The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, located at the base of the neck. Thyroid hormones are essential for growth and metabolism. Every single cell in the human body has receptors for thyroid hormone, so the effects of poor thyroid function affect a wide range of body systems from the digestive system to the neurological system, and musculoskeletal system to reproductive systems. (1)
Common thyroid disorders can include hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), Grave’s disease (an autoimmune condition where the thyroid is overactive), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune thyroid condition), thyroid nodules (growths on the thyroid gland), thyroid cancer and goiter (an enlarged thyroid).
Approximately 10% of Canadians have thyroid disease (2). Additionally, other thyroid disorders or dysfunction (that is, conditions and symptoms not severe enough to be labelled a “disease”, but that still impact health and quality of life) affect approximately 1 in 3 Canadians (3). Irregular thyroid function can have wide-ranging, seemingly unrelated symptoms, which is why thyroid issues go undiagnosed and/or untreated so frequently. (4)
Could you have an undiagnosed thyroid disorder?
There are actually over 300 symptoms of thyroid dysfunction.
- Common symptoms include:
- loss of the outer third of the eyebrows
- reproductive issues such as difficulty becoming pregnant and/or difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term
- menstrual issues including painful periods, heavy bleeding or irregular cycles
- joint and muscle pain
- dry skin
- weight gain/loss
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty regulating body temperature including always feeling cold, or hot flashes
- poor memory or concentration
This broad range of symptoms, in addition to difficulty accessing functional testing through one’s family doctor, can make it difficult to obtain a proper diagnosis.
Can dietary choices support thyroid health?
It can take many years, even decades, for a sluggish thyroid to become weak enough to become a diagnosable disease. Whether you want to support your thyroid or want food to help support or address a thyroid condition, then nutrition has a vital role in supporting thyroid hormone production and conversion. We are here to help you with some thyroid supportive foods that contain specific nutrients that play a key role in thyroid health. (5)
Top 10 Foods for Thyroid Health
#1. Brazil nuts
The thyroid gland is the organ with the highest selenium content, and selenium is known to play an important role in converting T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) into T3 (active thyroid hormone), decreasing Reverse T3 (which can block T3 hormone receptor sites), and decreasing anti-thyroid antibody levels (antibodies the body produces to attack itself). (6, 7)
For most people, eating just 1 – 3 Brazil nuts daily can easily meet their selenium needs.
Grass-fed beef liver is the richest source of B12 and Vitamin A around. This is important because these nutrients are critical for thyroid hormone production and regulation. Adequate intake of Vitamin A improves cellular sensitivity to thyroid hormones. (8)
#3. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are high in detoxification-supportive fibre, sweeping waste out of the digestive tract. Supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways (including the colon) assists in reducing the amount of harmful toxins circulating in the blood by carrying them out of the body through waste. Circulating toxins can increase systemic inflammation, trigger autoimmune flares, and can even potentially be damaging thyroid tissue. So, ensuring adequate intake of fibre is an effective way to support the body’s natural detoxification, which in turn supports thyroid health. Additionally, leafy greens are a great source of magnesium as well, aiding in the conversion of inactive T4 to the active thyroid hormone T3.
If you’re not a fan of leafy greens, you can sneak more into your diet with creative recipes like these Herb & Greens Chicken Sliders.
Berries are high in antioxidants. Studies show those with thyroid dysfunction have higher levels of harmful free radicals, the antioxidants found in berries offer great protection to neutralize those free radicals. Berries’ are another food that is high in fibre content to help aids in detoxification as well.
Plus, berries are delicious! Check out our Berry Beet Smoothie Bowl for a twist on a classic smoothie.
This simple spice has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can calm down an active autoimmune response that is often the cause of damage to the thyroid gland. Curcumin is the active component of turmeric responsible for this action. Curcumin also has the benefit of offering pain relief. Many thyroid-disease sufferers struggle with pain in their thyroid, body pain, headaches, and more as a result of their condition. Curcumin may serve as a pain-management option while they work to correct the underlying imbalance(s) causing the thyroid condition.
Seaweed such as kelp, nori and wakame, also known as sea vegetables, are a great food source of iodine which the body uses as a building-block for thyroid hormone production. These food sources of iodine also contain selenium, which is required to support iodine uptake. In essence, selenium improves how efficiently your body can absorb the iodine consumed from your diet. (9)
#7. Bone Broth
Bone broth is known as “liquid gold” for good reason. Most people recognize that bone broth is a source of easy to absorb essential minerals.
A cup of bone broth also contains many amino acids, which have gut healing benefits. Gut healing is an important consideration because most thyroid disorders are autoimmune in nature and often have roots in impaired digestive function. Bone broth is also a source of glutamine, used by the intestinal and immune cells for energy.
Avocados are a source of a wide variety of micronutrients, vitamins, and healthy fats. Avocados’ high fat content is made up of mostly health-promoting monounsaturated fats. Teaming these fats up with high fibre improves blood sugar balance and increases satiety. Blood sugar balance is critical for those with a thyroid dysfunction because the hormone insulin that is responsible for signalling our cells to take in sugars from our blood has an inversely proportional relationship to thyroid hormones. That is, as blood sugar goes up, insulin goes up as a result, and thyroid hormone production goes down.
#9. Oily Fish (Salmon, Sardines)
These oily fish are high in specific types of omega-3s. Some such omega-3s include EPA (eicosapentanoic acid), which is hailed for its anti-inflammatory effects, and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) which supports the nervous system, including the brain. Both fats can be utilised by every single cell membrane in the body to improve cell signalling and down-regulate systemic inflammatory responses. Systemic inflammation is a common contributing factor to most diseases, including thyroid conditions. As such, reducing systemic inflammation can help support thyroid function.
If you’re looking for some recipe inspiration, check out our Rosemary Walnut Crusted Salmon.
#10. Fermented Foods
Coconut kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and other fermented foods provide a wide variety of beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, are critical not only for gut health, but also for regulating immune function (which is responsible for autoimmunity). (10)
Plus, the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of existing nutrients by breaking down the anti-nutrients including phytates that can bind to essential nutrients and cause irritation within a compromised gut. As concluded in Knezevic et al. 2020, “Gut microbiota also influences the absorption of minerals that are important to the thyroid, including iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron.” (11)
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, suspect you may have a thyroid condition, or just want to maintain your thyroid health… we encourage you to consume these 10 healthy foods to support your thyroid health.
If you’d like to make implementing the recommendations above easier, get your copy of our 1-Week Thyroid-Supporting Meal Plan today.
Or, to take things a step further, if you’re interested in functional thyroid testing above what is offered at your family doctor’s office, please connect with one of our naturopathic doctors. You can also connect with our nutritionists to learn more about how nutrition strategies – ranging from micronutrient balancing to autoimmune protocols or specific therapeutic foods – can be applied to improve thyroid function.