What are the best foods to help your thyroid?

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on April 13, 2020. Written by Jordana White. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


In addition to medications and other interventions, the foods you eat can affect thyroid conditions like hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. So if you’re experiencing thyroid issues or a thyroid imbalance, it’s crucial to identify foods to help thyroid function. Plus, it’s a good idea to know what foods may harm your thyroid, as well as what causes thyroid problems, so you don’t unintentionally worsen existing thyroid conditions. (It’s always recommended to talk with your healthcare provider first before making significant dietary changes.)

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Read on to learn more about thyroid-boosting foods—and what foods you may want to avoid if you have a thyroid condition.

What are the best foods for thyroid function?

What are some foods that are good for the thyroid? First off, certain nutrients are key for boosting thyroid health, especially if you’re at risk of iodine deficiency (which can disrupt normal thyroid function). Without sufficient iodine intake (about 150 mcg each day) your thyroid won’t be able to produce enough hormones—which can lead to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

So if you’re looking for iodine-rich foods to help thyroid function, here are several nutritious options:

  • Roasted seaweed
  • Fish and seafood—especially shrimp, cod, and tuna
  • Dairy products, including yogurt, milk, and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Iodized salt (also known as table salt)

Adding these thyroid-boosting foods to your diet may help improve functioning and health. If you aren’t able to get enough iodine from your diet, you may want to discuss taking an iodine supplement with your healthcare provider—but it’s important to note that you shouldn’t take these supplements without first speaking with your healthcare provider. That’s because it’s also possible to take in too much iodine (potentially resulting in a thyroid disorder).

In general, an adult shouldn’t consume more than 1100 mcg of iodine per day. If you do approach that maximum daily intake, and your iodine levels rise too high, you may develop serious side effects, including stomach pain and bloating, fever, and diarrhea. Additionally, your thyroid gland may become enlarged (this is called a goiter), or you may develop thyroid inflammation.

Beyond iodine, there are other dietary aspects to consider when it comes to thyroid function because people with hypothyroidism will need to choose different foods to improve thyroid function compared to people with hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). In short, the best food for thyroid conditions will depend on the individual—which is why it’s key to understand your specific thyroid issue and consult with a healthcare provider before making major changes to your diet.

Wondering what the best foods for hypothyroidism are? Read the section below to learn more about diet and hypothyroidism.

What foods help with hypothyroidism?

If you are experiencing symptoms of an underactive thyroid, it may be a sign that you have hypothyroidism—a kind of thyroid disease. If you have hypothyroidism (your thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient hormones), you may have heard that foods like coconut oil can help boost your thyroid hormone production. But, in reality, there’s little medical evidence to suggest that foods like these will help an underactive thyroid.

Instead, the best course of action is sticking to the medical treatment (like thyroid hormone replacement) recommended by your healthcare provider.

Are there any foods to avoid with hypothyroidism medication? If you’re taking synthetic thyroid hormones to treat an underactive thyroid, avoid taking your medication alongside any of the following foods and supplements and instead take them a few hours apart:

  • Walnuts
  • Soybean flour
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Iron supplements or multivitamins containing iron
  • Calcium supplements

Certain other prescription medications may also interact with your thyroid medication, so be sure to discuss all your prescriptions with your healthcare provider.

What foods help with hyperthyroidism?

No specific diet will directly improve your symptoms of hyperthyroidism. If, however, Graves’ disease is behind your hyperthyroidism (this autoimmune disease is the most common cause of an overactive thyroid), then choosing certain foods can help support your immune system health and thus overall thyroid function. These foods include:

  • Dairy products, orange juice, eggs, salmon, or other items fortified with calcium and/or vitamin D, since Grave’s disease can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis, and these foods can help prevent these issues.
  • Protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, beans, and nuts, since weight loss is a common symptom of hyperthyroidism, and these foods can help preserve your existing muscle mass and potentially aid in weight gain.
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and cauliflower. Also known as goitrogenic foods (foods that can help lower thyroid hormone production), they may inhibit your thyroid gland’s ability to process iodine and produce thyroid hormones—potentially easing symptoms of hyperthyroidism. However, you should exercise caution with these vegetables if you have an autoimmune condition like Graves’ disease, so talk with your healthcare provider first before making these foods a larger part of your diet.

