Is cheese good for Hashimotos?
Hypothyroidism Diet: Foods to Eat—and Some to Avoid
There’s no such thing as a magic hypothyroid diet. But certain foods, combined with the right medical treatment, can help keep your thyroid running like it should. Here are some of the best foods to eat—and some to skip.
Laurie Herr has more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing, and developing content for leading food and health and wellness publications. A lifelong vegetarian and a newbie gardener, she has a passion for simple, healthy cooking. She lives on 10 acres in Vermont with her family.
Updated on June 28, 2022
Reviewed by Dietitian
Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, has been with EatingWell for three years and works as the associate nutrition editor for the brand. She is a registered dietitian with a master’s in food, nutrition and sustainability. In addition to EatingWell, her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Real Simple, Parents, Better Homes and Gardens and MyRecipes.
Despite the online buzz, there’s really no such thing as a hypothyroid diet. No food can cure a sluggish thyroid. But combining a healthy, balanced eating plan with the right medical treatment can help ease your symptoms and help you feel like your old self again. Certain foods can help support your thyroid, and there are certain foods you should avoid or limit to support thyroid help. Here, we dig into foods that are good for hypothyroidism, plus foods to limit.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
About 5 percent of Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid—a butterfly-shaped gland in the base of the neck—doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. If you’ve been diagnosed, you probably know the symptoms of hypothyroidism all too well: fatigue, forgetfulness, dry skin and hair, muscle aches, weight gain, depression and sensitivity to cold. Because the thyroid regulates your metabolism, heartbeat, temperature and other crucial functions, you may feel like your whole body is slowly grinding to a halt.
Luckily, hypothyroidism is fairly simple to diagnose and treat. A simple blood test, and your doctor can prescribe the exact amount of replacement thyroid hormone you need. After that, treatment is often as easy as downing a daily pill.
The Best Foods to Eat for Thyroid Health
Just because your thyroid is not functioning properly doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy plenty of good food. Below are some smart choices that can help support thyroid health. Most of them will fill you up for not a lot of calories, which can be a plus if you’re trying to lose weight.
Seafood & Seaweed
Think of seafood as your thyroid’s BFF. Many kinds of fish are rich in iodine and other nutrients your body needs to make and use thyroid hormone efficiently. Best bets:
- Cod, tuna, seaweed, shrimp and other shellfish are excellent sources of iodine, essential for the production of thyroid hormone. Most Americans get enough iodine in iodized table salt, but people with low thyroid function may need more.
- Tuna and sardines are rich in selenium, a mineral that helps activate thyroid hormone.
- Oysters, Alaskan king crab and lobster are high in zinc, a mineral that helps regulate the release of thyroid hormone and helps the body absorb it.
Caution: Talk with your doctor if you have Hashimoto’s disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Getting too much iodine may cause side effects for you. For most adults, the recommended daily allowance for iodine is 150 mcg. The American Thyroid Association warns against taking daily supplements with more than 500 mcg of iodine.
Beef and chicken are excellent sources of zinc, a nutrient our bodies need for proper thyroid function. Not a meat eater? Beans (think kidney beans, baked beans and chickpeas) and fortified breakfast cereals are good choices too.
Nuts & Seeds
If you want to show your thyroid some love, try eating a few Brazil nuts every day. Just 1 ounce (about 6 to 8 nuts) provides a whopping 544 micrograms of selenium, making it one of the richest sources around. Other thyroid-friendly choices: cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
Snack on a handful of nuts, swirl sunflower-seed butter on top of oatmeal or add cashews to your salad.
Pictured recipe: Air-Fryer Kale Chips
Dark, leafy green veggies like spinach, chard, collard greens and kale score big in three ways: they’re high in iron, magnesium and vitamin A—all nutrients your thyroid needs to thrive. Vitamin A helps your thyroid produce thyroid hormone, while both iron and magnesium help the body absorb it. Research has found that getting enough vitamin A may help lower the risk of hypothyroidism, especially for those who are obese or recently underwent a gastrectomy.
Another plus: leafy greens are loaded with fiber, which can help improve digestion. If hypothyroidism gives you problems with constipation, a fresh salad or a serving of greens can get things moving again.
Egg whites are packed with protein, which can help boost a slow metabolism. Don’t skip the yolks, either—they’re high in both iodine and selenium and deliver a fair amount of protein too. One whole egg has 6 grams of protein and about half of that protein is in the yolk.
Yogurt & Other Dairy
Pictured recipe: Tahini-Yogurt Dip
Yogurt, milk, cheese and other dairy foods are all good sources of iodine—1 cup of low-fat yogurt provides half of your daily iodine needs. Dairy foods also deliver vitamin D, a nutrient many people with hypothyroidism need more of.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
Foods with Goitrogens
Some otherwise-nutritious foods contain goitrogens, compounds that can keep your thyroid from working like it should. Cooking seems to reduce the effect, and many foods with goitrogens can and should be part of a healthy diet. Still, some research suggests that eating these foods in large amounts may cause thyroid problems, especially if you don’t get enough iodine:
- Cabbage, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables
- Coffee, green tea and alcohol
If you have celiac disease, you may have a higher risk of other autoimmune diseases, including thyroid problems. Some studies show that switching to a gluten-free diet may prevent hypothyroidism in people with celiac disease. Learn more about starting a gluten-free diet.
Highly Processed, High-Calorie Foods
Most weight gain due to a low-functioning thyroid comes from excess salt and water. Once you’ve started treatment, you can expect to lose a little—usually around 10 percent or less of your total body weight, according to the American Thyroid Association. Cutting back on processed, high-calorie foods may also help with weight loss if that is your goal. Get 10 science-backed weight loss tips here.
