Surprised with the title? Yes, you read it right. If you are looking for the best diet for hypothyroidism, then stop looking for a “special diet”. More special you would try to do, you will be making the situation worst. How? I am explaining.
Before going into deep, do you know in India, 42 million people in India have thyroid disorders? As per one study, approximately 1 in 10 adults is struggling with hypothyroidism. (1) Another study shows the prevalence of hypothyroidism in India is 11%, compared with only 2% in the UK and 4·6% in the USA. Older age group (46–54 years) and women are ten times more likely to get affected by hypothyroidism than men. (2,3,8) The situation is alarming. Isn’t it?
No diet is the best diet for hypothyroidism- Why?
Let’s understand the basics first. So that you can figure out where are you going wrong.
What is thyroid gland and why is it important?
The thyroid gland, which malfunctioning makes you suffer so much is about 2 inch and around 20 gm in weight. It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits near the base of your neck. It makes and stores two thyroid hormones – tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) -that affect nearly every cell in your body. Yes, directly or indirectly it controls/influences your –
• Utilization of carbohydrate, fat, and protein for energy, growth, and development
• Other hormones like insulin, growth hormone, cortisol, etc
• Absorption in vitamins and minerals
• Heart rate
• Central and peripheral nervous systems
• Body weight
• Muscle strength
• Menstrual cycles
• Body temperature
• Cholesterol levels
• The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck.
• The thyroid gland makes stores two thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) & thyroxine (T4)
• These hormones directly or indirectly affect almost every cell of your body
What is hypothyroidism?
“Hypo” means less and “hyper” means more. Hypothyroidism is under-active thyroid or low thyroid – a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone.
What goes wrong during hypothyroidism?
You agree or not the human body is the ultimate, finest and most complicated machine ever made in nature. Each gland, organ or system works in coordination with other glands, organ, and system controlled by N no of hormones, enzymes, etc. The thyroid gland is not an exception. It is part of the endocrine system.
It all starts in the brain- in the hypothalamus-the headquarter of your body.
Hypothalamus produces Thyrotropin-releasing hormone(TRH). TRH stimulates the pituitary gland to produce Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH further stimulates the thyroid gland to release two thyroid hormones, tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) into the bloodstream.
• When T3 and T4 levels are low in the blood, the pituitary gland releases more TSH to tell the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones. The condition is called hypothyroidism.
• If T3 and T4 levels are high, the pituitary gland releases less TSH to the thyroid gland to slow production of these hormones. This is happening in hyperthyroidism.
No, the situation is not this simple. It is important to note that generally T4 secrets in greater quantity than T3 which is several times potent than T4. Most of the T4 is converted to T3 in the liver.
Therefore, not only thyroid gland, any problem in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or in the liver can result in developing hypothyroidism in you. Therefore hypothyroidism is classified as –
• primary hypothyroidism- caused by inadequate function of the thyroid gland
• secondary hypothyroidism – caused due to inadequate stimulation of TSH from the pituitary gland
• tertiary hypothyroidism – caused due to inadequate release of TRH from the hypothalamus
• liver disease and hypothyroidism – liver disease hamper the conversion of T4 to T3 at multiple levels and can cause hypothyroidism (5,6)
• Hashimoto thyroiditis –It is an autoimmune disorder. That means it is caused by a malfunction in your immune system. Instead of protecting your thyroid tissue, your immune cells attack the thyroid gland, leading to inflammation and reduce its ability to produce thyroid hormones and cause hypothyroidism. (7)
What are the factors influence hypothyroidism
Have you ever thought about why it’s you? Why are you suffering from hypothyroidism? Why suddenly your thyroid or hypothalamus or pituitary or liver is not functioning the way they are supposed to? What went wrong? Before you plan to follow a diet, it is essential to identify the lifestyle factors that have influenced hypothyroidism in you. Try to figure out which of the following cause may be applicable for you.
1. Poor nutrition – Lack of certain nutrients such as iodine, selenium, vitamin D3, B12
2. Lack of activity and exercise
3. Lack of sleep
4. Excess stress
5. Hormonal imbalance (during pregnancy/ menopause)
6. Genetic (it’s rare)
• When T3 and T4 levels are low in the blood, the pituitary gland releases more TSH to tell the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones. The condition is called hypothyroidism.
• Not only thyroid gland, any problem in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, liver or even autoimmune disorder can result in developing hypothyroidism in you.
