Nutrition for an underactive thyroid
An underactive thyroid, especially in the case of Hashimoto, is a complex clinical picture. The lack of hormones can be supplemented by tablets and the thyroid gland returned to good working order. Because this condition – known as hypothyroidism – slows down the body’s metabolism and often causes weight gain, many of those affected want to counteract this by regulating their diet. Going without food for a longer period of time is, of course, counterproductive.
Indeed, the right diet for those receiving treatment for a thyroid disease can achieve more than just the loss of a few kilos: it can benefit the body’s entire hormonal cycle and thereby enhance patients - who are mostly women - overall well-being.
Ursula Wenk, complementary therapist with her own naturopathic practice in Ebikon, advocates a holistic approach to thyroid problems. In hormonal thyroid gland disorders, ovarian and adrenal activity is often contributory. Among other things, the adrenal glands are responsible for the stress hormone cortisol which, in increased amounts, promotes a thyroid disorder. Low progesterone, the sex hormone from the ovaries, also has an effect on the thyroid gland – and vice versa, of course. «The hormones from these three organs have very similar molecules,» Wenk says. You have to think of it like cooking. If, for example, all the «ingredients» are used for the stress hormone, there is no longer enough to produce the thyroid hormones.
Recommended eating patterns
Those aiming to rectify an underactive thyroid with hormone replacement therapy can support the process with the right eating patterns. Ursula Wenk recommends regular meals with a reduced amount of concentrated carbohydrates like bread and pasta, and plenty of vegetables and protein. It's important to eat proper meals and take the time to eat them rather than snacking now and again as this can lead to potential cravings.
She advises against interval fasting or anything similar for hormone problems. If the body doesn’t receive food in the morning, cortisol levels rise, she says. «I feel great and think I don't need the food at all,» Wenk says, «but it's a deceptive reaction of the body that often leads to weight gain, especially in the longer term, despite supposedly eating less.» A variety of proteins – ideally from both animal and plant sources – keep us satiated for a long time and provide us with important amino acids.
Important building blocks in nutrition
Amino acids, along with other nutrients, are important building blocks for our hormones. In addition, vegetables such as kohlrabi, courgette, cauliflower and tomatoes, which have a low glycaemic index are recommended. These cause blood sugar levels to rise less quickly. Also important are good fats: olive oil, cold-pressed linseed oil, coconut oil and even some butter.
Underactive thyroid: important nutrients
We need certain nutrients for the body’s hormone production to function well. Selenium and iodine are required to convert the thyroid hormone T4 into T3.
Iodine: found in table salt. Can alternatively be absorbed through certain algae or other products. Note: there's very little iodine in sea salt!
Selenium: there's a lot in Brazil nuts.
Vitamin D3: we get from the sun. Because we spend less and less time outdoors, many people have a deficiency. Too much sunscreen also blocks the natural production of vitamin D3.
Omega-3 fatty acids: found in oily fish – but often not enough in farmed fish.
Zinc: contained in meat, dairy products, fish, whole grains, pulses and nuts.
Iron: found in high amounts in red meat, fish and poultry. Also found in plant foods such as pulses, whole grains and certain vegetables and fruits.
Vitamin C: exists in high amounts in orange juice, broccoli and bell peppers. It also boosts iron absorption.
Amino acids: contained in pulses, meat, eggs and dairy products.
You can have these levels - as well as iron, vitamin D3 and zinc - measured by a laboratory. If there is any reason to suspect that your vitamin D3 levels are not high enough, Ursula Wenk recommends a check in spring and autumn. Vitamin D3, iron, and also omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients can be supplemented if necessary.
Forbidden foods with a thyroid problem
There are basically no forbidden foods for people with an underactive thyroid. However, getting the right amounts of certain foods can be critical for weight control as well as for an optimal supply of nutrients.
Some of the foods recommended should only be consumed in limited amounts:
- excessive iodine consumption, for example, can be harmful for people with Hashimoto's disease.
- Soya as a vegetable protein source is recommended at most about twice a week.
- Tofu and its associated products, if consumed in larger quantities, can hinder thyroid hormone production.
- Nuts, on the other hand, are considered a good source of protein, but also contain a lot of fat.
- Alcohol generally blocks the formation of hormones. It should therefore – especially in the case of an underactive thyroid – be consumed in moderate quantities.