One of the most common questions I get asked from people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions is “what foods should I eat?” A general answer I commonly give is to eat whole foods, minimize the refined foods and sugars, and to avoid common allergens such as gluten, dairy, corn, etc. When it comes to choosing specific foods for thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, one of the challenges is that some healthy foods can cause problems. For example, if someone tries to avoid all foods with antinutrients such as lectins, phytic acid, saponins, and oxalates, this will greatly minimize the amount of foods they can eat. On top of this you might decide to avoid eating eggs and the nightshades. After doing this you will be left with a very small category of foods.
So when putting together this list, I realize that there are some foods which fall within the categories I listed above. And I’m not suggesting that everyone should eat these foods. For example, one of the power foods I listed below is eggs. Eggs have a lot of good nutrients and are a pretty good source of protein. The problem is that it’s not uncommon for people to be sensitive to eggs. Of course it’s possible to have an allergy or sensitivity to any food, although some food allergies and sensitivities are more common than others. The point I’m trying to make is that the “power foods” I listed below represent an excellent source of nutrients and can benefit many people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone with these conditions can eat these foods. And of course there are other nutrient dense foods which I didn’t include on this list. While this blog post focuses on power foods for hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, for those with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, in the next blog post I’ll discuss some of the power foods for hypothyroid conditions.
With that being said, let’s go ahead and list five power foods that can benefit those people with hyperthyroid conditions:
Power Food #1: Kale. Kale has some wonderful health benefits. First of all, it is very nutrient dense. Second, it has antiproliferative effects (1), and so it can help with the prevention of cancer. There is also evidence that it can favorably influence serum lipid profiles and thus reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (2). As for whether you should eat kale raw, or if you should cook it, one study showed that the cooking process of kale resulted in lowering of the activity of its antioxidants (3). However, you still will get many of the benefits of kale if you lightly steam it. As for how kale can specifically benefit people with hyperthyroidism, kale is considered to be goitrogenic, which means that when consumed in larger amounts it can potentially inhibit thyroid function. Cooking might reduce the goitrogenic activity, and if you have hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease feel free to eat a few servings of raw kale per day. Bone density is an issue with hyperthyroidism, and kale is one of the best sources of calcium, and unlike spinach it exhibits excellent absorbability for its calcium (4).
Power Food #2: Organ Meats. Although I still can’t get over the “mental barrier” which has prevented me from eating organ meats, this category of food is very nutrient dense. And while eating nutrient dense foods is important for everyone, one can argue that it is even more important for someone who is dealing with hyperthyroidism. One of the biggest problems many people with hyperthyroid conditions have is losing a large amount of weight. This of course is due to the increased metabolic rate caused by the elevated thyroid hormone levels. And while it is important to normalize the thyroid hormone levels, while one is trying to accomplish this it is important to eat nutrient dense foods.
In addition, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is high in organs with high rates of metabolism such as the heart, kidney, and liver (5). And numerous studies show that CoQ10 is low in people with hyperthyroid conditions (6) (7). Although one can of course supplement with CoQ10, since organ meats have high amounts of this then this presents another option.
Power Food #3: Eggs. As I mentioned earlier, eggs are a common allergen. As a result, not everyone is able to eat eggs. However, even if someone doesn’t have an egg allergy, the egg whites have certain compounds which can cause problems in those people with autoimmune thyroid conditions, as well as those with other types of autoimmune conditions. On the other hand, although I do have most of my patients initially avoid eggs, I’m not opposed to some people reintroducing eggs. And this is especially true with those people who have hyperthyroid conditions, as many people with hyperthyroidism have a voracious appetite and are struggling to gain weight. I know this described myself when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. Eggs are another nutrient dense food, and if someone doesn’t have an egg allergy it might be fine for them to eat egg yolks without much of a problem.
Some people are concerned that eating eggs will increase their cholesterol levels, even though research clearly shows that this isn’t the case (8) (9) (10). In fact, one study showed that people who reported eating four or more eggs per week actually had a lower serum cholesterol concentration when compared with those who ate one egg or less per week (8). In those with metabolic syndrome, eating eggs (including the yolks) improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity (11). Ideally you want to eat organic, pasture-raised eggs.
Power Food #4: Almonds. Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber, α-tocopherol, minerals such as magnesium and copper, and phytonutrients (12). Other cardioprotective nutrients unique to almonds include arginine, manganese, calcium, and potassium (13). One study showed that incorporation of almonds into a healthy diet could ameliorate inflammation and oxidative stress in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (14). There is also evidence that almond and almond skin ingestion may lead to an improvement in the intestinal microbiota profile and a modification of the intestinal bacterial activities (15). One potential problem with almonds, as well as other nuts and seeds, is that it has antinutrients such as lectins and phytic acid. As a result, you don’t want to eat large amounts of almonds, and if someone has a leaky gut then it probably would be best to avoid eating almonds while repairing the gut. Because some researchers speculate that everyone with an autoimmune condition has a leaky gut, almonds are excluded from most autoimmune paleo diets, which means that those people with Graves’ Disease who are following this diet would want to avoid eating almonds.
Power Food #5: Berries. Consuming different types of berries can be beneficial to one’s health. This includes blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cranberries. All berries have different phytonutrients, and the phenolic compounds are responsible for their antioxidant properties (16) (17). In addition, numerous studies have shown berries of different kinds to have anti-inflammatory properties, and can potentially modulate inflammatory cytokines which are found in different types of autoimmune conditions (18) (19) (20) (21) (22). Berries are typically high in oxalates, and so you want to be cautious about eating too many of these. Growing up I never was much of a berry eater, as I frequently ate a lot of apples, grapes, and bananas. But I currently have a smoothie on a daily basis, and I’ll always include some organic berries, as I usually rotate between blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
So these are some of the “power foods” which can benefit people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease. Of course there are other foods I didn’t include on this list which are also nutrient dense. For example, while kale is without question a “power food”, so are other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage. And although organ meats are very nutrient dense, other types of meat are nutrient dense. For those people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, in the next blog post I’ll discuss power foods which can be beneficial for people with these conditions.