• Factors like poor diet, lack of sleep, exercise and excess stress can influence hypothyroidism.
Few common thyroid functioning tests
|Parameters||If the level is high||If the level is low|
|Anti TG Ab||Hashimoto’s thyroiditis||
|Anti TPO Ab||Hashimoto’s thyroiditis||
When should you be alert and check your thyroid –
The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. Problems tend to develop slowly often over a number of years.
At first, you may barely notice the symptoms of hypothyroidism. You may simply attribute them to getting older such as fatigue and weight gain. But as your metabolism continues to slow, you may develop more-obvious problems like-
• Increased sensitivity to cold
• Dry skin
• Weight gain
• Puffy face
• Muscle weakness
• Elevated blood cholesterol level
• Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
• Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
• Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
• Thinning hair
• Slowed heart rate
• Impaired memory
• Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
Why no diet is the best diet for hypothyroidism?
You should think not twice, not thrice but many times before adopting any special diet if suffering from hypothyroidism. Your special diets are generally termed as “fad diet”. The once famous GM diet, beach diet, Atkins diet and now the “trending” keto diet – all these come under this category. (9) These diets are generally prescribed for a short period of time. Simply because it’s impossible for any human to follow such a diet for long. These diets are often restrictive in nature like -low carb/ high protein/ low fat/ high fat. In short, these diets are not balanced.
When throughout the day you struggle to balance your life, do you think an imbalanced diet can help you to balance out your hormones?
Let’s take a keto diet for example. It’s evident that chronic stress leads to hypothyroidism. (10) When you are stressed, your adrenal gland produces more cortisol hormone which slows down your metabolism and production of thyroid hormone.
Now, a keto diet is popular as low carb and high-fat diet. This creates a deliberate famine state in your body by restricting carbs. It compels your body to produce ketosis and burn fat instead of carb (glucose) to produce energy for essential physiological activities.
The state of ketosis is itself the stress for your body, which further increases the cortisol production by suppressing thyroid function even further creating the worst situation.
Yes, I agree that everybody is unique and each body has a different way of handling stress. If stress is one of the major factors that you have identified for developing hypothyroidism, then you must not take any risk of following any such restrictive diet.
Your body loves balance and so as you. Do you think taking an unnecessary risk for a quick fix is worthy enough? Think about it.
Special diets are “fad diet”. These diets are restrictive in nature which increase the body’s stress level. Further stress suppress thyroid activity leading the condition worst. Your body response way better with balanced nutrition rather with a fad diet.
How can no diet be the best diet for hypothyroidism?
I know you must be very confused at this moment. You must be thinking if not any diet then what? How can you be able to lose weight without any diet? Relax.
Let’s start with setting the goal right. What is bothering you most at this moment? Your weight gain? Don’t work for only weight loss. It’s time to think to reverse the situation.
Stop wasting your energy, time and other resources on a “fad diet”. Focus on a sustainable diet which you can follow for the rest of your life. Remember for reversing hypothyroidism you need to concentrate 70% on diet and rest 30% on other lifestyle factors.
Can a sustainable diet for hypothyroidism improve the situation?
Yes, it can. A sustainable diet is –
• nutritionally balanced
• completely customized
• doable for your entire life
• aligned with your food tradition
• seasonal and local
• developed as per your food habit and health condition
How can I follow a “sustainable diet”?
The drill is simple. Do nothing. What I mean is, stop doing anything special….anything extra. Eat normal homemade food and you will be fine. Don’t complicate life with carbohydrate, protein, fat or vitamins and minerals. Food is food not a chemical composition for you. Love and respect every bite of food and start enjoying.
Let’s start discussing on each food groups.
Yes, it includes all the rice, wheat, oat, corn, millets, and their products. For example –
regular variety of rice, puffed rice, flaked rice, roti, bread, semolina (sooji), broken wheat(dailya), oats, cornflakes, sorghum (jowar), pearl millet, foxtail millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi), etc.
Cereals are not the only major source of carbohydrate but also provide a fair amount of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals in your diet. Please note cereals contain very less amount of fat.
Are you the one who believes that rice or wheat is making you fat?
No, generally they are not. If you choose the good quality and eat in moderation then cereals can never make you fat. If you are addicted to refined cereals (buns and bread, finely polished rice, instant oats, noodles, etc) and always over-consume them, then yes eventually it can be fattening.
