How to Eat Well When You Have Graves’ Disease
There’s really not such a thing as a Graves’ disease diet, per se.
While what you eat can matter, it's more about planning meals and filling your plate with foods that won’t aggravate your Graves’ disease symptoms. In addition to selecting foods wisely, you’ll most likely need a combination of treatments, such as medications and radioactive iodine, as part of your Graves’ disease treatment plan so you can feel your best.
Graves’ disease is actually the most common cause of hyperthyroidism—when your thyroid gland over-produces thyroid hormone. Although Graves’ disease can’t be prevented or treated through diet alone, certain foods may help ease Graves’ disease symptoms. And, keep in mind that every body is different so that which foods may exacerbate or worsen your symptoms will be a matter of trial and error.
More universal are the foods you should choose most often to help manage the symptoms of Graves’ disease.
Foods to Eat More of If You Have Graves’ Disease:
- Berries: In particular, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are brimming with antioxidants. Fresh or frozen, these anti-inflammatory foods help to keep your immune system strong. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means that your immune system attacks healthy tissues in your body. Eating berries can’t prevent Graves’ disease, but they can help protect your overall health. Whenever possible choose organic berries to lessen your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, which will challenge your immune system. How much you need to eat: 1 or more servings a day.
- Dairy Products: Untreated Graves’ disease can cause bone loss (which can lead to osteoporosis), but once Graves’ disease is treated, getting more dietary calcium can help rebuild and strengthen your bones. Get plenty of calcium from dairy foods, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can select Lactaid type products or take Lactaid pills. Another option is to include foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D, such as orange juice, soy or almond milk, whole grain cereals and breads. How much you need to eat: 2-3 servings daily.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables, such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, radish, and kale, are part of the goitrogen family of foods. These vegetables may help reduce the amount of thyroid hormone your thyroid gland produces, but you can’t treat Graves’ disease solely by eating more of these vegetables. How much you need to eat: 1 or more servings every day
- Foods Containing Vitamin D: Such as salmon, eggs, and mushrooms can help prevent osteoporosis, a complication that can occur if Graves’ disease goes untreated. But that's really the tip of the iceberg for vitamin D. This is a mighty nutrient that supports functions assuring a healthy immune system as well as brain and nervous system activities. It also has an important role in regulating insulin levels important in diabetes management and contributes to a cardiovascular health. Many people cannot eat enough to meet your needs for this powerhouse nutrient so your doctor may recommend you take a vitamin D supplement. How much you need to eat: 1 or more servings daily depending upon whether your vitamin D status is within range or too low.
- Protein: Chicken, turkey, beans, and nuts are quality sources of protein—an essential nutrient that helps build muscle and gives you energy. Because weight loss is a common Graves’ disease symptom, eating plenty of protein can help ensure you maintain muscle mass. Getting sufficient protein may help restore muscle mass once Graves’ disease is treated. How much you need to eat: A serving (2-3 ounces) at every meal
- Fats: Omega-3 fatty acids—essential fatty acids found in salmon and other fish, olive oil, and walnuts—keep your body healthy and strong. Your body doesn’t naturally produce these fatty acids, so you have to get them from food. How much you need to eat: 1 or more servings every day
What to Limit When You Have Graves' Disease
- Caffeine: Foods that contain caffeine—coffee, soda, tea, and chocolate—can aggravate Graves’ disease symptoms, such as anxiety, nervousness, rapid heart rate, and weight loss. Although you may not need to completely eliminate caffeine from your diet, talk to your doctor about whether you’ll need to limit foods with caffeine. If you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, and you don't feel awful, then you don't have to eliminate it.
- Food allergens: If you have a food allergy—even if it’s a mild food allergy—you may want to avoid that food to lessen any adverse effects. The effect that some food allergens have on the body can mimic Graves’ disease symptoms, so eliminating those foods may help your doctor figure out what exactly your Graves’ disease symptoms are. Common food allergens include dairy products, wheat-based foods (gluten), soy, corn, and nuts.
- Base your meals on vegetables and fresh fruits, then add a little lean protein (chicken, turkey, fish and seafood, beans and legumes, nuts and nut butters, even soy), whole grains, and heart-healthy fats (eg, olive oil).
- Eating or limiting certain foods alone won’t completely treat symptoms of Graves’ disease. But a healthy diet is essential to help you feel your best and reduce risks for many chronic diseases.
- Where's the beef? Leaving out red meat as a good option for protein was done on purpose. While not specific to Graves' disease, a high intake of red meat has been linked to an increased risk of nine diseases including reproductive cancers such as breast and prostate, heart disease, diabetes, diseases of the liver and kidneys, stroke, and greater risk of infections. If the appeal is still there...limit your portion to 2.5-3 ounces once a week.
- Taking dietary supplements is tricky. If your doctor finds you deficient, vitamin D is the one nutrient that is commonly needed in supplement form since it's too hard to get enough in your diet. However, before starting to take a nutritional supplement on your own, it's best to check with your doctor as some supplements can interact with medications. This includes calcium which may not be as beneficial as once thought, and is less effective in pill form than when you eat calcium-rich foods.
A final word—because everyone has unique dietary needs, such as high cholesterol, vegetarian, or gluten sensitivity, you should talk to your doctor or ask for a referral to a registered dietitian to get some guidance about creating a meal plan that meets your needs and gives you more of what you like while avoiding the foods that worsen your Graves disease symptoms.
- Graves’ disease. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service Web site. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/graves/. Published May 2008. Accessed May 3, 2011.
- Hyperthyroidism. University of Maryland Medical Center Web site. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/hyperthyroidism-000088.htm. Accessed May 3, 2011.