Hypothyroidism and Diet

Hypothyroidism Word Cloud

Thyroid DrawingAn underactive thyroid can be medically managed in a number of ways including the use of synthetic drugs and natural supplements. One area often overlooked by individuals suffering with hypothyroid problems is diet. There are everyday foods that can alleviate hypothyroidism and others that exacerbate thyroid function problems. When functioning normally, the thyroid gland produces thyroxine (T4) which is then converted into triiodothyronine (T3) by an enzyme called Iodothyronine deiodinase which contains selenium. Selenium is used to process the thyroid hormones. In hypothyroidism, these vital hormonal functions are reduced, causing hormonal imbalance.

Sufferers of hypothyroidism can help alleviate some of these problems by following a carefully selected diet to compliment the prescribed drugs they are given by their health practitioner. Certain foods aid this chemical process by helping the production of thyroxine, or where there is a deficiency, increasing the level of selenium found in the thyroid hormone processing enzyme.

Moderation and balance is the key to a healthy hypothyroidism diet and it is generally recommended that you speak to your doctor or dietician prior to making changes to your intake.

Foods for an underactive thyroid:

Selenium sources:

Fish, such as tuna, sardines and trout are a good source of selenium, the nutrient which aids the processing of thyroid hormones. There are also other benefits with fish consumption such as its high level of omega-3 fatty acids which help brain function, inflammation and your immune system.

Nuts are another source of selenium but should not be eaten in large quantities as they are high in fat.

Shellfish and Molluscs such as oysters, clams, lobster, shrimp, calamari and mussels are packed with this vital nutrient.

Whole-wheat Bread is another source but lower in terms of selenium per gram when compared to the sources above. Whole-wheat bread should not be consumed in large quantities or prior to taking your thyroid drugs as it contains gluten which can affect the absorption of synthetic thyroid hormones.

Mushrooms are low in calories and some species are a great source of iron. They also contain selenium which is not only good for an underactive thyroid, but also for bladder function.

Meat such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken and turkey are another source of selenium, protein and other healthy nutrients but these should always be consumed as part of a balanced diet as some studies have linked them to heart disease and other medical issues (particularly red meat).


Iodine sources:

Sea Vegetables, including Kelp and Kombu are high in iodine. Kelp was the original source of iodine in the 1800’s and as many people with hypothyroidism have an iodine deficiency, these are great vegetable to include in your diet.

Fortified Milk not only comes with the benefits of vitamin D, but is also a source of calcium and iodine.

Potatoes are another source of iodine, particularly when eaten with the skin.

Yoghurt is a natural pro-biotic and is a great source of iodine. Yogurts can be used in cooking, with salads or just eaten on their own.

yoghurtNo dietary recommendation would be complete without mentioning fresh fruit and vegetables. They are typically low in calories and aid weight loss. However, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and turnips should be taken in moderation and cooked well for individuals that have hypothyroid problems as they can interfere with the absorption of iodine.


Food and beverages to avoid:

Soy and soy based foods contain phytoestrogen which can increase oestrogen levels in the body. Oestrogen could possibly interfere with the processing of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones according to some studies.

Cruciferous Vegetables, as mentioned above, these can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones and iodine absorption.

High fat foods such as French fries, mayonnaise and deep fried chicken can hinder the ability to produce thyroid hormones.

Coffee can block the absorption of synthetic thyroid hormone replacement drugs. It is recommended that coffee is not consumed around the time of taking your thyroid medication.

Alcohol is a toxin and therefore, it is recommended that people who suffer with an underactive thyroid that are on medication, should not consume it at all as it can create problems around synthetic hormone absorption as well as thyroid hormone production.

3 Common Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid Parts Labeled

Thyroid disorders affect about 200 million people in the world. They range from small problems (like goiters) to dangerous ones (like cancer). The most common thyroid disorders are a result of unusual production of thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland uses iodine to manufacture thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroxine is the main hormone created by the gland. After it is delivered to the body’s tissues through the bloodstream, a small amount is converted to triiodothyronine.

These two thyroid hormones are vital in controlling body temperature, body energy, the development of body tissues, and the body’s use of vitamins and other hormones. However, when there is an overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones, problems occur. Too much thyroid hormone causes hyperthyroidism while too little leads to hypothyroidism.

For the most part, thyroid disorders are treatable. While they may have unpleasant effects, they can be alleviated if they are properly diagnosed. Three common thyroid disorders include Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, and Goiters.

Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s disease, also referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, occurs when the immune system falsely identifies the thyroid as a target and attacks the gland. This is known as an autoimmune condition. The immune system produces antibodies that wreak havoc on the thyroid gland. They gradually destroy the thyroid and affect its ability to produce hormones. According to the National Institutes of Health, Hashimoto’s disease is the leading cause of hypothyroidism in the US. It mostly affects middle-aged women but can also affect children, men, and women of all ages.


Scientists haven’t identified what makes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland, but they believe that these 4 factors play a major role.

Hormones: Hashimoto’s disease affects more women than men. Some women have a thyroid disease after delivering a baby (a condition that usually goes away) and a small number develop Hashimoto’s later on. This suggests that sex hormones may be involved.

Genes: Most people who suffer from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have family members with thyroid disease or an autoimmune disease.

Too Much Iodine: According to research, too much iodine and some drugs may bring about thyroid disease. While iodine is needed by the body to manufacture thyroid hormones, too much of it can cause problems.

Exposure to Radiation: People who have been exposed to radiation – like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the atomic bombs in Japan – often suffer from Hashimoto’s disease. The disorder also affects some people who have undergone radiation therapy for Hodgkin’s disease.


Most people don’t know they are suffering from Hashimoto’s disease because it may be mild at first. Sometimes it takes years to develop. The first telltale sign is usually an enlarged thyroid (a goiter). The goiter can make the neck to appear swollen and a big one can make swallowing painful. Other symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:

  • Constipation
  • Muscle pain and joint pain
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • A pale or puffy face
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Depression
  • Irregular or abnormal menstrual periods
  • Slow heart rate
  • Enhanced sensitivity to cold
  • Painful and stiff joints

Graves’ Disease

This is one of the most common thyroid disorders. It gets its name from the doctor who first described it, Robert Graves. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that leads to overproduction of thyroid hormones. While there are other disorders that may cause hyperthyroidism, it is a leading cause.

In Graves’ disease, the immune system manufactures antibodies – called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs) – that cause the thyroid gland to produce more hormones than the body needs.


While the main cause of Graves’ disease is yet to be identified, some researchers believe that genes may be the culprits. If someone in your family has Graves’ disease, chances are you may also get it.

Another aspect that makes one more likely to develop this autoimmune disease is gender. As stated on HealthLine, most autoimmune conditions affect women more than men, and Graves’ disease is no different. It mostly affects women over 20 years old, but even men and younger women can suffer from it.


  • Weight loss
  • Intolerance to heat
  • Goiter
  • Eye problems (such as double vision)
  • Thick skin
  • Bulging eyes
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain and palpitations
  • Insomnia and anxiety


This is an unusual enlargement of the thyroid gland. While most goiters are painless, large ones can trigger a cough and make swallowing and breathing difficult. A goiter can be a small problem that may go away without medical intervention, or it might be a symptom of a serious thyroid condition that necessitates medical attention.


Hyperthyroidism or Hypothyroidism: Goiters can occur from both a result of too much or too little thyroid hormones. In rare cases, the disorder may occur when the pituitary gland triggers thyroid growth in order to increase production of hormones. At times, a goiter forms with normal production of thyroid hormone.

Too Many Goiter-Stimulating Foods: If your diet comprises too many goiter-supporting foods, a sporadic goiter may form. These foods include cabbage, spinach, soybeans, cauliflower, broccoli, and peaches. They can stifle the production of thyroid hormone by affecting the thyroid’s ability to process iodide. However, for this to happen, you have to consume large amounts of these foods.

Lack of Iodine: Without iodine, thyroid hormones cannot be produced. The element is found in seawater and coastal soil. Iodine deficiency was once the most common cause of goiter. However, it stopped being a threat when iodized salt was introduced. Iodine is also added to some foods.

Hashimoto’s Disease: When you suffer from hypothyroidism, the pituitary gland produces more thyroid-stimulating hormone, which may cause the thyroid to enlarge.

Graves’ disease:  When antibodies created by the immune system attack the thyroid gland, it manufactures excess thyroxine. This over-activation makes the thyroid swell.

Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) that may enlarge the thyroid gland.


  • Difficulty breathing (at times accompanied by a high-pitch sound)
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Noticeable swelling at the base of the neck
  • Pain in the thyroid area

These 3 common thyroid disorders affect millions of people, but many aren’t aware. It is important to know about them and their symptoms. This way, you can stop them before they become an even bigger problem.