What foods are bad for thyroid function?

Now that we’ve highlighted foods to boost thyroid function, let’s focus on foods to avoid if you have a thyroid condition.

If you have hypothyroidism

In general, stay away from foods that are high in soy protein, since they may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb replacement thyroid hormones.

You may have also heard that you should avoid cruciferous vegetables such as spinach, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and Brussels sprouts.

It’s important to know that these foods, by themselves, probably won’t harm your thyroid function. However, they are considered goitrogenic foods because they affect your thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine, which can lower thyroid hormone production and increase your risk for goiters.

What does that mean for you? If you’re not getting enough iodine in your diet, or if you know you have low iodine levels, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about avoiding these vegetables.

But if you have hypothyroidism, or are at increased risk for goiters (an enlarged thyroid gland) due to family history, you don’t have to avoid these vegetables entirely. Instead, try to mix up the vegetable servings you eat each day, so you aren’t getting a whopping intake of goitrogens in any one meal. Also note that if you juice these vegetables, you’ll vastly increase their concentration of thiocyanates, which is the chemical in goitrogenic vegetables that interferes with your thyroid gland function.

However, if you’re already taking synthetic thyroid hormones for thyroid dysfunction, you probably don’t have to worry about eating cruciferous vegetables (though it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider about it). Instead, focus on maintaining a balanced diet, rich in your required vitamin and nutrient intake. This will help you keep your entire body, not just your thyroid, working well.

If you have hyperthyroidism

What are the foods to avoid with hyperthyroidism? Lowering your intake of certain foods may help if you have hyperthyroidism, include:

  • Caffeine, since it may worsen hyperthyroidism symptoms such as nervousness, anxiety, and weight loss.
  • Common food allergens, including corn and gluten, since these may trigger worsening symptoms. So consider talking with your healthcare provider about a gluten-free diet—or other specialized diets—if you have hyperthyroidism.

How can I treat my thyroid problem naturally?

If a thyroid test and a physician’s evaluation indicates you’ve got a thyroid condition, it’s important to follow the medical advice of your healthcare provider. It isn’t possible to heal your thyroid solely by making dietary changes.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t make lifestyle changes that will naturally boost your thyroid health and help manage a thyroid dysfunction. First and foremost, focus on eating a nutritious diet, since this will keep delivering benefits even after your thyroid hormone level has balanced out due to medical treatment.

Also, since both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism change the way your body metabolizes food, look to increase your fiber intake, as this can improve your digestion. Fiber-rich foods include whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Make sure to get plenty of nutrients, and look to proteins from lean sources such as fish, or plant-based options like beans or nuts. You should also eat healthy fat sources, such as olive oil or omega-3 fatty acids.

Of course, managing your thyroid health naturally also means avoiding unhealthy foods. Specifically, try staying away from “bad fats” like trans fats, which are typically found in products like margarine, processed foods, and hydrogenated oils.

Conclusion

If you’ve done thyroid testing and discovered a potential thyroid imbalance, consider sharing your test results with your healthcare provider and learn what next steps they recommend. One great way to promote thyroid healing and health is to support your overall well-being through a healthy diet. If you stick to the basics of nutrition, and follow your healthcare provider’s specific instructions regarding your individual thyroid condition, you may be well on your way to a symptom-free lifestyle.


Easily test 3 key thyroid hormones from the convenience of home with the Everlywell Thyroid Test.


References

1. Iodine. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

2. Hypothyroidism diet: Can certain foods increase thyroid function? Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

3. Graves’ disease. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

4. Williams GR, Bassett JHD. Thyroid diseases and bone health. J Endocrinol Invest. 2018;41(1):99–109. doi:10.1007/s40618-017-0753-4

5. Kim MJ, Cho SW, Choi S, et al. Changes in Body Compositions and Basal Metabolic Rates during Treatment of Graves' Disease. Int J Endocrinol. 2018;2018:9863050. doi:10.1155/2018/9863050

6. Cruciferous Vegetables. Oregon State University. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

7. Thyroid Issues? What You Should Know About Foods and Supplements to Avoid. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

8. Mayo Clinic Q and A: Hypothyroidism, spinach and kale. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

9. Healthy eating for a healthy thyroid. Harvard Health. URL. Accessed April 13, 2020.

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