Published May 31, 2010
Updated June 13, 2014
Many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions are interested in finding the ideal thyroid diet in an attempt to improve their health. Without question, eating well is one of the primary factors that can greatly help when one is following a natural treatment protocol. And in all honesty, even those people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions who are not using natural treatment methods can of course benefit from eating healthy.
A big reason why people with these conditions want to modify their diet is to lose weight. This is especially true with people who have a hypothyroid disorder, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, but sometimes is true for those with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease. While eating well without question is an important component of any weight loss program, someone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid disorder who has difficulty losing weight needs to realize that in many cases, it is not just eating well and exercising regularly that is essential when trying to lose weight. Many people with these conditions who eat well and exercise and yet still can’t lose weight have hormonal imbalances that need to be addressed. And there can be other factors responsible for weight gain as well. I have discussed this in more detail in other articles.
With that being said, eating well definitely is important, and in addition to helping to maintain a healthy weight, it will also help keep your blood sugar levels balanced. This will put less stress on your pancreas and adrenal glands, allow you to digest your food better, help with immunity, and overall lead to greater health.
The First 21 Days Are The Toughest
When I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder and began changing my eating habits, I realized from past experience that the first 21 to 30 days were the most important. The reason for this is because for those people who are accustomed to eating junk food on a frequent basis, it will usually take at least 21 days to really make eating healthy your new habit. In other words, if you can make it through the first 21 days without eating junk food, then it gets much easier after this initial period. Of course many people I consult with have already changed their eating habits dramatically, as some have been eating gluten free for a long time and rarely eat processed foods. On the other hand, there are people I speak with who need to make some changes to their diet.
Before I proceed, I do want to add that I don’t expect everyone to make these changes immediately, as from self experience I realize how difficult it is go “cold turkey” and make an instant switch from eating junk food to eating only healthy foods. As a result, many people need to take this slow. So for example, someone might begin by simply eliminating all soft drinks from their diets, and only drink purified water. Then they might go onto eliminate the sugary breakfast cereal they’re eating and replace it with a healthy breakfast such as eggs, or a smoothie. Of course if you can make an immediate switch and eliminate all of the junk food at once that’s great, but my point is that it’s perfectly fine to take it slow.
Put Together A Food Diary
Before beginning your thyroid diet, it’s also a good idea to write down everything you eat for at least one week. This not only includes the major meals you eat, but every snack, beverage, etc. This will make you more aware of what you’re putting into your body, and if you’re working with a natural healthcare professional then it will also provide them with valuable information as they assist you in the process of eating healthier. After all, many of us think we’re eating healthy, when in reality we’re eating foods that aren’t too good for us, are difficult to digest, etc.
Hypothyroid diet vs. Hyperthyroid diet
Of course not everyone has the same condition, and someone with a hypothyroid disorder might wonder if they need to be on a different thyroid diet than someone who has hyperthyroidism. This is definitely true with regards to some of the nutritional supplements and herbs, as while there is some overlap in this area, people with hypothyroidism will need some different nutritional supplements when compared to people with hyperthyroidism.
When it comes to the foods you consume, for the most part the actual “thyroid diet” will be very similar, with one main difference. Someone who has a hypothyroid disorder does need to be more careful about eating goitrogenic foods, which when eaten in large quantities can inhibit thyroid function. Some examples of goitrogenic foods include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and soy. In the past I was very strict about people with hypothyroid conditions eliminating all goitrogenic foods, but most people with hypothyroid conditions can have one or two servings of these foods without a problem. People with hyperthyroid conditions don’ t need to worry about limiting their consumption of goitrogenic foods. In addition, one does need to consider common allergens, as some people will need to avoid gluten, others will need to avoid dairy, and some people will need to avoid both foods. I talk more about food allergies and intolerances in a different article, but I do think most people can benefit from at least going on a gluten free trial, as well as going on a dairy free trial. Some will need to avoid these foods permanently, while others will eventually be able to reintroduce them.
Important Rules To Any Thyroid Diet
In order to keep your blood sugar levels stable, there are three important rules to follow with any thyroid diet. The first is to minimize or completely eliminate refined foods from your diet. The reason for this is because refined foods cause a spike in the blood sugar levels, which over a period of months and years will put a great deal of stress on the adrenal glands and pancreas. While it would be ideal to completely stop eating the refined foods, at the very least try to minimize the amount you consume.
The second rule involves eating breakfast, as while you don’t necessarily need to eat a huge breakfast each morning, most people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions should eat something within the first hour of waking up. This once again will help keep your blood sugar levels stable, and will give you much needed energy to start the day. You want to make sure to incorporate some type of healthy protein, and avoid a high carbohydrate breakfast (so no sugary cereals, pancakes, etc.).