So make your cereal choice carefully. As you are suffering from hypothyroidism, feel free to eat whole wheat homemade products (atta roti, daliya, sooji, etc), semi-polished rice, brown rice, steel cut oats, rolled oats, etc. Limit consumption of ragi, barley. Avoid having jowar, bajra, corn flour.
The worst cereal for you would be refined flour and soy flour. Unfortunately, all the packaged and processed foods contain these flours which are cheap and nutritionally inferior compared to any other form of cereals.
Shall I go for a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is effective when you have hypothyroidism from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causing an autoimmune response in the body. Gluten creates inflammation and makes the situation worst. If you have read this article from the beginning you know that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is only one of the reason of hypothyroidism. If the patient is hypothyroid for any other reason and is not sensitive to gluten, then a gluten-free diet does not make much difference. So don’t follow any trend blindly. Understand the situation and then take a call. (12)
Variety of dal, beans falls into this category. Remember pulses are not an option in your diet. Pulses provide a good amount of protein, a fair amount of carbohydrate, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals in the diet. Fat? don’t worry, it is minimum.
Feel free eating chickpeas (kabuli chana), Bengal gram (black chana), kidney beans (rajma) and lentils (masoor dal). Consume white beans, black beans, green gram(moong dal), cowpeas, black eye beans in moderation. Avoid taking soybean and lima beans (beans from sim) as much as possible.
Now an interesting fact, if you check the back side of the ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook packaged products, you will get to see one thing in common -soy protein/ soy protein isolates. Avoid them.
Vegetables and fruits –
Vegetables and fruits are one of the richest sources to supply vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber in your diet. There are few leaves and vegetables (Brassica genus and cruciferous family) like cabbage, cauliflower, rape leaves, radish, rapeseed, mustard, watercress, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, turnips, sweet potato, tapioca, okra, peaches, etc contain goitrogens which interfere with iodine metabolism and production of thyroid hormones.
How to deal with goitrogens?
Don’t panic. Not only vegetables, few pulses, nuts, cereals also contain goitrogens. Most of the goitrogenous substance becomes inactive during cooking. So always make sure you cook your vegetables/ cereals/ pulses well before eating. If you are eating raw salads, stay careful about what you are eating.
We don’t cook fruits, right? So stay cautious while choosing any fruit. Fruits like banana, jackfruit, pineapple, musk melon, pomegranate, all citrus fruits (lime, lemon, orange, amla, etc), apple are safe choices for you. Limit consuming strawberries, blueberries, pears, cherries. Avoid peaches, plums, avocado.
Summary: Important vitamins and minerals you can’t afford to miss
|Vitamin B Complex||Whole grains, Fish, Eggs, Nuts, Beans|
|Vitamin C||Citrus fruits- Lime, Lemon, Orange, Amla, Guava|
|Vitamin D||Sunlight, Milk, Yogurt|
|Vitamin E||Cold pressed oils, Filtered oils|
|Manganese||Whole grains, Nuts, Seeds|
|Selenium||Oats, Legumes, Eggs|
|Zinc||Chicken, Nuts, Seeds, Peas|
|Iodine||Eggs, Dairy, Fish, Iodised salt|
|Omega 3 Fatty acid||Flax seeds, Chia seeds, Fish oil|
|Probiotics||Curd, Fermented foods – Idli, Dosa, Homemade pickle, Overnight soaked rice, Kanji, Kimchi|
Fish, meat, eggs, milk –
Feel free to take yogurt, curd, milk, unprocessed cheese, pure ghee, buttermilk, eggs, chicken, fish. But pay some attention to the quality of these foods. These days animals are being given a lot of hormones, antibiotic injections to increase the output of milk and flesh. Try to limit such sources of milk, egg, chicken. If possible look for free range, grass fed animals product. Yes, they are expensive and also not always available. All I want you to keep this point in mind.
Fats and oil –
Whether you are vegetarian, non-vegetarian or vegan or fall into any food choice category, fats and oils are must in your kitchen. Choose your oil very carefully. Stop using hydrogenated oils and all the refined oils available in the market. They are cheap, nutritionally inferior and create obvious health hazards. Why? Consider reading this.
Consider using cold pressed oils (kachhi ghani) – coconut oil, olive oil (not for Indian cuisine), almond oil, flaxseed oil, etc. You may consider filtered oil, peanut oil, mustard oil, pure ghee, white butter(preferably homemade) for cooking.
