Your thyroid is an unassuming butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that secretes all-important hormones that control major bodily functions, including how you digest food and use energy. When your thyroid health isn’t in tip-top shape, everything slows down; hence the fatigue and weight gain when it does.
Tired? Stressed? Can’t lose weight? You’re not alone. In fact, you may be one of the millions of Americans suffering a chronic, undiagnosed health issue. It’s called hypothyroidism: a condition that pumps the brakes on your metabolism because the master gland—your thyroid—isn’t functioning at its prime. Many things can put you at risk for a sluggish thyroid, some of which you cannot control, like family history. Fortunately, you can control how and what you eat. And new research shows certain foods have proven potential in helping to improve thyroid health and boost the effectiveness of your metabolism.
Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath … while you may be a heavy metal fan, your thyroid? Not so much. That’s because heavy metals, mercury in particular, are chemically similar to iodine — an element the thyroid needs and readily absorbs. When metals like mercury take the place of iodine at binding sites, thyroid hormone production grinds to a halt. The good news is you can naturally detoxify with fruits that are rich in pectin — a gelatin-like fiber that sticks to toxic compounds in the blood and flushes them out of the body through the urine. In fact, citrus pectin increased mercury excretion in the urine by 150 percent within 24 hours of supplementation, according to one study in Phytotherapy Research. As a weight loss bonus, research shows pectin can limit the amount of fat your cells can absorb. You’ll need about four pieces of whole fruit daily to reap the benefits. Grapefruits, oranges and peaches are all good sources, but since most pectin is found in the fibrous pith and peel, whole apples are one of the best.
Your car runs on gasoline, and your thyroid runs on iodine. Insufficient levels of the element inhibit the production of metabolism-regulating thyroid hormones; and since your body doesn’t make it, it’s an essential part of your diet. That’s why, since 1993, the World Health Organization has supported the iodization of table salt. But because recent health headlines have called for the radical reduction of salt intake, some people don’t get enough. But you can get your daily dose without ODing on salt; there are other dietary sources of iodine, and seaweed is one of the best. Just two tablespoons of brown seaweed, or a few rolls of sushi every week will meet your need. And as you nosh on your nori you’ll be blasting fat: Scientists at Newcastle University recently discovered that a compound in seaweed called alginate can suppress the digestion of fat in the gut.
Selenium. No, it’s not Latina popstar. It’s the all essential “on” switch to proper thyroid function — converting T4 hormone into active T3. The essential mineral also protects the gland from inflammatory byproducts of thyroid hormone production. Many people who have a sluggish thyroid or thyroid diseases exhibit deficiencies in selenium, and studies show supplementation can help. Selenium supplementation of 80 micrograms per day — about what you’ll find in just one Brazil nut — helped to reduce anti-thyroid antibodies in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis (inflammation of the gland that can make it sluggish if left untreated), one study showed. As a weight-loss bonus, the nuts are rich in L-arginine, an amino acid research shows may help blast belly fat.
Shuck one for your metabolism. Heck, make it a half dozen. After all, oysters are one of the best dietary sources zinc—a mineral that’s critical, and complementary, to a healthy thyroid. In fact, the body needs enough zinc to activate production of thyroid hormone. And, in turn, we need enough thyroid hormone to absorb zinc. Any way you look at it, deficiencies are likely to result in a sluggish metabolism, and supplementing with the mineral has shown to get weight loss back on track. One study in Nutrition Research and Practice found that obese people who consumed 30 mg of zinc per day—the equivalent of just six raw oysters—had improved body mass indices, lost weight and showed improvements in blood cholesterol levels. Get shucking!
If your thyroid were a man, he’d be a meat-and-potatoes kinda guy. That’s because animal protein is brimming in amino acids, particularly tyrosine—the building block of thyroid hormone, and of dopamine—both of which are necessary for weight management. A lack of tyrosine in the diet may lead to an underactive thyroid, and a deficiency in dopamine is associated with food cravings and weight gain. You can find tyrosine in dairy and leafy greens, but poultry has the added benefit of being naturally low-fat and rich in vitamin B12—deficiencies of which are also common among people with sluggish thyroid symptoms.
Every spoonful of yogurt acts as a protective shield for your thyroid. That’s because yogurt is naturally rich in vitamin D, and not getting enough of the nutrient puts you at a higher risk of obesity and thyroid diseases, research suggests. Over 90 percent of people with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism, are deficient in D, according to one study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences. Researchers say the sunshine vitamin’s immunity-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties protect the thyroid from damage. In addition to vitamin D, yogurt is also rich in probiotics that research suggests may help balance “good bacteria” in the gut that can be thrown off by thyroid disturbances.
There are plenty of fish in the sea, but salmon may be the best one for your metabolism. That’s because most cases of underactive thyroid are due to inflammation of the gland, and salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content. In fact, one study that looked at the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption showed salmon to be the most effective at reducing inflammation — better than cod, fish oil and a no-fish diet.
If you always opt for coffee over tea, you could be missing out on a major metabolism boost. In an 8-week study in the Journal of Health Science, participants who drank green tea, then did a 30-minute workout, lost more fat than the non tea-drinking exercisers. What’s its magic? The brew contains catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells and helps speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy.
