Many people with hyperthyroidism want to know what foods they should and shouldn’t eat. While there is no hyperthyroidism diet that fits everyone perfectly, in this blog post I will discuss five diet tips that can benefit people with different types of hyperthyroid conditions. So whether you have Graves’ disease, toxic multinodular goiter, or a different type of hyperthyroid condition, most of the information in this blog post will benefit you.
In addition to the 5 hyperthyroid diet tips I’ll be discussing, for those with hyperthyroidism who are struggling to gain weight, I’ll also discuss this later in this post. While I realize that not everyone with hyperthyroidism will lose weight, when I was dealing with hyperthyroidism I lost a lot of weight, and many of my hyperthyroid patients are concerned about weight loss. And if you happen to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet I’ll also discuss this below.
Hyperthyroidism Diet Tip #1: Eat whole foods. I know that many people reading this understand that it’s important to eat a diet consisting of mostly whole foods. But there are also many people with hyperthyroidism who don’t eat well. Some people might think they are eating well when they aren’t, but hopefully after reading this you’ll understand what types of foods you should eat, and which ones you should avoid. It should be obvious that you should try your best to avoid fast food, including fried food, as well as refined foods. By refined foods I mean highly processed foods, as these foods are stripped of their nutrient content and fiber. White flour and white sugar are common examples of refined foods.
But the truth is that many foods that are perceived as being healthy are actually unhealthy. For example, while you might understand that pasta from white flour is unhealthy, how about pasta made from brown rice? Similarly, while eating pizza at most popular pizza chains is unhealthy, how about eating homemade pizza with all organic ingredients? Let’s take it a step further and assume the ingredients will be gluten free as well.
I’m not going to lie to you, as I’ve had my share of pizza since being in remission from Graves’ disease in 2009. And I’ve had other “healthier versions” of unhealthy foods. But there are a few things you need to understand. First of all, just because a specific food includes organic ingredients doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Similarly, just because something is gluten free also doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice. I gave the example of pizza earlier, but there are many other examples. Growing up I would almost always have an unhealthy bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, and these days there are many organic and gluten free versions of cereals, but this doesn’t mean that they are a healthy choice.
Once again, I’ll admit that over the years I have indulged in some of these “healthier versions” of unhealthy foods. And the truth is that eating these foods on an OCCASIONAL basis is fine for most people. The problem is that many people eat these foods on a DAILY basis. Another thing I should add is while I indulge in unhealthy foods every now and then, when I was trying to restore my health in 2008/2009 after being diagnosed with Graves’ disease, I was very strict with the diet. I’m sure you’re wondering which foods you can specifically eat, and I’ll discuss this shortly.
Hyperthyroidism Diet Tip #2: Eat organic whenever possible. As I mentioned earlier, just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. So when I say to “eat organic”, of course I’m referring to whole healthy foods. Sure, if you indulge in something refined then it would be great if this was organic as well. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, try your very best to eat organic, but you also might want to check out the “Dirty Dozen” list from the Environmental Working Group. This lists the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the greatest amount of pesticides. There is also the “Clean Fifteen” list, which has the top 15 fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides.
These aren’t perfect lists, but they still can be helpful. For example, if you are unable to purchase all organic fruits and vegetables then I would try to avoid foods on the Dirty Dozen list, and stick to those on the Clean Fifteen list. It’s also important to understand that organic doesn’t mean that the food is free from chemicals. For example, if a product is certified organic this means that it is grown with no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, which of course is great news. So pesticides and herbicides used on organic produce are not synthetic. But one potential problem is drift, as organic farms are frequently located near conventional farms, and so the pesticides from non-organic farms are likely to contaminate organic farms. That being said, it still is a good idea to do everything you can to reduce your exposure to synthetic pesticides and herbicides. And while organic food isn’t perfect, it still has less chemicals than non-organic food.
Hyperthyroidism Diet Tip #3: Eat a wide variety of vegetables. Over the years I have looked at a lot of food diaries from my patients, and one of the main things I’ve noticed is that many people don’t eat a sufficient amount of vegetables. And the few who do eat plenty of vegetables seem to eat the same veggies over and over again. The truth is that most people need to eat a wider variety of vegetables, including myself. And the reason for this is because the bacteria in our gut feeds off of different fibers in the vegetables we eat. In other words, eating a greater variety of vegetables will improve the diversity of your gut microbiome, which is one of the keys to optimal health.
So how many different vegetables should you eat? Well, in 2018 I attended a 6-week online course hosted by probiotic expert Dr. Jason Hawrelak, and he recommended to eat 40 different vegetables per week! Just to clarify, he wasn’t saying that we should eat 40 servings of vegetables per week, but 40 different types of vegetables. The truth is that most people don’t eat half this amount on a weekly basis. So in a perfect world everyone would eat 10 to 12 servings of vegetables per day, and 40 different kinds of veggies per week.
Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, but you should still strive to eat as many different kinds of veggies each week. I’d say that most people who actually eat vegetables eat 5 to 10 different kinds of vegetables per week. If this describes you then I would suggest to add a new vegetable once per week, or at the very least once every other week. If you do this then within a few months you will greatly increase the variety of veggies in your diet.
Hyperthyroidism Diet Tip #4: Consider an autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet. This hyperthyroid diet tip is specific to those with Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune hyperthyroid condition, although some people with other types of hyperthyroid conditions may also benefit from such a diet. The purpose of an autoimmune Paleo diet is to avoid inflammatory foods, as well to avoid foods that will interfere with gut healing. A big reason for this is because according to the research, everyone with an autoimmune condition has a leaky gut. There are numerous factors that can cause a leaky gut, and food is one of them.
So what foods are allowed in an AIP diet? What I’d like to do is compare the AIP diet to a “standard” Paleo diet, which includes the following:
- Nuts and seeds
- Meat and fish
- Coconut products
- Healthy oils
- Green tea and herbal teas
An AIP diet is even more restrictive, as it excludes eggs, nuts, seeds, and the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, white potatoes). For some people this might seem like an impossible diet to follow, and without question it is very challenging. However, you need to understand a few things. First of all, the AIP diet is not meant to be permanent. I recommend following this diet for a minimum of 30 days, although some people will follow it for a few months. In addition, the goal of this diet isn’t to restrict calories. That being said, I would make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, as some people who follow an AIP diet will eat mostly meat and a small amount of veggies, but you really want to do the opposite.
One of the main concerns with following the AIP diet in those with hyperthyroidism is that because this diet is restrictive it can result in weight loss. Many people with hyperthyroidism are already losing weight, and they don’t want to shed additional pounds. I understand this concern, but as I mentioned earlier, the goal of the AIP diet isn’t to restrict calories. In addition, loading up on carbohydrates might prevent you from losing weight, but you should focus more on nutrient density than eating empty calories.
Hyperthyroidism Diet Tip #5: Avoid genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms are usually engineered to be more resistant to pesticides such as Roundup, and are therefore called “Roundup Ready” crops. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. So when you eat genetically modified foods you are being exposed to high levels of glyphosate residues. It’s worth mentioning that glyphosate might be used on other non-GMO crops such as wheat. In fact, a 2013 paper by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff suggested that the increased prevalence of Celiac disease might be due to the use of glyphosate to desiccate wheat and other crops prior to the harvest (1).
What’s the concern with glyphosate? There are a lot of concerns, as the research shows that glyphosate can cause neurotoxicity and oxidative stress (2), it can promote the growth of human breast cancer cells (3), can have a negative effect on cardiovascular health (4), and can inhibit cytochrome P450 (5), which plays a vital role in detoxification. In addition, there is evidence that glyphosate can disrupt the gut microbiome (6) (7).
Should Those With Hyperthyroidism Eat Goitrogenic Foods?
Goitrogenic foods can potentially inhibit thyroid hormone production by interfering with the uptake of iodine. As a result, many people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s are concerned with eating goitrogenic foods, which include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, millet, soybeans, spinach, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. But how about those with hyperthyroidism? Some recommend goitrogenic foods to those with hyperthyroidism as a way of lowering thyroid hormone levels. The problem is that this usually doesn’t work, as in the past I tried lowering thyroid hormone levels by having patients eat larger amounts of these foods, especially raw cruciferous vegetables.
I recommend for my hyperthyroid patients to eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, but only because they are very nutrient dense and help to detoxify the body. But I wouldn’t expect to lower your thyroid hormone levels by eating large amounts of these foods. Of course if anyone reading this has had success managing their hyperthyroidism by eating goitrogenic vegetables please feel free to share your experience in the comment sections below.
What Foods Can You Eat To Gain Weight?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the concerns with following a restrictive diet is that many people with hyperthyroidism are already losing a lot of weight. So a common question I get asked is what foods can someone with hyperthyroidism eat to gain weight? The truth is that it will be difficult to gain weight through diet if someone has elevated thyroid hormone levels. For example, when I was dealing with Graves’ disease I lost over 40 pounds, and it wasn’t until I started lowering the thyroid hormone levels until I finally began to gain weight. So as I mentioned above, I would focus on nutrient density, eating plenty of vegetables, as well as healthy fats, and at the same work on normalizing your thyroid hormone levels.
What If You’re a Vegan or Vegetarian?
