The first thing to remember when you are thinking about supporting your thyroid function with food is that the thyroid works throughout your entire body—so the best advice is to eat nutritionally dense healthy foods that can support your whole body—and to ADD foods that contain nutrients that your thyroid gland specifically needs.
Outlines of a Nutritionally Dense Healthy Diet
What does “nutritionally dense” mean? According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) it is “Food that is high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. Nutrient-dense foods contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, seafood, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans, and nuts.”
That definition also pretty much describes a healthy whole-foods diet—rich in whole grains like rice, millet, quinoa, whole wheat, corn, buckwheat, barley and oats—vegetables, fruit and lean meats. It is also rich in beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and some dairy products like yogurt (which can also provide healthy probiotics).
The healthiest diets tend to reduce the amounts of red meat and increase the amounts of fish, poultry and game meat. The healthiest diets avoid fried or fatty foods—though the newer air fryers can give you the taste and texture of fried foods without the unhealthy fats. They also avoid fast foods or processed foods—which are any food where most of the cooking is already done for you. Easier, but not healthier!
But, what about foods that contain the nutrients the thyroid needs?
Foods for a Healthy Thyroid
The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormone—so you need to provide at least 150 mcg of iodine every day—but not more than 1100 mcg because too much of a good thing is….not good. Too much iodine can be toxic for the thyroid, so pay attention to any supplements you take so that you don’t overdo it.
The most iodine-rich foods to support the thyroid come from the oceans and include all forms of seaweed and fish. To make sure you are not getting too much iodine, add two to three seaweed salads a week to your diet. Include fish (also a great source of healthy omega-3 fats) at least 2 times a week.
Iodized salt used to be a major source of iodine, but since so many people are reducing their salt intake—wisely so—another way to increase your iodine intake is to selectively and using only a pinch or two salt your food occasionally. You might just pick one type of food to be lightly salted—my favorite things to add a bit of salt to are tomatoes, cucumbers and hard-boiled eggs.
The best food sources of selenium are brazil nuts, fish like cod and tuna, eggs, sunflower seeds, shrimp/prawn, sardines, mushrooms and poultry. You need around 55 mcg of selenium every day—and don’t want to go over too much with selenium either—the safe upper limit (UL) for selenium is 400 mcg—so again, check any supplements you are taking and eat selenium rich foods once or twice a week. Too much selenium can cause “garlic breath”, loss of hair, off-color nails and heart problems.
Another mineral the thyroid needs is zinc. The best food sources of zinc are dark chocolate (!), lentils and other legumes, oysters, eggs, dairy products and red meats. You should get about 11 mg of zinc if male and 8 mg if female—the UL for zinc is 40 mg.
Every minute of every day, tiny organelles in nearly every cell of your body is producing the energy you need. These organelles are the mitochondria. However, while these mitochondria are producing needed energy, a damaging by product known as free radicals are also being produced. This is why antioxidants in food is SO important—the antioxidants found in the foods listed below soak up the free radicals before they can do any damage to your cells, tissues and organs.
The most antioxidant rich foods are strawberries, blackberries, goji berries, and cranberries. Antioxidant rich foods also includes the leafy green vegetables, beets, red cabbage, apples, plums and raspberries. These are low calorie foods as well, and there doesn’t appear to be a “UL” for antioxidants!
Other Foods to be Aware of
You may have heard that you should avoid soy products—well, it is still somewhat in doubt, but the current research suggests that eating normal amounts of soy should be just fine.