Ever heard of these wise, ancient idioms: “Let your food be your medicine”, or “All diseases start in the gut”?
These were my guiding principals when all else (meaning: western medicine) failed to help my thyroid drama; first Graves’ and later Hashimoto’s Disease. After many years of trying different things, I’m finally putting the pieces together and calling it the ”Thyroid Diet”.
I wish there were two different words to say what I want to say; one for “diet” when you want to lose weight and another for a nourishing food change that will bring healing and joy. Oh well… But you know when I say “diet” I mean a protocol, a way of being, living and eating that will free you from some/all of the fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight yo-yos, Weight Watchers micro-management and infertility that have plagued you for some time now.
There are some people who say that there is “no scientific evidence between food and thyroid or healing”. It’s a choice we make on how we want to view things and what we want to believe. Choice is a powerful tool we have. Let us never forget that. I would therefore offer a reframe from “there is no evidence” to “what if I just try something new/different for 3 weeks and see how I feel”. Because really, what have you got to lose? Especially if you have been sick for a long time… You might learn something new and have fun along the way! You have a choice.
Before you read on, it’s key to know (and most people do not realize this as doctors don’t have the time to explain things) that 90% of hypo- and hyperthyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. This goes to say that most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease. It means that your immune system started attacking the thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut, or our intestine, (did you know that?!), a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
To explain Thyroid Diet Foods, let me talk about 3 pillars. I developed these, while asking myself these questions:
Pillar 1: what to REMOVE from the current diet and lifestyle that is sabotaging my immune system and my thyroid?Pillar 2: what to ADD to my life to boost the immune system, detox the body and help the thyroid?Pillar 3: how to find a BALANCE in what I’m doing so I don’t go crazy and really get to like my “new life”.So, here we go:
Pillar 1: REMOVE what is detrimental and toxic to your thyroida). SUGAR FLUCTUATIONSThis means sugar cravings, hypoglycemia or insulin resistance and normalizing these first is key. Without fixing your sugar issues, your thyroid will never improve. This is because the pancreas is responsible for sugar metabolism and same as the thyroid, the pancreas is also part of the endocrine system. As you can imagine, these glands are all intricately interconnected. A few tips for you here:
- start reading product labels to see how much sugar is in your food; 4g = 1 teaspoon. F.eg a Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks has 64g of sugar = 16 spoons. Activia’s yoghurt proclaimed as “healthy food” has 7 spoons. Try not to consume more than 5 spoons of sugar is you have a sugar problem.
- start the day with a high-protein, high-fat breakfast; this is a big secret in the weight-loss industry as well. It will help you stabilize your sugar levels for the day, you won’t crush at 11am and won’t crave sugar and snacks during the day.
- reduce carbs: we are a carbs-obsessed and addicted nation with carbs constituting 50-60% of our diet, much of which is coming from grains. Grains contain starch that feeds the pathogenic bacteria (read below about your digestive system) in your gut and worsen the problem
- reduce starch; again, this is sugar too, especially from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and processed food.
c). FIX YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACK (aka GUT)As mentioned above, most thyroid conditions are auto-immune diseases. There are tons of lymphocytes and other immune cells in the gut, which protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. This is why most people with thyroid conditions also experience frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A diet change will help your gut tremendously. “All disease begins in the gut“, said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and I’m not sure why this is not taught in school today.
c). REDUCE TOXICITYfrom additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, trans-fats as well as toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is HUGE in thyroid conditions; we add fluoride in the US that is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
d). DETOXYour liver and your gut as this is where the T4 hormone (inactive hormone) gets converted to T3, the active hormone which is actually the one that powers us up. Most of our body cells need T3, not just T4. If you are taking Synthroid, you are taking a synthetic version of T4 that still needs to be converted to T3. If you have a sluggish liver and gut, you won’t convert properly. Look into doing a yearly, bi-yearly detox by fasting, juicing, etc to give your body a break.
