Your thyroid gland may be small, but it’s an important organ that has a major influence on your overall health. Located right at the base of your neck, your thyroid pumps out the hormones that control growth and development, while also regulating everything from body temperature and heart rate to metabolism and menstrual cycles.
A sluggish thyroid can cause symptoms like weight gain, depression and dry skin. It can also cause concentration and energy levels to crash. Meanwhile, an overactive thyroid gland can contribute to serious issues including anxiety, moodiness and hyperactivity.
Cleaning up your diet is one of the most effective ways to optimize thyroid health and balance your hormones. Certain foods are chock-full of nutrients that are vital to the thyroid, but others can actually interfere with thyroid function and wreak havoc on your health.
Here are a few of the top foods for thyroid health, plus which ones you may be better off without.
Foods for boosting thyroid health
1. Brazil Nuts
The nutrient-rich Brazil nuts are jam-packed with selenium, an important mineral that helps activate thyroid hormones as it simultaneously fights oxidative stress and alleviates inflammation. In fact, eating just one kernel (raw or roasted) can knock out your entire daily requirement for selenium, plus provide a host of other valuable micronutrients that are essential to just about every aspect of health.
Besides supplying plenty of protein, calcium and B-vitamins, yogurt ranks as one of the most iodine-rich foods available. Iodine is crucial when it comes to the production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency in this key mineral can impair thyroid function and cause weight gain, fatigue and hair loss. To maximize the thyroid-boosting benefits of yogurt, skip the sweetened varieties and opt for organic, grass-fed and raw yogurt whenever possible.
Both seaweed benefits and uses extend far beyond the standard sushi roll. In fact, making seaweed a regular part of your diet can have a powerful impact when it comes to thyroid health. In addition to potassium, vitamin K and magnesium, seaweed is also loaded with iodine to help support thyroid health and hormone production. I recommend enjoying dried seaweed as a savory snack, crumbling it up to add a tasty crunch to salads and soups, or even throwing it into your morning smoothie for a quick burst of nutrients.
4. Grass-Fed Beef
Need another excuse to fire up the grill and chow down on a juicy beef burger? Grass-fed beef is an excellent source of zinc, an essential micronutrient necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Not only that, but thyroid hormones also help increase zinc absorption, making it even more crucial to get in your daily dose if you have any sort of thyroid issue. Paired with other zinc-rich foods—pumpkin seeds, spinach and dark chocolate—a serving of grass-fed beef can cram in a good chunk of the zinc you need each day.
Related: 6 thyroid friendly foods
Foods to avoid for thyroid health
As the primary protein in grains (wheat, barley and rye), gluten is found in abundance throughout much of the Western diet. While consuming gluten is generally not a problem for most people, it can impair nutrient absorption and trigger inflammation in the gut for those with celiac disease. Unfortunately, people with hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s disease are also at a higher risk of being affected by celiac disease. That means it’s necessary for some people to avoid gluten completely in order to maintain thyroid function.
2. Raw Cruciferous Vegetables
Foods like broccoli, kale, spinach and cabbage are revered for their many health-promoting properties. However, going overboard on your cruciferous veggies may not be the best idea if you suffer from any type of thyroid problem. Raw cruciferous veggies release goitrogens, which are substances that damage the thyroid gland and increase the need for iodine. For best results, keep intake in moderation and cook your greens instead of eating them raw to reap the nutritional benefits while still supporting thyroid health.
There are plenty of reasons to keep soy out of your diet, starting with the detrimental effects that soy can have on your thyroid gland. Soy foods like tofu, edamame and soybeans contain isoflavones, which are compounds that act as goitrogens in your body and inhibit the production of thyroid hormones. Steer clear of soy products and select fermented soy foods to minimize the concentration of goitrogenic compounds in your diet. Good substitutions include tempeh and natto.
4. Green Tea
In moderation, green tea can be a great addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet. However, some animal studies show that green tea extract consumed in high amounts can actually alter thyroid function and throw hormone levels out of whack. Stick to one to two cups per day to squeeze in some extra nutrients and antioxidants without compromising the health of your thyroid.