If you suffer from a thyroid condition, what you eat can have a big impact on how you feel. These are some key foods to enjoy to support your system.
Eating well is important for anyone with a chronic health condition. This is certainly the case for the 1-2% of New Zealanders (mostly women) with an autoimmune disorder which affects their thyroid, according to Oxford Women’s Health nutritionist Sara Widdowson.
“There are some important differences between what you should eat if you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), but the line between the two is often blurred in online information,” says Sara.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped endocrine (hormone-producing gland) around your neck. It’s part of an elaborate network of glands called the endocrine system that coordinates many of your body’s activities. The thyroid gland is involved in growth, cell repair and regulating metabolism.
“While diet alone won’t cure thyroid-related autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s or Graves’, there are certainly benefits to thinking about your nutrition alongside medical management of these conditions,” Sara says.
Overactive or underactive thyroid
The first step is to know whether your thyroid is overactive or underactive. There are some key nutrients involved in thyroid function, but getting the right types and the right amounts for your condition is critical.
Sara says zinc, selenium, iodine and magnesium are among the minerals to consider when looking to boost the health of your thyroid. “People with hyperthyroidism, who are at greater risk of brittle bones, should also take special care to maintain their vitamin D and calcium levels.”
Iodine plays a particularly important role in thyroid health. People with an underactive thyroid need to make sure they’re getting enough iodine through iodised salt and other rich sources such as seaweed, seafood and spirulina.
For those with an overactive thyroid, the reverse is true. This is because iodine is used by the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone.
Eat your vitamins
Sara says to choose non-iodised salt, avoid seaweed or kelp and consider the amount of food you’re eating that contains iodised salt – for example, bread can be high in salt. Selenium is good for general thyroid function.
“While there are poor levels in New Zealand soils, you need to supplement your diet carefully as you can quickly consume a toxic amount,” Sara explains. “Two or three Brazil nuts each day is all you need.”
Magnesium is used by the body to make hormones, so is also important for your thyroid. It is found in spinach, nuts and seeds, as well as dark chocolate.
Last but not least is zinc. Adequate amounts can usually be obtained through eating red meat, chicken and seafood, but if you’re vegetarian or vegan you may need a zinc supplement, Sara says.
For people with hypothyroidism, there are a number of foods called goitrogens that, when combined with low iodine in the body, can contribute to the development of a goitre or enlarged thyroid gland. Sara says there are many foods in this category and before eliminating or reducing them, it is best to talk to a dietitian or your GP.
“Overall, it’s best to have a varied diet and to do all the other things that help us to stay fit and healthy, like exercising regularly, reducing stress levels and not smoking,” Sara says. “These can be harder to do when you have a long term health condition, but the benefits are well worth the effort.”
For more information visit Oxfordwomenshealth.co.nz
THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY OXFORD WOMEN’S HEALTH