Updated 3rd October 2022

What foods can help hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a common condition.

Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. If you have hypothyroidism, this gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. 

You can’t treat hypothyroidism with food, but there are some dietary considerations to keep in mind. 

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What is hypothyroidism?

Thyroid hormones are important for metabolism, growth, development, and many key bodily functions.

Your thyroid hormone levels are controlled by another hormone. This is called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). 

When levels of thyroid hormones in your blood are low, a chain reaction in your brain leads to the release of TSH. This tells your thyroid gland to release more thyroid hormones. 

The most common type of the condition is primary hypothyroidism. This means that the thyroid is receiving enough TSH, but it doesn’t release enough thyroid hormones. Primary hypothyroidism accounts for more than 99% of cases.

Secondary hypothyroidism is far less common. In this case, the thyroid doesn’t get enough TSH.

Symptoms, causes, and treatments

People with hypothyroidism can experience a variety of mild to severe symptoms. 

Common symptoms include:

  • weight gain 

  • lethargy

  • cold intolerance

  • dry skin

  • abnormal menstrual periods

  • depression

Without treatment, hypothyroidism can lead to:

  • heart disease

  • a goiter, which is a swelling at the front of the neck caused by a swollen thyroid

  • fertility complications

  • abnormally high levels of blood fat

  • impaired muscle function

Worldwide, the most common cause of hypothyroidism disorders is not getting enough iodine.

In countries where iodine deficiency isn’t a common issue, an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause.

Other causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • thyroid inflammation

  • surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid

  • radiation to treat thyroid cancer

  • some medications, such as amiodarone, lithium, and antiepileptic drugs

Hormone replacement is the most common treatment for hypothyroidism. Your doctor may suggest you take levothyroxine, a medication that replaces the hormones that your body would naturally produce.

Nutrients and hypothyroidism

There aren’t specific foods that can treat hypothyroidism. But some nutrients do play important roles in thyroid health. 

You can find many of these in a variety of healthy foods. They’re also available as supplements, but consuming large amounts of these nutrients can be dangerous.

There’s a risk that excessive quantities of vitamins or minerals could lead to drug interactions

If you’re taking medication for hypothyroidism, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before you add certain foods or supplements to your diet. 

Iodine

Iodine is an essential mineral that your body needs to make thyroid hormones. 

Worldwide, not getting enough iodine is common and is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. 

In some countries, manufacturers add iodine to table salt to help increase consumption. But this isn’t a perfect solution. And if you live in the United Kingdom, for example, iodized salt isn’t widely available. 

People living in the United States and the U.K. get the most of their salt from processed foods, and food manufacturers aren’t required to use iodized salt. 

Other popular types of salt, such as kosher salt, sea salt, and Himalayan salt, aren’t typically iodized.

Good food sources of iodine include:

  • cod 

  • haddock 

  • oysters

  • yogurt

  • cow’s milk

  • eggs

Kelp and seaweed, and especially brown seaweed, are very concentrated sources of iodine. But eat these with caution — too much iodine can be harmful.

Iron

Getting enough iron in your diet is important for many aspects of health, like the transportation of oxygen around the body, brain development, and muscle and connective tissue health. 

Iron also plays a role in your body’s ability to make thyroid hormones.

For people with hypothyroidism, getting enough iron may be even more important. Scientists have found that anemia is very common in people with hypothyroidism. 

Iron deficiency, a major cause of anemia, is widespread, especially among women and children. 

You can find iron in many foods, including:

  • red meat 

  • poultry

  • fish and shellfish

  • beans, peas, and lentils

  • nuts and seeds

  • fortified breakfast cereals

Selenium

There’s more selenium in the thyroid than in any other part of your body, and it plays an important role in making and breaking down thyroid hormones. 

Selenium deficiency in the U.S. is rare. It’s more common in some European countries and other parts of the world. 

According to a recent review, multiple studies have suggested a link between a lack of selenium and Hashimoto’s disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism aside from iodine deficiency.

You can get selenium from many foods, such as:

  • Brazil nuts

  • yellowfin tuna

  • halibut

  • sardines

  • shrimp

  • beef 

  • turkey 

  • chicken

  • lentils 

  • beans

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Zinc

The interaction between zinc and thyroid hormones is complex, and scientists are still exploring the relationship.

Some evidence suggests that zinc is involved in regulating the production and activity of thyroid hormones. Levels of zinc in your body may be linked with your levels of thyroid hormones and TSH.

Zinc deficiency is relatively common, affecting up to 17% of the world’s population, and it’s more common in developing countries. 