Nuts and seeds –
This category many of us just ignore. However, instead of munching on some packaged junk, chewing a fistful of nuts and seeds are a way better option for a healthy life. Consider eating walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, musk melon seeds, etc. Consume cashew, pistachio in moderation. You can consider having peanut but not in raw form. Roasted peanut of peanut used in cooking is safe in moderation.
Always remember to soak your nuts and seeds overnight. Drain the water and enjoy. This way you can ensure getting rid of all the anti-nutritional factors and can make the nutrients more available to your body.
Indian kitchen is almost like a medical store for treating and mostly preventing many such disorders. Spices have immense power and multiple medicinal properties for which they deserved to be treated seriously. Feel free to use cinnamon (dalchini), turmeric, coriander(dhaniya), garlic, cumin (jeera), fenugreek (methi), carom (ajwain) dry ginger, black pepper, long pepper in the cooking.
You can consider drinking spice tea, Indian masala chai for including these spices in the diet.
We talk about sugar but we don’t really pay attention to our regular salt intake. Being a hypothyroid patient, you should be careful to choose your daily salt. You must have noticed there are a variety of salts are available in the market. Which one is best? Don’t throw your iodized salt. But also add rock salt and black salt in the diet. When? You can sprinkle black salt on your fruits.. the way you may have during your childhood. You can use rock salt sometimes in cooking. But use all three. Don’t think the expensive one is the best. You are fine, all you need is little variety in your salt section.
Being a sweet lover, this one is my favorite. Tell me, have you stopped using sugar in tea/coffee? Are you addicted to all sugary junk? Are you using artificial sweetener to save calorie? Do you look for zero calorie version of your favorite drink or snack? If yes, then let me tell you -that you are in the complete trap of the food industry and their false advertisements.
White sugar vs brown sugar vs jaggery
Sugar is good if you can limit it within 4 teaspoons a day even if you are diabetic. Instead of looking for “zero calories” version stop eating them. They are addictive, super cheap in quality, nutritionally empty and harmful to your body from multiple angles.
Rather enjoy sugar in homemade food and always make sure you share any sweet preparation with others. You may consider having jaggery, raw honey (not the processed and filtered honey). But remember they should fit into the 4 tsp limit per day.
Summary – What to eat, what not to eat –
|Category||Foods to eat||Foods NOT to eat|
|Cereals||1. Whole wheat homemade products –|
(atta roti, daliya, sooji etc),
2. Semi polished rice,
3. Brown rice,
4. Steel cut oats ,
5. Rolled oats ,
6. Ragi (in moderation),
7. Barley (in moderation)
|1. Jowar, |
3. Corn flour,
4. Packaged and processed
food items to avoid
5. soy flour
|Pulses|| 1. Chickpeas (kabuli chana), |
2. Bengal gram (black chana),
3. Kidney beans (rajma),
4. Lentils (masoor dal).
5. White beans (in moderation),
6. Black beans (in moderation),
7. Green gram(moong dal-in moderation),
8. Cowpeas (in moderation),
9. Black eye beans (in moderation)
|1. Soyabean, |
2. Lima beans,
3. Packaged and processed
food items to avoid
|Vegetables||All||Raw uncooked –|
3. Rape leaves,
7. Water cress,
9. Brussel sprouts,
11. Sweet potato,
|Fruits||1. Banana, |
4. Musk melon,
6. All citrus fruits
(Lime, Lemon, Orange etc),
|1. Peaches, |
|Nuts and seeds|| 1. Walnuts, |
2. Pumpkin seeds,
4. Flax seeds,
5. Chia seeds,
6. Musk melon seeds,
7. Cashew (in moderation),
8. Pistachio (in moderation)
|1. Raw peanut|
|Oil|| 1. Cold pressed oil- |
2. Coconut oil,
3. Olive oil (not for Indian cuisine),
4. Almond oil,
5. Flax seed oil,
6. Mustard oil,
7. Filtered oil –
8. Peanut oil,
9. Pure ghee,
10. White butter(preferably home made)
| 1. Refined oil, |
2. Ready-to-eat or
foods to avoid refined oil
|Sugar and salt||1. Sugar, |
3. Raw honey,
4. Iodised salt,
5. Black salt,
6. Rock salt
|Packaged and processed |
items etc to avoid excessive
|Spices||1. Cinnamon (Dalchini), |
5. Cumin (Jeera),
6. Fenugreek (Methi),
7. Carom (Ajwain)
8. Dry Ginger,
9. Black pepper,
9. Long pepper
|Other items|| 1. Yogurt, |
4. Unprocessed cheese,
5. Pure ghee,
(preferably from free
range, grass fed
| 1. Alcohol, |
3. Soft drinks,
4. Processed foods,
A sustainable diet is simple and doable. Eat well cooked homemade foods. Avoid raw foods, salads. There is a huge range of whole grains, pulses, dairy, fish, chicken, eggs, fruits which you can enjoy. Watch your sugar and salt content in food. Avoid all packaged and processed foods for multiple reasons. Start taking your spice rack seriously.
