Maybe you’ve noticed the scale is creeping up for seemingly no reason, and you can’t pinpoint why you keep gaining weight. Or maybe you’re more tired than normal or need to wear three layers at all times because you’re constantly freezing. Sound familiar? These are all signs of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), the butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat that’s responsible for your metabolism, important hormones, body temperature, and how you use energy. It also influences the function of vital organs, such as your heart, brain, liver, and kidneys.
On the flip side, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is marked by increased nervousness, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, and sudden weight loss. People who have hyperthyroidism are also at risk of developing anemia, which is an iron deficiency that leads to a lack of healthy red blood cells.
If you’re noticing negative symptoms such as the ones listed above, your thyroid might not be functioning as optimally as it could be. Although these lifestyle and dietary changes aren’t a guaranteed cure-all, they can help regulate this important gland. If you believe you are having serious issues with your thyroid, make sure you see a doctor who can administer the proper tests and diagnosis. In the meantime, check these 20 helpful tips, as well as our 25 Best Foods to Eat For Your Thyroid and Metabolism.
Eat Brazil Nuts
“I often recommend Brazil nuts because of their high selenium content. Many folks with thyroid issues are deficient in this crucial antioxidant, and Brazil nuts are a potent source of selenium, not to mention extremely delicious and high in fiber, calcium, protein, and magnesium. Selenium helps convert thyroxine to its active hormone form, T3. Brazil nuts are rather large, so try to portion out about six at a time; they have a mild flavor and pair well with berries.” — Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of Essence Nutrition
Sprinkle Iodized Salt
Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN, recommends adding iodine to boost your thyroid. “This is the most important trace element found in thyroid functioning,” she explains. “Without iodine, our thyroid does not have the basic building blocks it needs to make the necessary hormones to support all of the tissues in the body. Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) are the most essential, active, iodine-containing hormones we have.”
One of the easiest ways to get iodine is through iodized salt. But pay attention to how much iodine you’re getting throughout your diet; the National Institutes of Health only recommends 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine for male and female adults. Too much iodine, categorized as more than 1,100 mcg for adults over the age of 19, could lead to complications similar to iodine deficiency, and mess with your thyroid hormones.
Try Sea Veggies
Another great way to get extra iodine is through sea vegetables, more commonly known as seaweed, Mashru suggests. Seaweed such as kelp, nori, kombu, dulse, and wakame have some of the highest concentrations of iodine available. Just be careful how much sea veggies you eat — you can quickly get into iodine-overdose territory if you eat too many.
“Eggs are a great source of iodine and pack a powerful punch of protein to boot. Eggs are also incredibly versatile and there are so many ways to incorporate it into the diet,” says Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CD. “Have hardboiled eggs for a snack, whip up a veggie omelet for breakfast, or top avocado toast with a poached egg so that you never get bored. You can get about 16% of your daily iodine from 1 large egg.”
Eat Plain Low-Fat Yogurt
“One cup of low-fat, plain yogurt contains 50% of the recommended daily value of iodine. Top with cranberries and strawberries, both of which are rich in iodine, and add a sprinkle of nuts for some healthy fats,” Elkin says. “Many individuals who have thyroid problems are also at an increased risk of osteoporosis (softening of the bones), so incorporating other calcium-rich foods into the diet is key. Think: Low-fat milk and low-fat cheese.”
Do Aerobic Exercise
Yep, aerobic exercise is good for your body, mind, can help with weight loss, and it’s also good for your thyroid. A study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters found that moderate aerobic exercise, defined as 70 percent of maximum heart rate, raised the levels of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4), free thyroxine (fT4), and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). So find a workout you enjoy that gets your heart rate pumping: Cycling, jogging, rowing, or swimming are all good cardio exercises.
“Hyperthyroidism is when your body produces too much of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which causes bodily functions to speed up and can make someone feel racy and result in weight loss. Many individuals who suffer from hyperthyroidism can also become anemic, meaning your body is deficient in iron,” Elkin explains,” She recommends incorporating spinach into your diet to get adequate amounts of iron.
“Spinach (along with most dark, leafy greens) is rich in iron. One serving of spinach leaves also contains approximately 0.8 milligrams of iron, about 10 percent of the recommended daily intake for men or 4 percent for women,” she adds. “Iron is best absorbed with vitamin C, so consider pairing an omelet loaded with spinach with a glass of orange juice to maximize absorption. If enjoying a spinach salad for lunch, top with strawberries for added vitamin C,” she explains.
