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thyroid

I’ve recently come to appreciate the Home and Garden Television channel — more commonly known as HGTV.

When I finally mustered the courage to admit this fact to my friends, I was relieved that instead of cruelly mocking me, they admitted that they often find themselves binge-watching House Hunters International.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 875 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


House Hunters International isn’t my jam so much — I prefer Flip or Flop… mostly for selfish reasons. The show films its episodes in southern California where I just so happen to live. So while I watch, I can say, “Hey! I know where that is!”

Anyhow, one of the stars of the show, Tarek El-Moussa, is a recent cancer survivor. A few years ago, Tarek was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It’s actually an interesting story — a viewer of the show that just so happened to be a nurse, noticed that Tarek had a large mass near his throat. The viewer emailed the show’s producers telling them that Tarek needs to get this mass checked by a doctor. And, sure enough after he got his thyroid biopsied, it was determined that Tarek had stage 2 thyroid cancer. It’s possible that this viewer saved Tarek’s life.

Are there specific foods that may help or harm the thyroid? Of course.

But first, I want to make sure we understand what the thyroid actually is.

What is The Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid is a gland that’s found in the neck, right in front of the windpipe. This was why the nurse suspected that Tarek El-Moussa had an issue with his thyroid: there was a large lump or mass in Tarek’s neck where the thyroid sits. When the thyroid doesn’t function properly, it can lead to problems with metabolism, or basically, how many calories you burn each day.

For someone with hypothyroidism, meaning the thyroid isn’t active as it should be: it doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. These thyroid hormones help with metabolism. If we don’t make enough of these hormones, metabolism slows down. As a result, a person may begin to feel tired and they may start to gain weight.

The opposite can be true as well. Someone can have hyperthyroidism. This means the thyroid gland is hyperactive and produces too many hormones. In this case, the person may feel energetic all the time. They may have difficulty sleeping and may have trouble gaining or even maintaining their body weight.

Foods that Help the Thyroid

A listener asked about hypothyroidism specifically, so I will focus on that. It turns out that there ARE certain foods to eat and to avoid to help the thyroid gland function at its best. I will start by discussing nutrients, specifically, and then will mention foods that are high in those nutrients.

Here are some nutrients you may want to consider increasing in your diet.

1. Iodine

First up, iodine. Iodine is so important for the thyroid because it is desperately needed to make thyroid hormones. One of the best ways to help get enough iron in your diet is to use iodized salt when cooking. Seafood is also a decent source of iodine. But, I should mention that too much iodine can also be an issue. So, no need to go overboard here.

Next: iron. Iron has many functions in the body. We often think of it in terms of whether we’re anemic and whether iron is helping our bodies hang on to oxygen which we so desperately need in order to function. But, iron may also help the thyroid gland effectively use iodine and therefore help the gland produce thyroid hormones. Good food sources of iron would be meat, poultry, and seafood. Iron is also found in many plant-based foods, but this form of iron is not as easily absorbed. One way to help increase iron absorption is to add some citrus during cooking — the vitamin C in citrus helps the body better absorb iron. Oh, and I must mention — please don’t supplement with iron without your doctor’s approval. Too much iron is toxic.

2. Selenium

If were to dissect the thyroid gland, we’d find it’s actually full of a mineral called selenium. It turns out this selenium is protecting the thyroid from damage. Selenium also helps the gland make thyroid hormones. Seafood, meat, poultry, dairy, and Brazil nuts are good sources of selenium.

3. Zinc

And finally, zinc. Zinc, just like the other nutrients I discussed, helps the gland produce thyroid hormones. Food sources of zinc include seafood, meat, dairy and nuts.

Are there Foods I should Avoid with Hypothyroidism?

As far as foods to avoid, luckily there aren’t really any foods that need to be completely avoided. Instead, consider monitoring how much is consumed. The first group of foods would be certain cruciferous vegetables. These would include cauliflower, broccoli, Bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. These foods may prevent the gland from producing enough thyroid hormones.

The other I need to address is soy. Here again, it doesn’t need to be avoided completely: if your blood thyroid levels look good, it may still be ok to consume but not within 2 hours of taking thyroid medication.

When it comes to foods you may want to consider adding to the diet, you may have noticed a common theme: seafood, meat, and poultry. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, be sure you're consuming enough leafy greens and nuts as these are decent sources of these nutrients as well. When it comes to those foods you may want to be a bit more careful with, these would include cruciferous vegetables and soy.

Tags: health
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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik leads the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program and teaches core courses at Bastyr University California. He has a Doctorate in Public Health from Loma Linda University and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the American College of Sports Medicine.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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