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Superfoods for Thyroid Health

Blueberries, pumpkins, dark chocolate, and Brazil nuts are considered thyroid health-supporting superfoods. Here’s what you should know.

with Julie Harris RDN, LDN, CPT and Lisa Richards CNC

A white ceramic bowl overflowing with blueberries onto a natural linen fabricPhoto by Joanna Kosinska. Blueberries are among the top "superfoods" for promoting thyroid health.

Our thyroid function is dictated by a complex system of hormones, and our thyroid health can be influenced by our genes, environment and lifestyles — including what we eat. There are a few amazing, nutrient-rich foods that can help to support our thyroid function, but before we get into what those thyroid-healthy superfoods might be, let’s take a look at what the thyroid gland does and how it can affect your health. 

What is the function of the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of your neck. This powerful gland is a sort of control center, producing hormones that play major roles in many body processes, including:

  • mood regulation
  • heart rate
  • metabolism
  • temperature
  • breathing
  • and so much more.

The thyroid gland creates two main hormones — T4 (known as thyroxine) and T3 (known as triiodothyronine). This small but mighty gland works in tandem with the pituitary gland, which is found below your brain at the base of your skull. 

If the pituitary gland ‘senses’ that you need more or less of a certain hormone, it will release a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (known as TSH), which then communicates with your thyroid gland to tell it which hormones to release. When your body is functioning correctly, these hormones are all balanced. 

There are two main thyroid conditions that occur when these hormones are not balanced.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the body makes too little thyroid hormone. Although symptoms differ person to person, it’s generally marked by:

  • fatigue 
  • constipation 
  • weight gain 
  • puffy face
  • brain fog 

Hypothyroidism can be caused by conditions like:

  • thyroiditis
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis 
  • iodine deficiency (more on this below)
  • postpartum thyroiditis 

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body makes too much thyroid hormone. It’s generally marked by:

  • feelings of irritability
  • hyperactivity
  • sleeping issues
  • feeling hot 
  • muscle weakness

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by:

What are superfoods?  

First, it’s important to remember that there is no one cure for thyroid issues, including nutrition. If you have a thyroid condition, an endocrinologist can help you better understand your condition. You will likely need medication, in addition to making certain lifestyle changes. This might include adopting healthier sleep habits, a stress management routine, exercising regularly — and, yes, eating healthfully.

Cue the term ‘superfood.’

The term is thrown around a lot, especially by marketing gurus and fancy health food brands. The truth is, there is no set definition of a superfood, and the term isn’t regulated by the FDA or USDA. When you come across a food labeled a “superfood,” like an ancient grain or bag of Brazil nuts, it doesn’t mean that this food has some inherent special superpower or that other healthy foods aren’t also necessary. 

That being said, superfoods are understood to be highly nutritious, bioactive foods that may help prevent disease and support health. Generally speaking, these foods contain powerful antioxidants, heart-healthy fatty acids, and fiber. 

Can nutrition actually help boost our thyroid health?

“Foods alone can't cure thyroid issues,” says Julie Harris RDN, LDN and CPT. “However, a combination of nutrients and medications can help restore thyroid function and reduce symptoms.”

For one, eating anti-inflammatory foods may have some impact on thyroid health. According to Lisa Richards, nutritionist, and author of The Candida Diet, eating foods that mitigate inflammation can help people with autoimmune diseases — such as Graves' or Hashimoto’s — feel better. Anti-inflammatory foods include things like:

  • fatty fish (think salmon and herring)
  • nuts
  • berries
  • seeds
  • olive oil

“An unhealthy or imbalanced gut leads to many negative health outcomes, including poor immune function. Disorders of the immune system — autoimmune diseases — are primarily inflammatory in nature,” Richards says. 

Richards continues, “The gut plays a role in supporting a healthy thyroid and controlling inflammation. Consuming superfoods rich in gut health-promoting nutrients like antioxidants and fiber can help to mitigate thyroid conditions and symptoms.”

In short, if you have autoimmune thyroid issues, you can ease some of the inflammatory damage your body is experiencing by eating superfoods and anti-inflammatory foods — but it’s always best to work with your healthcare practitioner and a nutritionist to understand which foods are best for you, and how they play into your disease management routine.  

Which superfood is best for thyroid health?