“Beans are loaded with iron. In fact, chickpeas contain about 5 mg of iron per cup,” Elkin explains. “Chickpeas are incredibly versatile and are also rich in protein. They can be added to a salad, used to make hummus, simply roasted, added to pasta – the possibilities are endless! I recommend pairing chickpeas with broccoli for a tasty iron and vitamin C combo to maximize absorption.”
Along with iron, getting enough zinc is essential to thyroid function. “Low levels of zinc can cause T4, T3, and the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to also become low,” Mashru says. Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc, packing in 5.3 mg per medium oyster.
Try Alaskan King Crab
In addition to zinc and iron, copper is another important metal necessary for a properly working thyroid, Mashru explains. Alaskan king crab is an excellent source of copper, providing 50% of your daily recommended intake in just 3 ounces. It also packs 6.5 mg of zinc (44 percent of your daily recommended intake) in the same 3-ounce serving.
Cut Back on Sugar
Sugar is inflammatory, which can disrupt your thyroid hormones. It also increases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can lead to fat storage and weight gain. Not only will reducing sugar help you lose weight, it will help regulate your thyroid, too. Need help giving up the sweet stuff? Check out our 30 Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Limit Raw Cruciferous Veggies
Although cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower and are superfoods packed with important vitamins and minerals, eating them raw could be bad for your thyroid. They contain goitrogens, which disrupt thyroid function and interfere with iodine uptake. But you don’t have to cut them out completely (in fact, you shouldn’t — they’re healthy for you!). Since eating them raw delivers the most goitrogens possible, make sure you’re steaming or sautéing your cruciferous veggies before chowing down.
Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help decrease inflammation in the body, says Jessica Patel, RDN, LDN. Just pay attention to serving sizes; 1/4 cup of walnuts has 18 grams of fat and 180 calories.
Sprinkle Some Seeds
Patel recommends incorporating chia and hemp seeds into your diet for their anti-inflammatory properties. These fibrous seeds are also chock-full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Invest in a Water Filter
Tap water can contain levels of chlorine or fluoride (or both), which can disrupt how much iodine your thyroid ends up getting. Since iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production, this could end up interfering with your thyroid function. Opt for a carbon-block filter, which will reduce levels of chlorine and fluoride.
“I recommend regularly consuming probiotics from foods or supplements. Since 70% of the immune system is housed in the digestive tract, probiotics (friendly bacteria living in the gut) can strengthen the immune system,” Patel explains. “You can find probiotics in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. If opting to supplement, look for a high-quality probiotic supplement with a high CFU (colony forming unit) count of 25-50 billion CFUs.”
Eat Yellowfin Tuna
Yellowfin tuna is rich in selenium, which is important for thyroid function. “Selenium-based proteins help regulate hormone synthesis, converting T4 into the more accessible T3,” Mashru says. “These proteins and enzymes help regulate metabolism and also help maintain the right amount of thyroid hormones in the tissues and blood, as well as organs such as the liver, kidneys, and even the brain.”
Just one 3-ounce serving of yellowfin tuna contains 110 percent of the daily value of selenium. Other names for yellowfin tuna are Thunnus albacores, ahi, or Allison tuna.
A one-cup serving of sardines packs a serious thyroid-boosting punch. One cup contains 4.4 mg of iron, almost 25 percent of your daily total. These tiny fish are also a selenium-rich food, packing 87 percent of your daily recommended amount at 48 mcg a serving. Plus, sardines are a good source of omega-3s, especially when they come packed in olive oil. Although they are an acquired taste, sardines are also one of our 30 Cheap Foods That Uncover Your Abs, so it’s worth picking up a can and getting creative.
Go For Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed beef is almost the perfect food for your thyroid. It’s an excellent source of thyroid-boosting selenium, iron, and zinc. It also has good amounts of the essential amino acid tyrosine, which can help boost the production of thyroid hormones; Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4) are tyrosine-based.
We know, it’s tough to give up your beloved morning coffee and beloved caffeine jolt. But while coffee has its own set of health benefits, it can disrupt your thyroid, especially the stress hormone cortisol. If you do opt for something caffeinated, balance it out by eating some animal products (meat, eggs, cheese) to get enough protein and tyrosine.