While most of my patients are omnivorous, I also have worked with many vegetarians and vegans over the years. The good news is that those who are vegetarians and vegans can receive good results when following a natural treatment protocol. The bad news is that it can be even more challenging to eat a “healthy” vegetarian or vegan diet when trying to restore your health.
This is especially true for those with Graves’ disease who are vegetarians and vegans. As I mentioned earlier, an AIP diet can be beneficial for those with an autoimmune condition. Many people who eat meat find an AIP diet to be very challenging, and so I’m sure you can imagine that this diet would be even more difficult to follow for someone who doesn’t eat meat (or fish). A few years ago I wrote an article entitled “Vegetarians, Vegans, and The Autoimmune Paleo Diet“, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan with Graves’ disease I definitely would recommend reading this when you get the chance.
A Summary of What To Eat When Dealing With Hyperthyroidism
When dealing with any health condition you want to eat a diet consisting of healthy foods, while avoiding the refined foods and sugars. If someone has Graves’ disease then they should consider following a strict AIP diet for a minimum of 30 days, whereas if someone has a non-autoimmune hyperthyroid condition (i.e. toxic multinodular goiter) a “standard” Paleo diet should be fine. I’ll add that while many people benefit from avoiding grains and legumes (both are excluded from an AIP and Paleo diet), some people are able to eat small amounts of these foods with no problem while trying to restore their health.
So hopefully you have a better idea as to what to eat when dealing with a hyperthyroid condition. The truth is that a lot of the information in this blog post applies to everyone, and not just those with hyperthyroidism. After all, we should all eat whole healthy foods, eat organic foods, including a wide variety of vegetables, and it also is a good idea to do your best to avoid genetically modified foods. If you have anything you’d like to share regarding your experience with diet and hyperthyroidism please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
April Brandwein says
Was juicing a quart a day of apple celery carrot and cabbage (probably 1/3 a head) to help heal a gut issue I was having. Never had had thyroid problems before and after juicing for over a year I became very hyperthyroid. I have always wondered if the large intake of raw cabbage juice messed with my thyroid to were it had to kick into high gear to produce any hormone at all. Needless to say when they finally diagnosed my Graves I quick the juicing right away. My western doctors dismiss that there was any relationship between the two. But in the back of my mind I have always wondered about it since I faithfully drank it. I will say that I have antibodies for both Graves and Hashimoto and have been on methimazole for the past 4 years with good success my numbers have been very stable and I only take 2.5 mg every other day for treatment and have had no side effects. Your thoughts about this would be very interesting for me. Thank you.
April I found your comment very interesting. I was diagnosed with Graves disease in 2015. In 2014 my New Years resolution was to eat a cruciferous vegetable every day, due to their anti-cancer effects. I was 37, no cancer, just trying to be healthy. I have always wondered if this change to my diet triggered Graves’ disease for me.
And for the rest of the story… I began the AIP diet the same day I started taking methimazole, right after diagnosis. My thyroid levels responded very fast and the antibodies dropped each month. I was on MMI for one full year. I have been in remission since 2016. I eat mostly following the foods that I know work for my body thru the AIP process.
Dr. Eric says
April, while there is some concern about goitrogenic foods (i.e. cabbage) inhibiting thyroid function, I haven’t heard about it causing hyperthyroidism. If I had to guess I’d say that the juicing wasn’t responsible for this.
When I was dealing with Graves’ disease in 2010 I was totally eating the wrong foods, those that I thought were healthy. It wasn’t until I found a chiropractor who put me on the right track. He said no grains or pulses allowed and I could have goats dairy. He wasn’t quite so strict as you Dr Eric but I finally worked out the diet for myself. I generally stay off dairy, grains and pulses and eat Paleo all the time now. I never did do the AIP diet but as you say load up on the vegetables which is very important for gut health. I rarely cheat and I’m not interested in grains at all. I feel they have an addictive component to them, once you by pass that stage you find yourself not interested in them. Just thought I’d add another take on it. By the way I lost 15 lbs at the time and I only weighed 104 lbs before I got sick. This was my worse illness ever, so glad I found that chiropractor, Sue
This is.m a great article. I am just wondering if anyone with graves did you have any success with getting you eyes back to normal. I was diagnosed in 2014 and was on meds to treat hyperthyroidism and grave. I went into remission for a few years now my levels are out of wack again. So I am back on meds. It sucks that you are so limited with either meds, radioactive iodine treatment or surgery. I just want to cure it once and for all. Any additional advice will
Be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Dr. Eric says
Shana, I have worked with people with mild to moderate cases of thyroid eye disease who reversed their condition, but if someone has severe thyroid eye disease and/or they’re in the inactive phase then it is less likely to reverse the effects. You may already know that with thyroid eye disease you wouldn’t want to get RAI, as this can potentially make it worse.