negatively. Eating for optimal thyroid health means eliminating foods that tax the thyroid and/or the immune system and increasing the foods that help support the thyroid.
The question is: how does one actually do that? With the overabundance of information out there, food choices can quickly become overwhelming. In this article, I’m going to simplify the concept of bio-individual nutrition for you, as well as give you a baseline for thyroid-specific nutrition.
What Is Bio-Individuality?
What this really boils down to is that each person is unique, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet. Personal differences such as anatomy, metabolism, genetics, microbiome (the microorganisms that live in the gut), and cell structure all influence overall health and nutrition requirements. That’s why a vegan diet could be very healing for one individual, but be catastrophic for another.
A quick glance at my bookshelf shows all the books I’ve purchased to help me along my thyroid journey. One says, “Vegan is the only way to go!” Another declares, “Paleo cures all!” Here’s the fun fact: They’re both right. And wrong.
Crazy, right? Let me explain. As a nutritionist and a thyroid patient, I’ve run the gamut of healing diets. But here’s the thing (and it’s my favorite thing!): bio-individuality. In other words, what works for you won’t work for someone else, and vice versa. We are ecosystems and what one ecosystem needs is different from anyone else’s.
Where to Begin?
Let’s start with what we know about eating for optimal thyroid health:
- Avoid gluten
- Avoid soy
- Avoid dairy (I know, I know…I love cheese, too)
- Cook all cruciferous veggies before eating (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.)
- Avoid processed food (anything containing lab-created ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize as natural food)
- Avoid margarine and all other kinds of fake butter
- Avoid refined or industrial oils (canola, soybean, peanut, corn, etc.)
- Decrease sugar intake
- Eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption
- Eat fresh and organic fruits and veggies
- Eat grass-fed beef, and pastured poultry and eggs
- Eat wild-caught seafood
up next: Goitrogens and Your Thyroid: More Molehill than Mountain
Micronutrients are also important. Strive for fresh organic foods high in thyroid-supporting nutrients like:
- Selenium (brazil nuts, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs)
- Magnesium (spinach, pumpkin seeds, avocado)
- Zinc (grass-fed beef, shrimp, pumpkin seeds)
- Iodine (sea vegetables, cranberries, potatoes)
- Vitamin B-12 (pastured eggs, grass-fed beef and beef liver, wild-caught seafood)
- Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, bell peppers)
- Vitamin D (fatty fish like salmon and tuna, pastured eggs)
- Vitamin C (oranges, kale, broccoli).
Selenium, magnesium, zinc, and the B vitamins all play a crucial role in the production of thyroid hormones and the conversion of the inactive hormone T4 into the active T3. (You can grab my thyroid supplement handout here for more information.)
Water is equally important. Aiming for at least 60 ounces of water per day will help your body flush out toxins that would otherwise hamper thyroid conversion. It’s vital that your water source is fluoride and chlorine-free as these toxins block thyroid receptors. Water filters that specifically filter these out can be costly, but are well worth it for your health. If that’s not an option, you can sign up for a water service that delivers fluoride and chlorine-free spring water to your home.
The liver is essential to the conversion of T4 into T3. It’s well known that alcohol affects the health of your liver. It’s also known that estrogen suppresses or blocks thyroid production. All alcohol is estrogenic. That includes beer, wine and all liquor. Estrogenic activity can cause adverse health effects in mammals: early puberty in females, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviors, and increased rates of some cancers. It also makes it more difficult to lose weight – a major frustration for many with thyroid issues.
I know, this isn’t welcome news for those of you who love your evening glass of red, but just as an experiment, give yourself 30 days off alcohol, and notice how you feel (and look) without it. You might be surprised.
The guidelines above are meant to be used as a helpful and informative starting point. Making successful dietary changes takes time, and the best way to lock-in these new habits, is by making changes in baby steps.
Identifying Your Unique Dietary Sensitivities
First, when choosing which steps to take, think about what is workable for you, at this moment. For some that could mean simply eliminating gluten. For others, a more intensive approach like Paleo, or the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), may be appropriate. Working closely with a qualified nutritionist can be helpful in finding the optimal diet for your thyroid health. Keep in mind that the first week is typically the hardest, but if you can stay the course, it will get easier, and you will reap the rewards of your efforts.
When implementing a new dietary change, try to stick with it for 30 days. Pay close attention to your body and symptoms. A food or health journal comes in especially handy, and can be a helpful tool as symptoms and sensitivities change. We’ve created a handy-dandy tool to help you with this process:
Click here to download our Food Sensitivity Tracker
Before making dietary changes, note details such as:
- General physical feeling
- Mood, anxiety level, depression
- Bloating or lack of
- Joint pain or lack of
- Energy levels
- How are you sleeping?
- Joint pain
- Skin, hair, and nail health
- Digestive health (constipation? diarrhea? pain? gas?).
Once you’ve eliminated certain food(s) note any changes or improvements.
Next, isolate your body’s response by reintroducing one (and only one) new food at a time back to your diet. Give yourself 3 to 5 days before reintroducing others, as some reactions are delayed. Pay close attention to the feedback your body gives you. Do your joints ache the next day? Do you have brain fog? What, if any, symptoms do you notice?
As you pinpoint how your body reacts to certain inputs, you will develop your own unique dietary guidelines. Be patient. The answers will unfold over time, empowering you to be the best possible caretaker of your body that you can be. This system of eliminating and then reintroducing foods in order to isolate reactions, remains the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities, and is the key to unlocking your bio-individual diet.
Discuss any dietary changes with your healthcare practitioner first.