Nutrition Tips To Promote Thyroid Health

Ahead of World Thyroid Day, we look at how nutrition is plays an important role in building a healthy thyroid.

Ramya Ramachandran | May 22, 2020

In recent decades, thyroid disorders are becoming increasingly common. It has therefore become essential to raise awareness about the importance of the thyroid gland in our body, and reducing thyroid-related disorders.

An important gland situated at the neck’s base, the thyroid affects almost all cells in the human body. A healthy thyroid ensures that carbohydrates, proteins and fat are converted into energy seamlessly. Moreover, the thyroid gland also plays a major role in regulating the body temperature, brain development, respiration, menstrual cycle and..the list goes on. A balanced diet and an active lifestyle are necessary for maintaining good thyroid health. A Proper diet is essential for a healthy thyroid, as undertakes all its functions with the help of iodine obtained from food.

In other words, imbalanced diets can cause thyroid disorders. Two common ailments associated with thyroid are- hypothyroidism (lower production of the hormones T3 or Triiodothyronine and T4 or Thyroxine; underactive thyroid), and hyperthyroidism (excess hormone production; overactive thyroid). Between the two, hypothyroidism is more common. It is marked by unexpected weight gain, tiredness, fatigue and increase in the blood’s cholesterol levels. While autoimmune in 90% of patients, the other type triggers iodine deficiency or other genetic disorders.

Since the symptoms and health impact of both differ from each other, so does their treatment. Thyroid disorders cannot be cured by dietary guidelines alone. A proper balance between exercise, medications and nutrients is required to manage thyroid problems, and to mitigate the symptoms. Since thyroid issues can be accompanied by anxiety and depression, regular exercise is the key to combat stress. Most importantly, never skip medicines. Else, any weight management programme won’t be effective.

No special diet is needed while having thyroid medications except for a few foods. Limit/avoid soy protein, as excessive amounts of soy might interfere with thyroid hormone absorption. Avoiding excessive amounts of iodine medications/supplements is also advised, since this can alter thyroid hormone levels. Iodized salt and most iodine-rich foods such as fish are however acceptable.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli contain goitrogens, substances which may disturb the thyroid function. If well-cooked, however, these substances get inactivated. Nevertheless, such veggies should only be consumed in moderation.

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Additionally, caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea as well as green tea can also interfere with thyroid hormone secretion. Therefore, minimal consumption is advised. Eating all processed foods should be avoided due to the excess sodium content in them, while soy and gluten may be eaten in moderate amounts since they also tend to hinder thyroid health.

The problem of leaky gut is considered the root cause of most thyroid diseases, an important factor which is very often ignored. This calls developing a healthy gut, and restoring digestive
enzymes. This is possible by chewing food thoroughly, which naturally stimulates digestive enzymes’ secretion. A healthy thyroid diet should comprise of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

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Ensuring an adequate intake of essential nutrients such as zinc, selenium and iodine is a must. Zinc is found in nuts, meat, pumpkin seeds, oyster mushrooms, chickpeas, and garlic, etc. Selenium-rich foods include chicken, eggs, fish, legumes, peas, jowar, bajra and maize, while iodine is abundantly available via iodised salt, legumes, eggs, some fish, potato, prunes and yoghurt.

Meanwhile, people on thyroid medications must avoid consuming fibre immediately after taking medicines, since it can impact absorption. A two-hour gap is best advised before eating any high-fibre meal.

Modern diets these days lack adequate micronutrients. Therefore home food fortification helps in meeting those shortfalls. A daily meal food can be augmented through locally-available food fortifiers. These home food fortifiers can be added safely in daily staples or derivatives such as rice and wheat flour. Thereby, one’s daily micronutrient needs are met, ensuring better thyroid health.
The writer is a Chennai-based Clinical Nutritionist, Lactation Consultant and Diabetes Educator