There is no magical diet to eat when you have hypothyroidism, but some foods can help. Your thyroid condition and your health are individual, so be sure to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find an eating plan that works for you.
Acella Pharmaceuticals, LLC., is partnering with Heather Procknal, NBC-HWC-CHC, to bring greater awareness to the importance of thyroid care and education. This post was sponsored by Acella Pharmaceuticals and should not be construed as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor about your individual medical situation.
For those managing hypothyroidism, there is a high correlation between autoimmune symptoms and food sensitivities. 1
Today, I’ll cover why it may be beneficial to limit dairy intake and tips for how to reduce or eliminate dairy. I’ll also provide some non-dairy alternatives to make this transition easier.
For those with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common and potentially triggering items are:
- Seeds and nuts
More specifically, people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis tend to have a greater sensitivity to certain proteins found in dairy products. They also tend to have a higher incidence of lactose intolerance.
In a recent study, researchers found that lactose intolerance was diagnosed in 75.9% of test patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 2 That’s significant!
The good news is, not all people with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have lactose intolerance. So you might want to consider having lab tests done to confirm if you are truly lactose intolerant. You can also try eliminating dairy to see if you find a difference in how you feel.
What does this mean for patients suffering from hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
It means that consuming dairy may result in a reaction or sensitivity. This leads to the production of inflammatory chemicals in your body that can negatively impact your energy levels and mental and physical health.
Chronic inflammation has also been shown to reduce total thyroid receptor count and can disrupt thyroid hormone function.
Additionally, if you’re lactose intolerant and consume dairy products, you may suffer from malabsorption of essential nutrients and oral medications.
If you’re taking thyroid medication you want it to be as effective as possible!
To be clear, not all dairy products are problematic.
Dairy has many redeeming nutritional qualities, especially in its raw and fermented states. Unfortunately, most forms of dairy we eat today are highly processed with added preservatives and hormones that can wreak havoc on your digestive system and trigger inflammation. 3
But not ALL inflammation is bad. It is a vital part of the immune system’s response to healing injuries and infections.
The type of inflammation we are talking about reducing is chronic low-grade inflammation that is often caused by dietary and lifestyle factors.
Both of which are in your control!
So please let this empower you to make changes so you can heal your body, reduce inflammation and feel better.
If you decide to reduce or eliminate dairy, you might be wondering, “How can I know if something has dairy in it?”
Avoiding dairy or lactose can be challenging as it’s added to many things, such as processed foods, protein powders, baked goods, soups and sauces.
It’s helpful to be a diligent label reader while you’re reducing or eliminating dairy products.
Here is a list of items that MAY contain dairy:
- Canned Soups
- Sour Cream
- Cottage Cheese
- Ice Cream
- Frozen Meals
- Packaged Foods
- Powdered Drink Mixes
- Powdered Sauce Mixes
- Protein Powders
Here are some cow-milk alternatives:
My first recommendation for a non-dairy milk alternative is coconut milk, because it is autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet friendly.
Other non-dairy milk options are not on the AIP diet because they come from nuts, seeds and soy. which are considered triggering and are to be avoided while on the autoimmune protocol. 4
- Oat Milk
- Hemp Seed Milk
- Almond Milk
- Flax Seed Milk
- Soy Milk
- Cashew Milk
However, they are still a better alternative to cow’s milk, which means switching to them is a step in the right direction to healing your gut and reducing your thyroid symptoms.
Better swaps for non-dairy yogurt:
- Coconut Milk Yogurt – top pick and AIP friendly
- Almond Milk Yogurt – not AIP compliant
- Oat Milk Yogurt – not AIP compliant
- Soy Milk Yogurt – not AIP compliant
Here are a few other AIP-approved dairy alternatives that you may want to incorporate into your diet while you take a break from dairy.
- Vegan Kefir, such as Coconut Milk Kefir – AIP friendly
- Coconut water kefir or coconut milk kefir is very beneficial for digestion and gut health. It’s also high in nutrients and probiotics!
Non-Dairy Cheese alternative:
Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast. It comes in the form of small yellow flakes and has a mild cheesy taste.
It’s popular in vegan cuisine as a cheese alternative, PLUS it’s AIP-compliant.
Sprinkle or mix nutritional yeast into anything you’d like to have a nutty cheesy taste! Top steamed veggies or sprinkle it on your salad to amplify the flavor.
In the mood for a crunchy satisfying snack? Sprinkle nutritional yeast over some air-popped popcorn for a faux-cheesy treat!
Here’s a health tip: Track your food and symptoms.
One of the ways you can figure out if dairy is impacting your hypothyroid symptoms is to keep a daily tracker of the food you eat and your symptoms.
Notice your energy levels after eating certain dairy-containing foods. Check in with your mood and sleep quality as well. The more in tune you are with your body and mind, the easier it will be to modify your lifestyle and diet and begin to feel better!
If the thought of going “cold turkey” from dairy feels overwhelming, then try to swap out one or two things at a time and build from there. Sometimes just a slight change in your diet can have a large impact on how you feel, so try something different or new. Who knows, you might just fall in love with coconut milk!
Speaking of coconut milk, here is a yummy non-dairy treat to help satisfy your sweet tooth.
- 3 brown or spotted bananas (must be ripe for sweetness)
- ¼ cup coconut milk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 1 pinch of salt (to taste)
1. Peel and slice ripe bananas into small pieces
2. Place in a container and freezer overnight
3. Once your bananas are frozen, put them to a food processor or blender and slowly add the coconut milk, vanilla extract, and salt (to taste) until it resembles soft-serve ice cream.
4. Scoop into bowls and enjoy immediately.
For a firmer ice cream, pour the mixture into a freezer-safe loaf pan and freeze for an additional two hours, then scoop into bowls and top with flaked coconut, berries or more bananas! The possibilities are endless!