Our bodies need dietary fat—particularly healthy oils—in order to lose weight and function properly. The right kinds of fats and oils help quash hunger, maximize your metabolism, and speed nutrients through your body. Healthy monounsaturated fats like olive oil can actually help the body to burn calories. Extra virgin olive oil may also increase blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with satiety. Plus, olive oil is also loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants that help battle many diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis and brain deterioration.
Although it’s true that egg whites are low in calories, fat free and contain most of the protein found in an egg, eating the entire egg is beneficial to your metabolism. The yolk contains many metabolism-stoking nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and — most significantly — choline, a powerful compound that attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver. Worried about cholesterol? New studies have found that moderate consumption of two whole eggs per day has no negative effect of a person’s lipid (fat) profile and may actually improve it.
Studies conducted at The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee suggest that consuming calcium — which milk has plenty of — may help your body metabolize fat more efficiently. Other studies have shown that increased calcium intake from dairy products (though not from supplemental calcium carbonate) caused study participants to poop out more fat as opposed to it sticking around on the body.
It takes the body extra effort to break down whole grains than more refined and processed grains, like the flour ordinarily used to make bread and pasta. One study in the journal Obesity found that nighttime carb eaters lost 27 percent more body fat—and felt 13.7 percent fuller—than those on the standard diet. You can help keep your metabolic rate elevated by consuming foods that the body has to work harder to digest. Your go-tos are whole foods that are also rich in fiber. We’re talking brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, sprouted grain breads and more of the best complex carbs for weight loss.
Recent studies have shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism and helps control lipid (fat) levels in the blood. Adding garlic to foods that are rich in fats and carbohydrates may keep those substances from doing the damage they’re known to do. What’s more, eating garlic can help boost your immune system, help ward off heart disease, fight inflammation and lower blood pressure—to name a few.
In a study by Swiss and German researchers, lucky participants ate about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks. Ultimately, these chocolate nibblers had lower stress-hormone levels and a more regulated metabolism than a control group. Scientists speculate that chemicals in cocoa, such as flavonoids, play a role in regulating metabolism by alleviating stress that can cause your fat-burning engines to go on the fritz. Should you think this is a license to go wild, take heed: We’re talking small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate. Researchers say 1.5 ounces is enough.
Iron deficiency affects more than 1 in 5 women in the US. Being deficient in essential minerals can show up in all kinds of ways but an iron deficiency can also be a blow for getting into your skinny jeans with relative ease. See, your body can’t work as efficiently to burn calories when it doesn’t have what it needs to work properly. A cup of lentils, it turns out, provides over a third of your daily iron needs. Legumes like lentils also have been shown to drive down bad cholesterol and blood pressure. That’s why they’re one of the best foods to eat for rapid weight loss!
Kola Nut Tea
Clocking in at caffeine counts higher than a cup of coffee, kola nut teas are sure to zap any morning drowsiness–and set your metabolism up for a hotter burn. In a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, caffeine can boost metabolism and increase fat loss. Look for teas made from this caffeine-containing fruit; if you want to skip the label-reading, just grab a box of Celestial Seasoning’s Fast Lane, which clocks in 20 mg above your daily cup of coffee at 110 mg caffeine. Kola nut tea is just one of the best teas for weight loss!
It’s like butter that grows on trees. But instead of cholesterol, trans and saturated fats in butter, avocado contains metabolism-enhancing monounsaturated fat. But that’s not all. Each one is also packed with fiber and free-radical-killing antioxidants. Free radicals are destructive rogue oxygen molecules—natural byproducts of metabolism—that trigger various chain reactions in the body that destroy cells and DNA, causing all kinds of health problems. Antioxidants in fresh fruits and vegetables can help neutralize some free radicals, but they can’t reach the mitochondria—base camp for the free radical army. And that’s a problem; when your mitochondria aren’t working properly, your metabolism runs less efficiently. Enter: Avocado. A study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that monounsaturated-rich oil pressed from the fruit can help mitochondria survive attack. Researchers say the results jive with low-disease rates in Mediterranean countries where olive oil—nutritionally similar to the avocado—is a diet staple.
Calcium and vitamin C team up well to boost metabolism. Broccoli contains both nutrients, not to mention the kind of fiber that’s been shown to increase TEF (the Thermic Effect of Food, or your metabolic rate after eating). What’s more: Broccoli contains a compound that works on a genetic level to effectively “switch off” cancer genes, leading to the targeted death of cancer cells and slowing of disease progression. One study found men who ate three or more half-cup servings of broccoli per week had a 48 percent decreased risk for prostate cancer compared to men who ate fewer than one serving per week!
It’s well reported that fiery capsaicin (think: hot sauce, cayenne, chilies) can rev up the metabolism, but study findings presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in Anaheim, California, showed similar weight loss potential in dihydrocapsiate (DCT), the non-spicy cousin of hot peppers. Participants who ate the most DCT experienced a metabolic boost that was nearly double the placebo group! Bottom line: pile on the poblaños!
Rooibos tea is made from the leaves of the “red bush” plant, grown exclusively in the small Cederberg region of South Africa, near Cape Town. What makes rooibos tea particularly good for your thyroid health and belly is a unique and powerful flavonoid called Aspalathin. According to a study in Phytomedicine, polyphenols and flavonoids found in the plant inhibits adipogenesis–the formation of new fat cells–by as much as 22 percent. The chemicals also help aid fat metabolism. Plus, Rooibos contains no caffeine and is naturally sweet, so you won’t need to add sugar!