There are a few superfoods well-known for their benefit to people with thyroid conditions — and the good news is, some of them are pretty delicious.

“Blueberries, pumpkins, and Brazil nuts support thyroid health because they're full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and selenium,” Harris says. The best part? These sorts of foods make excellent, easy snacks. You can simply nosh on them by the handful every now and again to reap their many benefits. 

Blueberries
Blueberries are widely touted as the world’s favorite superfood — and that’s because they’re delicious, easy to snack on, and packed full of antioxidants called polyphenols. For people trying to lose weight due to hypothyroidism, they’re also high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, meaning they’re lower in fructose. They can provide energy and a metabolic boost. Studies also show that people with thyroid conditions have higher levels of free radicals — unstable atoms that wreak havoc on the body — which the high amounts of antioxidants in blueberries may help reduce. 

Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts make the cut because they are super high in selenium. This is important because the thyroid gland has the highest amount of selenium of any organ in the body. Depending on the climate the Brazil nuts come from, they also pack high concentrations of zinc, copper, and magnesium. Aim for just a few per day. 

Pumpkin seeds
“Pumpkin seeds are another superfood for thyroids. Eating an ounce of dried pumpkin seeds a day is a healthful way to meet your daily needs for zinc, which is a mineral needed for thyroid hormone production,” says Harris. You can also puree them or roast them for an easy snack. 

Apples
For such a ubiquitous, everyday food, apples sure are superfoods for the thyroid. This is because they’re chock full of pectins, which is a fiber that can support toxin removal in the body. These toxins, specifically metals, can interfere with thyroid function (specifically, mercury can decrease thyroid hormone levels). For a thyroid-friendly snack, eat an apple with its skin, which contains high amounts of pectin.

Eggs 
Believe it or not, eggs are also considered a superfood, and they can be excellent for thyroid health — so be sure to add them or keep them in your breakfast rotation. Eggs contain both tryptophan and tyrosine, both of which support heart health and may be anti-cancer. Loaded with all the essential amino acids, they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, selenium, and antioxidants. (Curious about iodine? Read more below.) To get all the benefits, make sure you’re eating the entire egg, not just the whites. Don’t like eggs for breakfast? Eating a hard-boiled egg a few times per week is a great way to reap their benefits. 

Dark chocolate
Perhaps you're wondering, "What about dessert?" Well, there’s a tasty superfood that qualifies: Chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate that is made from 70 to 85 percent cacao — not to be confused with cocoa

Cacao is the purest form of chocolate, while cocoa has been processed and stripped of many of its healthy offerings, which include fiber, magnesium, copper, calcium, and potassium. 

“Dark chocolate is an interesting superfood to integrate for those with thyroid conditions,” Richards says. “Cacao contains significant amounts of antioxidants, which work to prevent and treat the cellular damage caused by free radicals in the body as a result of toxins and stress.” 

“Damaged cells that are allowed to replicate can lead to chronic conditions, like thyroid disorders. The nutrient synergy that exists among the nutrients in cacao, along with the antioxidant content, makes it an effective addition to any health regimen,” Richards continues. 

Fair warning: Dark chocolate is a bit more bitter than the milk chocolate candies sold at the grocery store checkout. And how much should you eat? That’s actually unclear. Aim for a few nibbles of dark chocolate here and there, as researchers aren’t exactly sure of how much chocolate a person would have to eat to attain health benefits. Think of it like this: If you’re going to reach for a chocolatey snack, have some dark chocolate on hand to satisfy the craving while promoting your thyroid health. 

A note on iodine

Whenever thyroid and nutrition are mentioned, iodine comes up — and for good reason. Iodine is required for healthy thyroid function, but there are a few things you should know before going all in on certain iodine-rich foods, like eggs, seaweed, and tuna. 

While some medical professionals suggest that patients with thyroid conditions eat tons of iodine-rich foods or take iodine supplements, you’ll want to ensure you’re actually deficient in iodine before upping the ante.

While some cases of hypothyroidism, for example, are caused by iodine deficiency, most people in the U.S. have no trouble getting enough iodine in their diets. More so, high doses of iodine can even interact with thyroid medications and worsen the issue. 

In short, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing with iodine or loading up on iodine-rich foods.

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