Common food sources of zinc include:

  • beef

  • poultry 

  • oysters

  • pumpkin, sesame, and hemp seeds

  • lentils

  • fortified breakfast cereals

Magnesium

Researchers are still looking into the relationship between magnesium and thyroid hormones. 

Some evidence suggests that magnesium may be involved in how your body absorbs iodine. This absorption is an important step in making thyroid hormones. 

Typically, your kidneys tightly control your magnesium levels. But some medications and health conditions can interfere with this process. One of these conditions is alcohol use disorder, which was once called alcoholism.

A magnesium deficiency can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fatigue, though having the deficiency with symptoms is rare.

Still, scientists estimate that around 60% of people don’t get enough magnesium from their diets. 

Good sources of magnesium are:

  • pumpkin seeds

  • almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts

  • chia seeds

  • spinach

  • legumes, such as black beans and lentils 

  • whole grains, like buckwheat and quinoa

A healthy diet

There are no specific foods that can treat hypothyroidism. Still, anyone with a thyroid condition should focus on eating a balanced, healthy diet to promote their overall health. 

Everyone responds to food differently, but there are general recommendations. For example, try to eat fewer foods that have lots of added sugars, salt, and saturated fats. 

Focus on eating plenty of:

  • fruits

  • vegetables

  • whole grains

  • legumes

  • lean proteins

  • dairy

  • healthy fats

Foods to limit 

If you have hypothyroidism, you can generally eat a normal, healthy diet. But there are some considerations, especially if you’re taking thyroid medication. 

Some limited evidence, in animals and humans, suggests that certain foods may affect you differently. 

However, the current research is very limited, so speak with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about what you’re eating and drinking.

Soy

If you have hypothyroidism, and especially if you’re taking thyroid hormone medication, a healthcare professional may advise you to avoid soy — or leave a long gap between taking your levothyroxine medication and eating any soy.

This is because soy can interfere with the absorption of levothyroxine in your body.

Cruciferous vegetables (in large amounts)

Cruciferous vegetables like collard greens, kale, and Brussels sprouts all contain substances called glucosinolates. 

Research has linked the glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables with anticancer properties, making them a great addition to an overall balanced and healthy diet.

However, the body breaks down glucosinolates into compounds that, if you eat extremely large amounts, may lower your thyroid hormone production over time. 

But there is currently no evidence to suggest that these healthy vegetables are harmful if you eat them in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Millet

Millet is a type of grain. It contains a flavonoid (a type of polyphenol) that may suppress thyroid function if you eat large amounts. 

The authors of an observational study suggest that having a goiter is widespread in some parts of Africa because of a reliance on millet as a staple food. 

Animal studies have also found links between a diet high in millet and impaired thyroid function. 

Still, it’s unlikely that consuming moderate amounts of millet as part of a balanced diet would be detrimental to your health. 

If you have hypothyroidism and you often consume millet, your doctor or dietitian may recommend switching to a different grain. 

Alcohol

The evidence is mixed when it comes to alcohol and thyroid health.

In multiple large studies, researchers found that the intake of alcohol, and particularly certain compounds in red wine, may be linked with thyroid dysfunction. 

Other, smaller studies did not find similar results. Overall, fully understanding alcohol’s effects on thyroid health requires more research.

Eating with medication

Many people with hypothyroidism take levothyroxine. 

Previous guidelines recommended taking this medication in the morning, but evidence from a recent review suggests that taking it in the evening may be just as effective, depending on the type of medication.

And you may or may not want to take it with food. Evidence from the review found that tablets are most effective when a person takes them 1 hour before eating, but people can take liquid or gel capsules with food, if they prefer.

The researchers also found limited evidence to suggest that some foods may interact with how well your medication works.

It’s recommended to leave a 1-hour gap between taking your medication and having:

  • soy

  • fiber-rich foods

  • coffee

Certain supplements may also interact with your medication, such as:

  • calcium

  • iron

  • aluminum

  • chromium

  • vitamin C

If you have concerns about how you’re taking your medication, speak with a healthcare professional.

Summary

Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid condition. It means that your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones — and this can affect nearly every cell in your body. Many people use hormone therapy to manage the condition.

The symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, lethargy, cold intolerance, dry skin, abnormal menstrual periods, and depression.

Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to heart disease, high levels of fat in the blood, fertility complications, and impaired muscle function.

No foods can cure or treat hypothyroidism. But certain nutrients, such as iodine, iron, selenium, zinc, and magnesium, are especially important for people with this health issue.  

It’s best to get these nutrients from a balanced diet, but you can also find them in supplements. 

Overall, people with hypothyroidism should aim for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. 

There are risks to adding excessive amounts of nutrients to your diet, so talk to a healthcare professional before making any big changes.

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