The third and final rule is that you should eat regularly, as upon eating breakfast you should try to go no longer than a couple of hours in between meals. Once again, this will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable. And in addition to helping to minimize the amount of stress on your adrenal glands, eating well and keeping your blood sugar levels stable will also make it easier to lose weight, if that is what you’re trying to do. I personally was trying to gain weight when I was on my thyroid diet, so I made sure to eat a good amount of nutrient dense foods, but still followed these same three rules.
Here’s What I Eat
Before I list what I specifically eat, keep in mind that this is just an example of what I eat in a single day, as I definitely try to vary this. So by no means am I suggesting you eat the same things I do, but I just wanted to show you what a balanced thyroid diet should look like.
6am: Breakfast: Smoothie consisting of one cup of mixed berries (organic blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries), two cups of purified water, some high quality protein powder, some flax seed oil, one cup stuffed with green leafy vegetables, and every now and then I will add one raw, organic egg. Adding the raw organic egg is optional for those who find this disgusting.
8am: Mid-morning snack #1: ½ cup organic apples
10am: Mid-morning snack #2:1/4 cup of raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Noon: Lunch: Grilled chicken salad (with organic chicken, organic romaine lettuce or mixed greens)
2pm: Mid-afternoon snack #1: ½ cup of organic baby carrots or steamed broccoli with garlic and olive oil
4pm: Mid-afternoon snack # 2: Ananother smoothie
6pm: Dinner: Organic chicken or turkey, or some wild salmon, plus one or two servings of mixed vegetables.
7:30pm: Snack: 1/4cup of raw almonds
The biggest flaw I see with my patients is not eating enough vegetables. Ideally you want to eat at least 3 to 5 servings of veggies each day, and more than this would be even better. I didn’t include fermented foods with this sample diet, but eating foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi can be beneficial to your health. If you’re not a vegetarian then eating organ meats and bone broth has some health benefits. When I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease I had a healthier type of protein bar a few days per week, but I didn’t include this here because ideally you want to stick with the whole foods for your meals and snacks. Obviously everyone is different, as some people have certain food allergies and intolerances, and if someone is dealing with a leaky gut then they might not be able to eat nuts and seeds, as well as some other foods.
As for YOUR thyroid diet, you should try to eat plenty of vegetables, ideally eating twice as many veggies as fruits. If you’re not a vegetarian then eating organic chicken and turkey is fine, and some wild fish in moderation is also okay. I mentioned organ meats and bone broth earlier, as these are healthy options. Some people want to know if they can eat beef, and in most cases it’s okay to eat a couple of servings of organic grass fed beef per week (and if it’s not organic make sure it’s free range and grass fed). Raw nuts and seeds are fine, although you also don’t want to overdo it. And if you have a leaky gut you will want to avoid all nuts, seeds, and legumes. Usually brown or wild rice is okay to eat in moderation, and despite the lectins and phytic acid (which is also an issue with raw nuts and seeds), most people without gut issues can eat some beans and lentils. And if you’re concerned about the lectins and phytic acid you can ferment and soak your beans, nuts, and seeds. Even though I just mentioned rice, you’ll notice the diet I listed didn’t include any grains. While many people can eat some grains, even if this is the case you really do want to minimize your consumption of grains due to the impact they have on the blood sugar levels. Plus, grains also have antinutrients which interfere with the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and other nutrients.
In summary, changing your eating habits and beginning a thyroid diet similar to mine is no easy task, which is why I don’t expect it to be a quick process. Just like many people, over the years I’ve had my “ups and downs” with regards to eating healthy, but after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder I made up my mind that I was going to not only begin eating healthier, but stick to it this time.
Does this mean I never eat any junk food? I’d be lying if I told you that I eat healthy foods 100% of the time, as every now and then I will go out for pizza, have some dessert, etc. But I have the discipline to eat junk food as an occasional indulgence, and not all of the time. Some people are unable to do this, which is why you definitely want to avoid all junk food within the first 21 to 30 days of beginning your thyroid diet, as this is the most difficult time you’ll have sticking with such a diet. But once you do get through this part, I promise you’ll feel much better than you do now, and your biggest regret will be that you didn’t begin your thyroid diet sooner. Also, although I do indulge every now and then, when I followed the diet after being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease I was very strict. Saying goodbye to pizza and chocolate chip cookies for awhile was a big challenge, but doing so is necessary to achieve optimal health.
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