The Great 8: Foods for Optimal Thyroid Health
Average read time: 5 minutes
Do you ever feel like your head is spinning from all the diet advice for thyroid disease?
“Don’t eat this. Don’t eat that. Especially don’t eat that over there!”
Focusing on what not to eat can leave us feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Instead, let’s focus on the foods you can and should eat to help your thyroid operate optimally. I promise, these foods are delicious and you’ll want to consume them on a regular basis. Here are eight of my favorite foods for optimal thyroid health.
1. Grass-Fed Beef
The way cows are fed has a deep impact on the nutrient composition of the beef. Grass is the cow’s natural diet. Grass-fed cows are living their healthiest lives before they become food. Compare this to cows who are sent to a feedlot and given a diet consisting of grains, soy and corn. This is meant to fatten them up for quick turnaround to the slaughter house. But these foods are not part of a cow’s natural diet, and it shows in the nutrient profile of the final product. Here are a few reasons why grass-fed beef is superior:
- Omega-3s – Grass-fed beef contains up to five times more Omega-3s than conventionally raised beef. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation in the body, as well as boost immunity.
- Vitamin E – Acts as an antioxidant, which helps protect your thyroid against free radicals. Grass-fed beef can have more than twice the amount of Vitamin E than grain-fed.
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – Grass-fed beef contains twice as much CLA as grain-finished beef. CLA is a fatty acid associated with reducing body fat.
- Iron – Grass-fed beef has rich amounts of Iron. Iron deficiency is common in thyroid disease.
While red meat is often touted as being unhealthy, grass-fed beef is highly beneficial to thyroid health. You needn’t consume large amounts to get all the healthy benefits. Aim for adding grass-fed beef to your diet just one or two times per week.
up next: The Not-So-Great 8: Foods to Avoid for Thyroid Health
2. Wild-Caught Salmon
Quite possibly my favorite food, salmon is chock-full of wonderful, thyroid-happy nutrients:
- Rich in Omega-3s
- High in B vitamins
- Loaded with Selenium.
When purchasing salmon, choose wild-caught over farm-raised. Farm-raised salmon is laden with Omega-6s, which can be pro-inflammatory. But what’s more concerning is that farmed salmon can be high in contaminants. These contaminants are found in the salmons’ feed and the water they swim in, and include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, which have been linked to cancer), pesticides, arsenic, and dioxins.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Chances are, you’re only eating pumpkin seeds around pumpkin-carving season. It’s time to snack on these tasty treats all year long. Pumpkin seeds are remarkably high in Zinc, a nutrient that’s commonly low for thyroid patients. They will also give you a thyroid-protecting dose of Omega-3s. Eat them raw or roasted and sprinkled with Himalayan pink salt.
High in fiber and healthy fat, avocados are full of nutrients that thyroid patients need. The majority of the fat in avocados comes from oleic acid, which is responsible for reducing inflammation. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid considered to be ‘heart healthy’.
When thyroid production is low, digestion can slow down as well, which can lead to constipation. A 3.5 ounce serving of avocado has 7 grams of fiber. About 25% of that fiber is soluble, which feeds friendly gut bacteria, and 75% is insoluble, which helps prevent constipation. Avocados are a delicious addition to your diet. Eat them alone, use as a base for dressings, or build a plant-based meal around them. You can’t go wrong!
The process of converting inactive T4 into active T3 is dependent on an essential mineral, Selenium. Mushrooms provide a good amount of Selenium to the diet. While the DV for Selenium is 70 mcg for adults, the recommendation for all thyroid patients is 200mcg. This is because so many thyroid patients have conversion problems and selenium is a HUGE helper in getting that T4 converted to T3. For those with autoimmune disease, 200-400mcg is recommended, both to help with T4 to T3 conversion, and reduction in antibodies. An added bonus is the Vitamin D produced in mushrooms when they are exposed to sunlight. Fresh mushrooms can be added to everyday meals to deliver nutrients that make the thyroid happy.
up next: Supporting Your Liver and Kidneys with 8 Detoxifying Foods
Powerful antioxidants is the name of the game for cherries. Antioxidants protect our cells from oxidation, a chemical process that happens daily and can cause damage. Oxidation occurs during the conversion of inactive T4 into the active T3, for example.
Cherries are also known for reducing inflammation. Tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory makeup of any food. A 2012 study showed that participants who drank tart cherry juice twice a day for 21 days showed a reduction in inflammation based on blood samples.
Zucchini are brimming with antioxidants and micronutrients essential for optimal thyroid function. They’re also low in calories and have a low glycemic index score. Widely thought of as a vegetable, zucchini is actually a fruit related to squash and cucumbers. One medium zucchini provides:
- Over 50% of daily needs for Vitamin C (mostly contained in the skin)
- Only 33 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates
- 14% of daily needs for Folate
- Polyphenols and ascorbic acid found in the peels of zucchini were shown in studies to benefit thyroid, insulin and adrenal functions
- Good source of Vitamin A, which the body requires for a healthy immune system and the production of T3.
Ever tried zoodles? They’re zucchini noodles made by spiralizing raw zucchini, and are great replacement for traditional noodles in most pasta dishes.
8. Sweet Potatoes
Oh, how sweet the sweet potato is! Tasty and full of antioxidants (including loads of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene), sweet potatoes are economical and widely available at local markets for most of the year. The fiber in a medium sweet potato (over 6 grams) slows digestion, keeping you full longer and steadying blood sugar levels (which is important for optimal thyroid function). Other benefits include:
- Phytonutrients – Help decrease inflammation
- Sporamins – Sweet potatoes’ unique storage protein with built-in antioxidant properties
- Vitamin B6 – Heart healthy
- Iron – Helps with white and red blood cell production and stress resistance.
Sweet potatoes are best cooked or eaten with a high quality fat to activate the beta-carotene benefits. Like zucchini, sweet potatoes can also be spiralized and used as a pasta alternative. Whether eaten as a side dish or on their own, sweet potatoes are a healthy addition to your thyroid-specific diet.
Whole, Nutritious Foods Are Best for Thyroid Health
In a world full of challenges for your thyroid health, good nutrition doesn’t have to be one of them. The best diet for the thyroid is one that contains whole foods rich in micronutrients, locally sourced and organic. With the Great 8 as a guide, adopting a nutrient-dense diet is a piece of gluten-free cake!