Is that enough? How will I lose weight?
Before you think of losing weight, set your goal right. You need to lose fat not weight. Better bone and muscle mass is going to pay you much more than you can think of.
Sustainable diet looks very simple. You must be feeling like nothing special in it. But let me tell you it is NOT that simple. Once you start following what I have mentioned earlier you will realize. Why? Because you agree or not we are all become addictive to processed and packaged foods. Many of the times you don’t even realize that you are eating processed junk. Thanks to food advertisements which has to manage to make you fool every day even after having big academic degrees.
Eat clean, eat mindfully and rest will fall in place. Yes, your dream of fat loss also.
Read- Thinking of weight loss diet plan ? set your goal right
As I have mentioned earlier treating or preventing hypothyroidism or weight loss is all about 70% diet and 30% lifestyle changes. Let’s focus on key points for your eating behavior and lifestyle changes –
Eating behavior –
- Eat nothing for 30 minutes after taking your thyroid medicine.
- If you are taking any other dietary supplements, avoid taking that along with thyroid medicines.
- Drink lots of water – 2.5 to 3 liters of water is a must. Why? Read here.
- Finish dinner early- at least 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Eat slow, start chewing food well for controlling overeating and better digestion.
- In fact, you can start imitating kids. Why? Read this.
Smart kitchen –
Eating right is only possible once you make your kitchen smart. No, I am not asking you to make a modular kitchen. What I mean is to discard every single item from your kitchen which is harmful or can deviate you from your health goal. Starting from your kitchen utensils to food rack- scan everything. Avoid plastic not for the environment but for your health. Read more- how to make your kitchen smart.
Choose your cosmetics carefully –
Yes, do you buy cosmetics or regular soaps, shampoo based on their advertisements? You will be surprised to see that the chemicals used in such products are quite harmful to your health. Being a hypothyroid patient you are already suffering from hormonal imbalance. These chemicals make the situation worst. Avoid products containing paraben. SLS etc. Why? Consider reading this for details. (11)
- Sleep well – you need to catch deep sleep to balance your hormones
- Fix a time for sleeping and follow the same time for everyday
- Stay away from all gadgets at least 30 minutes before you sleeping . Why? Sleeping is so important? Consider reading this.
Activity and exercise –
- Start getting active, avoid sitting for long.
- Go for a walk, use the staircase.
- Move your body as much as possible
- Exercise regularly for 35 -40 minutes
- Try yoga, dance, running, swimming, cycling – any form that you enjoy.
- Consider weight training once a week
Control your stress- Try meditation, stay away from negative people, talk to people, spend quality time with near and dear ones. (13)
You need a few lifestyle changes. Start from your kitchen. Make a smart kitchen which will help you to reach your health goal. Eat good, eat slow and drink a lot of water. Start chewing food. Try to sleep well. Engage with some activity and exercise on a regular basis. Avoid plastics and toxic chemicals in your cosmetics. Try to manage stress.
Hypothyroidism is a lifestyle disorder. So following any special diet is not going to solve your problem. Set a goal to stay fit and reverse hypothyroidism. Yes, it is possible. Stop wasting your resources on any “fad diet” rather adopt a sustainable lifestyle with a sustainable diet. Therefore no diet is the best diet for hypothyroidism.
If you have stopped eating all packaged and processed food, you are already following the best diet for hypothyroidism. Eat clean, homemade food. Drink lots of water. Stay active and control your stress. Simple changes in lifestyle can make a huge difference in your quality of life. This sounds simple but difficult to adopt. Remember, it’s difficult, not impossible. Start trying.
About the Author
Purbasha is M Sc. in Dietetics and Community Nutrition Management. While studying she has
got real time experience of working with cancer patient in Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital, West
Bengal. Also, have the experience to work as a trainee dietitian in Westbank Hospital. Apart from this she also has the exposure in the field of Community Nutrition. She has worked hand in hand with the community workers in CINI specifically for the betterment of pregnant,
and lactating mothers and their children.