In the spirit of Thyroid Awareness Month, we’ve asked mbg’s own thyroid guru, Fern Olivia, to share a few awesome tips on keeping your thyroid balanced and your unpleasant symptoms at bay. Check out more of Fern’s wisdom here, or head on over to her mega-popular streaming Thyroid Yoga class for hormone-friendly practices you can incorporate daily.
Chances are, you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder—and some experts believe 30 percent of women will develop one in their lifetime.
An autoimmune disorder can throw your gland out of whack, but it's thought that lifestyle factors (like stress or diet) also play a significant role. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can cause rapid weight loss, an unusually fast heartbeat, and anxiety, while hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can trigger constipation, mental fogginess, weight gain, and extreme fatigue.
Since being diagnosed with Hashimoto's hypothyroidism, I've learned how to rebalance my thyroid and beat symptoms including brain fog, muscle stiffness, fatigue, and weight gain. Cutting out these eight foods has been crucial to my healing journey. It may seem difficult at first to avoid all of these triggers, so be gentle with yourself and beat by beat, you'll begin to notice a tremendous change in how you feel.
The majority of thyroid problems are caused by autoimmune disease, which triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that cause the thyroid gland to malfunction. Gluten (a protein found in wheat) mimics the structure of the thyroid gland and weakens it over time as it weighs down the digestive tract and weakens the immune system. It causes massive inflammation in the body in many individuals, especially those with thyroid conditions, and studies have proven that it can cause the immune system to produce antibodies that attack its own organs or tissues.
Removing gluten from your diet should help to improve the health of your thyroid gland, and it may also help reduce your risk of developing another autoimmune disease. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and in many processed foods.
If you're committed to improving your thyroid and overall health this year, read labels carefully and ditch gluten. It may seem like a major burden on eating socially, but once you get the hang of it and stick up for your health, you'll notice a major difference in how you feel, and it will be well worth it!
Like gluten, dairy sensitivity is extremely common in people with thyroid conditions. Dairy products are mucus-forming in many people and are a common cause of irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, and reflux. The protein in dairy has been found to increase inflammation in the thyroid gland and digestive tract. This limits your body's ability to absorb nutrients and heal itself. Dairy can also promote the growth of harmful microbes in your digestive tract such as bad bacteria, yeast, and fungi.
The protein in dairy products is called casein and in many people it worsens autoimmune disease just as much as gluten. When we refer to dairy products we mean cow's milk and foods made from it, such as cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. Your best bet for optimum health—treat dairy like gluten and stay away at all costs!
Try this: Making a super easy cashew, almond, or hemp milk to replace all of your cow's milk needs.
Most of the soy in the world now comes from genetically modified beans. Soy is very difficult to digest, so even if soybeans supposedly contain a fair amount of protein on paper, you absorb very little of that protein because of the enzyme inhibitors in soybeans. The lectins in soy cause irritation to the gut lining and worsen leaky gut syndrome in people with autoimmune disease. Like some other vegetables, grains, and foods that promote formation of goiter, soy has been shown to interfere with iodine uptake, a key element in thyroid function. Soy may also mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in your body and can interfere with hormonal and overall thyroid function. To be safe, skip this one.
Try this: Looking to up your protein intake and stay soy-free? Try these Peanut Butter Protein Bars.
Sugar raises inflammation in your body and makes all autoimmune diseases worse. Sugar fuels the growth of all sorts of harmful pathogens in your gut and fosters gut infections. If your gut lining is overgrown with harmful microbes, these microbes inflame the lining of your intestines and cause "leaky gut syndrome." This is an initiator and driver of all autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto's and Graves'.
Sugary foods are not only void of nutrition, but they rob your body of vitamin B and create unnecessary stress in the body. The insulin spikes you get from eating sugar cause damage to the thyroid gland, plus, the more you eat it the more you'll crave it! It's a vicious cycle. Once I quit sugar, my energy soared and I felt less hungry all the time.
If you would like to have something sweet, stevia and xylitol are natural sweeteners. Small amounts of raw honey and natural maple syrup are fine in moderation, too.
Try this: These sugar-free desserts will calm any sweets craving.
5. Industrial seed oils
This refers to vegetable oil such as corn oil, sunflower, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, canola, grapeseed, and rice bran oil. These oils are all very high in polyunsaturated fats. Your body does require some polyunsaturated fat, but the problem with those oils mentioned is the delicate fats have been damaged during the extraction process, which uses heat and chemical solvents. If you then cook with those oils, they become damaged even further.
Damaged fats create a great deal of inflammation in your body and disrupt the hormone balance, especially to the endocrine system. They act as free radicals and cause wear and tear to your organs and tissues. Healthy fats to include in your diet include olive oil, macadamia nut oil, avocado oil, raw nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocados, coconut oil, and pastured butter/ghee.
6. Processed foods
Just because something is "gluten-free" or made with "all-natural" ingredients doesn't mean it isn't junk food. Processed foods like white bread, cookies, and chips are stripped of nutrition and full of empty calories even though they claim to be good for you. Try to stay clear of things that come in sealed bags and commercially prepared dressings and condiments. These are filled with hidden sugars, vegetable oils, and other additives that are toxic to the thyroid.
Try this: This health-boosted vinaigrette will take your salad to the next level and takes only seconds to make.
7. Genetically modified foods
What's all the hype around GMOs? GMOs cause many health issues because the body doesn't process these genetically modified foods the same way as non-GMO foods. When corn, soy, or other foods are genetically modified, this will change the DNA, and the immune system sees the proteins in these foods as foreign. This triggers an immune system response, resulting in inflammation, eroding the gut lining, which can lead to many different health issues, including thyroid disease. There has been evidence that eating genetically modified foods can potentially trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to conditions such as Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Try this: Look for a GMO-free label on your food.
8. Deli meats
Commercial meat is packed with antibiotics, which are disruptive to the thyroid gland—all meat consumed should absolutely be organic. Processed deli meats are typically loaded with dextrose, nitrates, sulphates, and sugars. These processed meats are typically made with meats from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). They are treated with growth hormones, antibiotics, and other veterinary drugs and raised in deplorable conditions that promote disease; these meats are also filled with sodium nitrite (a commonly used preservative and antimicrobial agent that also adds color and flavor) and other chemical flavorings and dyes, all which have been proved to disrupt the thyroid and endocrine system. You're far better off ditching the deli meats and opting instead for fresh, organically raised, grass-fed meats or wild-caught salmon.
Try this: A 15-minute poached salmon recipe makes a quick and easy healthy meal a snap.
So, what can you eat?
Simple. High-quality, whole, fresh, real foods that are sustainable and organic
Here are guidelines that I follow and recommend my clients do their best to stick to, too.
It's safe for your thyroid if it's not on the list above and...
- It's grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description but so do some nonorganic foods).
- It's not genetically engineered.
- It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs.
- It does not contain artificial anything or any preservatives.
- It was not grown in a factory farm.
- It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal by-products, and have free-range access to the outdoors).
- It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants).
Most of all, enjoy your food! Eat for flavor and for pleasure! Being stress-free is equally important for your thyroid—and your life.