One of the most frequently asked questions I get from women is how they can improve their thyroid function. This is no surprise since hormonal imbalances and dieting issues many women struggle with can both cause thyroid imbalances to occur pretty quickly. Our thyroid health is also incredibly important. It is a regulator for all hormonal responses in the body and can dictate a large part of our health and how we feel each day.
That being said, today I thought I would go over a few things about hormonal health as well as some of my favorite healthy foods that I have found to be helpful over the last decade of research and experimentation. So, here we go!
Signs of a low thyroid (hypothyroidism) can include: fatigue, weight gain, being cold, being moody or depressed, and many times digestion issues can occur. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is caused by an overstimulated thyroid and shows up in symptoms such as weight loss, insomnia, nervousness, inability to focus, digestion issues, and a goiter (lump in the throat near the thyroid gland) is usually also present.
My experience with thyroid health:
As a young 20-year-old over 10 years ago who wasn’t giving her body sufficient amounts of nutrition (and who was overcoming depression), I began suffering from hypothyroidism and had days where I couldn’t make it through the work day without taking a nap. I went to bed at 8 p.m. every single night and was literally exhausted from stress and too little calories in my diet despite eating a cleaner diet than my former self. This was during my low-carb phase way before I ever knew about a plant-based diet or the benefits of eating one. I mainly lived off of conventional dairy, vegetables, and some fish.
Later as I entered the field of holistic health and nutrition, I learned a good bit about estrogen dominance, thyroid health, the negative hormonal effects of dairy, and how fish is high in mercury that can interfere with our health, including the thyroid. It took me years to find out enough to give them up and to suffer enough bad effects that I felt a need to make a change.
Over time, I began to study more and more research on thyroid health, women’s hormonal health, and foods that assist with both. After adding foods to my diet that I learned about, I discovered how amazing these were for improving my energy so much that I feel like a completely different person.
That being said, along with high-quality sleep, eating enough food and not counting calories, and having a balanced nutritional and stress management plan in my life (exercise, yoga, writing, prayer and meditation), I also prioritize eating foods that boost thyroid health naturally each day.
Here are my favorites:
Berries help break down bad estrogens we encounter from the environments every single day. Harmful sources of estrogen interfere with our body’s own production of estrogen and can throw off our thyroid as a result. Signs of estrogen dominance include an inability to manage weight, moodiness, depression, poor thyroid function, hair loss, and much more.
Berries are one of the best foods to help since they are nutrient-dense and high-fiber which are two key components in boosting hormone function. They are amazing foods! Berries are rich in lignans (which are fibers) and they also have natural quercetin which is an antioxidant that inhibits excessive amounts of estrogens. Berries also boost thyroid by improving the metabolism, and they contain high amounts of antioxidants that aid in overall health. I eat at least 1 cup per day, (usually frozen) and some freshly dried berries like mulberries and goji berries. Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries are the most nutrient-dense of common berries.
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, romaine, and Swiss chard are excellent sources of fiber and antioxidants that boost thyroid health. And no, kale does not hurt your thyroid despite the myth it does. Greens are a must for a healthy thyroid, and no diet is complete without leafy greens. I eat at least 6 cups per day either in salads, smoothies, or entrees.
Coconut butter, meat, and shreds all make their way into my diet each day. Coconut is rich in lauric acid, medium chain triglyceride fats, and even contains some omega-3 fats that boost thyroid function. It detoxifies the liver, nourishes the brain, and produces good hormones including thyroid hormones in the body. I prefer to use whole coconut (coconut butter, coconut meat, coconut shreds) instead of just the oil since a whole food form is better. However, coconut oil can be great to cook with in place of vegetable oil (though I cook with vegetable broth, not oil at all). I also love coconut flour and use it liberally each day. The fats in coconut oil can be extremely beneficial to the brain and women’s hormonal health. It’s one of the few saturated fats (along with cacao) I love and recommend.
Pumpkin and/or Sweet Potatoes
These two foods are excellent sources of Vitamin A and properties that boost thyroid hormones. They’re also excellent sources of fiber which help fight bad estrogen in the body and can improve progesterone levels in the body. Finally, they’re low-glycemic and help improve blood sugar levels more so than other forms of starch like bread, pasta, white rice, and processed starches (crackers, granola, cereal). Their antioxidants also improve overall health, and they taste delicious!
Sea vegetables are some of the most detoxifying foods you can eat and the most beneficial to hormones. They’re also high in iodine which we need for healthy thyroid levels, and when you buy from an organic source, they’re free of mercury and heavy metals that hurt our health (unlike fish which is incredibly toxic due to the polluted waters it is found in and the way it is produced.)
Dulse, spirulina, and kelp are excellent sources of iodine which is a mineral our thyroids need to function at optimal levels. Iodine supplements can sometimes cause issues since they are more processed and extracted from chemical sources, so when possible, aim to get your iodine from food sources like seaweed. Dulse and kelp can be sprinkled in salads and are a great salt replacement, while spirulina can be added to smoothies. (See why I also love spirulina for skin health here!)
I’m in love with maca. It’s a superfood I don’t go without each day and just love how it’s boosted my hormones the last several years. Maca is caramel-tasting superfood from Peru and is simply made from a whole root. It’s incredibly beneficial at boosting hormonal function, reducing stress, improving thyroid, and it is said to improve libido. I find it helps mostly with my mood and energy levels. I love the Navitas Naturals brand too. Maca is also found in Vega One which is my favorite plant-based all-in-one superfood/protein nutritional shake.
Lentils, peas, and seeds are incredible sources of protein, fiber, and thyroid-boosting minerals. The fibers in these foods also assist with the breakdown of negative estrogenic compounds in the body, and the amino acids in these foods boost metabolism and thyroid function. The healthy fats in seeds help stimulate the production of thyroid and other hormones in the body that women require for healthy bodily functions. Unlike high-fat animal-based foods or processed sources of fats, plant-based sources like seeds, avocado, and many nuts contain beneficial fats and protein that our bodies can use for proper thyroid function and will also keep our hearts healthy too.
See my tahini-based dressing I shared yesterday using a super healthy food for the thyroid—sesame seeds!
Overall, a balance of carbs, fats, and proteins are required for optimal thyroid function, but quality counts more than anything. Any carb, fat, or protein just won’t do. A clean diet rich in natural foods is the best option versus processed foods and conventional animal products. These foods above are true superfoods for thyroids, and many other foods for thyroid health can be found in the plant-based kingdom.
Let me know if you have a question about thyroid health and if you’ve ever overcome a low thyroid issue through diet too!