e). ADDRESS STRESS and ADRENAL FATIGUEThis is huge topic, especially with women. You won’t be able to fix your thyroid without fixing the adrenals. The adrenals are also part of the endocrine system and fire up when you are stressed out. I recommend looking up adrenal fatigue symptoms to see if you have them. De-stressing by working with a therapist, life coach, getting into meditation, breathing, positive thinking; whatever work for you – is key.
f). REMOVE GOITROUS FOODif you suffer from hypothyroidism. Goiter is a substance that slows down the thyroid. It is found in bok choy, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, soy, soy milk, soy lecithin (often used as a filler in vegetarian food) and tofu. Cooking them reduces their goitrous properties but you should still limit them in the recovery phase.
Pillar 2: ADD what your thyroid needs to start healinga). FOOD that is nutritionally-dense and provides all the key macro- and micro-nutrients in good ratio.Some tips here:
- always organic, they are more nutrition-packed and free of hormones that are known to interrupting our endocrine system
- meat must be at least organic but pasture-raised is best. We want to eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones from our diet
- food that is FERMENTED the traditional way, so things like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, homemade yoghurt, kombucha tea are all rich in probiotics.
b). PROTEINS and FATSThey are the building blocks of your digestive track and our hormones. We are fat-o-phobic in America and low-fat diets are one of the worse things that we invented. Europeans and Asians have fat-rich diets (traditionally) and enjoy much better health than we do. Good fat tips: avocados, walnuts, coconut oil, coconut butter. Animal fats are the best in restoring a troubled digestion; ghee (clarified butter), butter, chicken and beef fat are essential but need to be rendered and not in fried/processed form.
d). PROBIOTICS are key in restoring your digestive trackEveryone has bacteria in their digestive tract, or gut, that is essential to the function of the human body. A healthy adult has about 1.5 – 2 kg of bacteria in their gut, both good and bad. Normal levels of bacteria, or flora, in the gut protects against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites. When the good and bad bacteria in the gut get out of whack (i.e. more bad than good), a whole host of negative reactions can occur in the body. Undigested foods can leak through into the bloodstream causing food allergies and intolerances, vitamins and minerals to not be absorbed, leading to deficiency, the bad bacteria to produce a whole host of toxins, and the immune system to not function properly.
Here are examples of traditionally fermented food you could incorporate to your diet:
- Sauerkraut (pick properly fermented, not in vinegar)
- Kim chee (Korean fermented veggies)
- Yoghurt (this is my recipe to make your own yoghurt)
- Kefir (has different bacteria than yoghurt, also super beneficial)
- Kombucha tea
- Vegetable medley (fermented)
- Coconut water kefir
c). HERBS, SUPPLEMENTS and VITAMINS that benefit the thyroidAlthough I’m a fan of getting these from real food whenever possible. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and feel worse later. Hopefully these tips help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (this was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health):
- most people are Vit D deficient, taking Vit D in 2,000 units is safe and good to do as Vit D is actually a hormone, connected to the thyroid
- calcium is key but needs to be taken with magnesium for full absorption
- for hypothyroidism: selenium, turmeric/curcumin, phytosterols and for GI support; probiotics and L-Glutamine are key.
- for hyperthyroidism: copper and magnesium are a common deficiency in people with hyper.
e). SIMPLE MEDITATION, BREATHING and VISUALIZATION techniques that manage stress and emotions.I cannot emphasis how important this is, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc fire up the adrenals which release cortisol and this hormone has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
d). MOVEMENT PLANWhether it is sports, dancing, yoga that gets you moving that does not drain your adrenals and your thyroid, yet gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy.
Pillar 3: BALANCE based on your bio-individualityNo one diet/plan works for everybody as each person has a unique way of healing. There is a saying: “One person’s food is another’s poison.” It’s always worth remembering that just because one diet worked for one person it does not mean it will work for you too. The same way one person could have healed their thyroid by just changing the water filters (by getting rid of fluoride) alone and another needs to implement five major diet and lifestyle changes to start feeling just a little better. Let’s respect our differences.