The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the throat. Having hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, can slow down metabolism, cause weight gain, and cause fatigue.
This article will discuss how diet affects hypothyroidism, which foods to eat and avoid, and an example of a 1-week meal plan. We also look at how the condition affects a person’s weight.
How does diet affect hypothyroidism?
Cheese is rich in iodine, which may help manage hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Often, doctors treat hypothyroidism with medicine that replaces the thyroid hormones.
While diet cannot cure hypothyroidism, it plays three main roles in managing the condition:
- Foods that contain certain nutrients can help maintain proper thyroid function, such as iodine, selenium, and zinc.
- Other foods interfere with normal thyroid function, such as those containing goitrogens and soy, so limiting these can improve symptoms.
- Some foods and supplements can interfere with how well the body absorbs thyroid replacement medicine, so limiting these foods can also help.
Hypothyroidism can lead to weight gain because it can slow down a person’s metabolism.
Therefore, a person with hypothyroidism should aim for a healthful diet to prevent weight gain.
Making dietary changes can have an impact on how a person feels and may help improve their quality of life.
The following sections identifies some of the nutrients that can help people with hypothyroidism, and which foods contain them.
The body requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones. However, the body cannot make iodine, so a person needs to get iodine from their diet.
Iodine deficiency can also cause an enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goiter.
Foods rich in iodine include:
- ice cream
- iodized table salt
- saltwater fish
- whole eggs
Iodine deficiency is relatively uncommon in the United States due to the use of iodized table salt, but it is more common in other areas around the world.
However, a person should avoid consuming large amounts of iodine because excess iodine can worsen hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium.
Selenium is a micronutrient that plays a role in the production of thyroid hormones and has antioxidant activity. The thyroid tissue naturally contains selenium.
A review article published in the International Journal of Endocrinology found that maintaining selenium levels in the body helps people avoid thyroid disease and promote overall health.
Foods rich in selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- whole wheat bread
Zinc is another nutrient that has beneficial effects on a person’s thyroid hormones.
One small-scale research study showed that zinc supplementation, both alone or in combination with selenium, significantly increased levels of thyroid hormones called T3 and T4.
Foods rich in zinc include:
- fortified cereal
- pumpkin seeds
List of foods to avoid and why
Some foods contain nutrients that can interfere with thyroid health. While these foods are not off-limits, people may notice improvements by limiting their consumption.
Some foods contain goitrogens that can potentially decrease thyroid hormone production.
Foods that contain goitrogens are typically green, cruciferous vegetables, including:
- brussels sprouts
- Russian kale
- broccoli rabe
However, these foods also offer plenty of health benefits.
People with hypothyroidism can still enjoy these foods in moderation because scientists believe goitrogens only affect a person’s hormones when they consume them in excess.
Also, the cooking process appears to deactivate the goitrogen’s effects.
Hypothyroidism may have links to an underlying autoimmune disorder, so people may be more at risk of developing other autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease.
Celiac disease causes chronic inflammation and damage to the small intestine due to the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat and other grains, including barley, oat, and rye.
Treating celiac disease involves following a gluten-free diet. People with autoimmune-related hypothyroidism can try to cut gluten out of their diets to see if their symptoms improve.
Researchers have found that soy may interfere with how the body produces thyroid hormone.
In one published case study, a woman developed severe hypothyroidism after consuming a health drink containing high amounts of soy for 6 months. Her condition improved after discontinuing the drink and taking thyroid hormone replacement medication.
Foods that contain soy include:
- soy milk
- soy sauce
A person should avoid processed foods, which tend to be calorie-dense and offer little nutritional benefit. These types of foods also promote weight gain.
Examples of processed foods include:
- fast food
- hot dogs
Other diet tips
Certain foods and supplements can make hypothyroid medication less effective.
The following medications and supplements may interfere with the body’s absorption of thyroid hormone:
- antacids or acid reducers
- calcium supplements
- iron supplements
- high-fiber foods, such as bran flakes, fiber bars, and drinks
- foods high in iodine
- soy-based foods
People using these medications, supplements, or foods regularly should speak to their doctor regarding the best ways to manage their medication and thyroid hormone levels.
Hypothyroidism meal plan: 7 days
Salad with grilled shrimp is a recommended lunch on the hypothyroidism meal plan.
The best diet for a person with hypothyroidism contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a moderate amount of healthful carbohydrates.
Here is an example of a one-week meal plan for a person with hypothyroidism to follow:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and whole wheat or gluten-free toast
- Lunch: Salad with grilled shrimp
- Dinner: Beef stir-fry with vegetables and brown rice. Recipe here.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad topped with pumpkin seeds
- Dinner: Baked salmon with roasted vegetables
- Breakfast: Omelet with mushroom, zucchini, and cheese
- Lunch: Bean soup with a whole wheat or gluten-free roll. Recipe here.
- Dinner: Beef fajitas with peppers and onions with corn tortillas
- Breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt with granola and berries
- Lunch: Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat or gluten-free bread
- Dinner: Roasted chicken with baked beans
- Breakfast: Smoothie with yogurt, banana, and strawberries. Recipe here.
- Lunch: Canned tuna with whole wheat or gluten-free crackers
- Dinner: Grilled steak with a side salad
- Breakfast: Fortified cereal with yogurt and fruit
- Lunch: Turkey burger on a whole wheat or gluten-free bun
- Dinner: Pan-fried crab cakes with brown rice and vegetables. Recipe here.
- Breakfast: Frittata with vegetables
- Lunch: Chicken salad sandwich on a whole wheat or gluten-free bun. Recipe here.
- Dinner: Grilled shrimp skewers with bell peppers and pineapple
Tips for weight loss with hypothyroidism
People with hypothyroidism may find that they gain weight more easily than people without the condition. This is because hypothyroidism can lower a person’s metabolism.
A person with hypothyroidism should focus on a healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. These foods are lower in calories and help keep a person fuller longer, which can help people to maintain a healthful weight.
Regular moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise can help increase a person’s metabolism to promote weight loss. Doing more activities can also lead to improved energy and sleep.
Sometimes, people can experience a small weight loss — typically about 10 percent — when they take medication to treat to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism has links to an underlying autoimmune disorder. It can cause a low metabolism, which leads to easier weight gain. People can treat hypothyroidism with thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
Some foods and nutrients can help or hinder proper thyroid function.
A person with hypothyroidism can aim for a healthful diet that supports thyroid hormone metabolism and also helps maintain a healthful weight.