According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of the US population will experience a thyroid condition at some point in their lives, and up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Today we will discuss how you can support your thyroid health through diet. We will discuss which nutrients are important for a strong functioning thyroid gland, as well as food sources that contain these nutrients.
Iodine is a nutrient that is crucial for our bodies to make thyroid hormones. Many types of seafood contain high amounts of iodine, especially seaweed, kelp, scallops, cod, and shrimp. Other good food sources of iodine include eggs, turkey, potatoes with the skin, and beans (especially navy beans and lima beans). In many countries, table salt also has iodine added to it, so this is another source of iodine in many people’s diet.
Selenium is a nutrient that is very important for the proper functioning of our thyroid hormones, because it converts the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) into the active hormone triiodothyronine (T3). Your thyroid hormones would not function properly without selenium. Low selenium levels are associated with an increase in thyroid antibodies, which is a marker for autoimmune thyroid disease. Some food sources of selenium include beef, turkey, chicken, organ meats, eggs, and brazil nuts.
According to The National Institutes of Health, approximately 40% of people with hypothyroidism are deficient in vitamin B12. Reversing a B12 deficiency has been shown to improve symptoms of hypothyroidism. The food sources highest in vitamin B12 are animal meat, fish, and eggs. Those that eat a vegan diet are at a greater risk of a B12 deficiency than those that eat animal products. For those that eat a completely plant based diet, nutritional yeast is a good food source of vitamin B12 that is vegan friendly, but if your levels are low, you may need to supplement B12 to avoid a deficiency. Speak with your doctor about this if you are at a high risk of deficiency.
Magnesium is another nutrient that is required to convert the thyroid hormone T4 to T3. Magnesium deficiency can have a direct impact on thyroid function, and low levels are associated with hypothyroidism and elevated thyroid antibodies. Magnesium is found in a variety of foods, but some good sources include various nuts and seeds, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and dark chocolate. Other vegetables, fruit, meat, and fish also contain some magnesium as well.
Zinc is a nutrient that is involved in the production of thyroid hormones, and helps regulate enzymes that synthesize thyroid hormones. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, and pumpkin seeds. Thyroid hormones and zinc are like a two-way street, zinc is necessary for the production and metabolism of thyroid hormones, but if one already has low thyroid hormones, this can affect their body’s ability to absorb zinc from their diet.
Copper is an important mineral for the proper function of thyroid hormones. Copper helps produce T4 and also helps control the body’s calcium levels, preventing the over absorption of T4 in our blood cells. Food sources of copper include nuts, seeds, avocado, dark chocolate, tofu, beef liver, and seafood, especially oysters.
Vitamin A is required for the activation of thyroid hormone receptors, so it is an important nutrient for thyroid health. Retinol, also known as preformed vitamin A, is the form of vitamin A that is the most bioavailable to our bodies. This form of vitamin A is found in animal based foods, especially red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and organ meats. Our bodies can also convert carotenoids, also known as provitamin A, into retinol. The most common carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Fruits and vegetables with bright pigments contain these carotenoids, such as carrots, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few.
It is important to note that when it comes to vitamins and other nutrients, more is not always better. This is especially true for many of the nutrients necessary for proper thyroid health. While too little of a nutrient can cause issues, too much can also be problematic. But consuming too much of a vitamin or mineral usually only happens when people supplement an excessive amount of a certain nutrient, so if you are focusing on eating a healthy, well balanced diet, you should be just fine.