There’s a fair chance that you have never thought about your thyroid. However, this small butterfly-shaped gland is a vital piece of your endocrine system, helping the body regulate hormones. If you are one of the millions of people living with health concerns, it could be your thyroid – a gland highly sensitive to your everyday diet. Because the entire endocrine system can be sensitive to diet, there are foods to avoid, and also foods that you can add to your health regimen in order to restore proper thyroid function.
What is the Thyroid Gland and How Does it Work?
Located on the front of the neck, this “master gland” is charged with many critical bodily operations. The thyroid gland’s function impacts nearly every cell in your body, and many processes, as it is responsible for the production of essential thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). To produce these hormones needed to regulate everything in your body from your appetite, to your good mood, and even your deep sleep, the thyroid must find iodine. If there is not enough of it in your bloodstream, the thyroid may not function properly, and you may notice these symptoms of common thyroid dysfunction:
- The “jitters,” or a feeling of physical nervousness and anxiousness
- Mental fog, and an inability to focus
- Changes in your menstrual cycle
- Gastrointestinal distress like gas and bloating
- Racing heartbeat or palpitations
- Muscle aches and pains
- Unwanted weight gain
- Cholesterol imbalance
- Enlargement in the front of the neck, at the location of your thyroid
- Growing intolerance to heat, or hot flashes, or the opposite (cold flashes)
If you notice that you have three or more of these symptoms, avoiding these seven worst foods for thyroid health.
Many things can cause the immune system to attack your thyroid gland. Gluten is a tiny protein present in grains, however, this substance is added into so many foods today that many people have reported negative symptoms associated with consuming it. Not only is it used in baked goods as a leavener, but it also works as a preservative. That’s why health professionals suggest that gluten is perhaps the biggest culprit of thyroid dysfunction today.1 Seen as an invader by the immune system, gluten leads the body to create large amounts of antibodies in the blood when it enters the intestinal tract.
This term encompasses many different items, all made from the soybean. These can include protein powders, milk, and many vegetarian items like cheeses and meats. However, when people consume so many soy products, they often do not realize it. This can be problematic for the proper function of the thyroid gland, as soy contains phyto estrogenic compounds called isoflavones, which have been scientifically shown to negatively affect thyroid functioning.2
Because soy contains what are known as phytoestrogens (isoflavones), they may cause your body confusion. These compounds mimic natural estrogen hormones produced in your body. For this reason, if you are worried about a healthy thyroid, you may choose to eliminate all soy-based foods including edamame, tofu, and soy sauce from your diet.
In our fast-paced lifestyles today, many people drink more than just one cup of coffee in the morning. In fact, most people can be found drinking about 3-5 cups of Joe every day. This constant consumption of caffeine boosts energy levels, but it can also have a disruptive effect on your metabolism. Your body’s metabolism is naturally regulated by the thyroid gland. However with so many “boosts,” from caffeine during the day, coffee can disrupt the adrenal glands, causing an overproduction of epinephrine and norepinephrine – hormones that harm your thyroid. This, in turn, produces adrenaline that you do not need in regular day-to-day applications.
Thus, consuming caffeine in large quantities every day could burn out the adrenal glands, and overstimulate the thyroid over time. Not only that, but caffeine also increases blood sugar and insulin levels, which can cause cravings for sugary foods and refined carbohydrates – also overtaxing the thyroid.
The thyroid gland plays a vital role in the health of the liver, and its ability to detoxify potentially dangerous hormones in your body. While drinking small amounts of some types of alcoholic beverages can promote good health, too much can harm your healthy thyroid. In clinical studies, alcohol consumption has been directly shown to have a toxic effect on healthy thyroid cells, and this direct toxicity may account for a reduction in thyroid volume.3
Don’t be fooled by food labels: Sugar goes by over 50 different names, including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin, maltose, and many more. Is it any wonder that people often don’t realize just how much sugar they are actually eating? When you consume large amounts of sugar, as most do, it can tamper with gut bacteria balance.
Studies have confirmed that eating excessive amounts of sugar allows non-beneficial bacteria in the stomach to proliferate, putting a damper on active thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) production. This shows that gut bacterial balance plays a major role in thyroid health, and that it may also influence the regulation of other hormones.4
6. Red Meat
Studies have shown that vegetarian diets are rarely associated with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).5 For this reason, eliminating meat, including ground beef, bacon, and certain cuts of steak, may help reduce your risk of potential thyroid complications.
Since iodine and heavy metals have a very similar molecular structure, the thyroid often grabs for elements such as mercury, mistaking it for iodine. Seafood tends to be high in these metals, due to ocean contamination. Heavy metals like mercury often prohibit the body from absorbing essential minerals, including zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Mercury also disrupts thyroid hormone production, limiting the amount of necessary T3 and T4 hormones in your body. This makes seafood a hazardous dietary choice for those looking to maintain, or improve their thyroid health.6
Foods to Feed your Thyroid
Talk to your doctor if you feel like you may need a little extra help promoting your thyroid health. Until then, you may want to add these foods to your everyday menu to boost the proper functions of your oh-so-important thyroid gland.
Best foods for your thyroid: Coconut oil, seaweed, kefir, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, sprouted seeds, filtered water, bone broth, and fiber-rich foods like apples, beans, seeds, and lentils.
It is so important to take good care of your thyroid gland, because as a central part of your endocrine system, it takes great care of you. While most of the time, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is all you need to keep your thyroid working properly, you may also want to adjust your diet to avoid these seven worst foods for your thyroid. Today, there are so many factors that can mess up the proper functioning of this essential gland, including the natural aging process, immunity problems, stress, and environmental pollutants. So, always try to keep your thyroid humming, by eliminating these foods.
Want more health tips? Keep reading here:
1. Chin Lye Ch’ng, MRCPI, M. Keston Jones, MD, FRCP. Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease. Clin Med Res. 2007 Oct; 5(3): 184–192.
2. Messina M, Redmond G. Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature Thyroid. 2006 Mar;16(3):249-58.
3. Yatan Pal Singh Balhara and Koushik Sinha Deb. Impact of alcohol use on thyroid function. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul-Aug; 17(4): 580–587.
4. Hays MT. Thyroid hormone and the gut. Endocr Res. 1988;14(2-3):203-24.
5. Serena Tonstad, Edward Nathan. Vegan Diets and Hypothyroidism. Nutrients. 2013 Nov; 5(11): 4642–4652.
6. Offie P. Soldin, Daniel M. O’Mara. Thyroid Hormones, Methylmercury Toxicity. Biol Trace Elem Res. Apr. 2008.