What foods to eat when you have an underactive thyroid?

What is underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)?

Underactive thyroid is also called hypothyroidism. It is a condition in which the body does not make enough thyroid hormones. So, the level of thyroid hormones decreases in the body. Hypothyroidism affects around 4.6% of the US population and it mostly affects women.

Thyroid hormones released from the thyroid gland that is present near the base of the neck. Thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that affect nearly every cell of the body. Pituitary gland, which is present in the brain, sends the signal to the thyroid gland. This signal is known as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is received by the thyroid gland, it releases thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. Sometimes, even TSH normally released from the pituitary glands but thyroid gland does not release thyroid hormones that decreases the level of thyroid hormones in the body.

90% of primary hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. In this condition, thyroid gland may gradually destroy. Other causes of hypothyroidism are iodine deficiency, certain medication, genetic disorder or surgery in which thyroid gland is removed. Thyroid gland is very important for the body to perform normal functions. Thyroid hormones help to control cell growth and metabolism. 

thyroid anatomy
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Effect of hypothyroidism on the metabolism

Thyroid hormones control the speed of metabolism. It can faster the metabolism that can help to burn more calories at rest. People with underactive thyroid have slower metabolism that burns few calories at rest. Slow metabolism can lead to increased risk of diseases. It also increases the blood cholesterol level. Underactive thyroid badly affects the metabolism. When thyroid level is extremely low, this is called myxedema. Myxedema is a life-threatening condition and more common in women. In this condition chains of sugar molecules deposit in the skin that are complex mucopolysaccharides.

Hypothyroidism and weight gain

Body weight increases due to underactive thyroid. The cause of weight gain in hypothyroidism is fat accumulation in the body. It is also related to excess salt and water. In general, 5-10 pounds of weight is gained due to underactive thyroid. As thyroid hormone regulates metabolism and burns calories. In hypothyroidism, the metabolism is slowed down and does not burn the proper calories and leads to quick weight gain.  It is important to do moderate to high cardio such as exercise, hiking, running and walking. It can help to maintain a normal body weight. Moreover, thyroid hormone level also increases by doing moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise. If you are finding to maintain weight in hypothyroidism, you should start aerobic exercise that will help you to maintain weight and also increase the level of thyroid hormones.

Signs and symptoms of underactive thyroid

The signs and symptoms of underactive thyroid develop slowly, so you may not realize in the start that you are suffering from this disease. Children can experience slow growth, and development. Elder may suffer from memory problems and depression.

Common symptoms include:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Irregular or heavy periods

If you have any of these symptoms, you have to check a doctor and ask for a test of an underactive thyroid. If underactive thyroid is not treated, it can cause other serious symptoms such as:

  • Puffy looking face
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low pitched voice
  • Hearing loss
  • Anemia

Important nutrients

There are many nutrients that are important for normal thyroid function. These are iodine, zinc and selenium. The normal level of these nutrients may improve the production of thyroid hormones.


Iodine is an essential element that is helpful for the production of thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is very common and affects one third of the population in the world. It can also increase the risk of hypothyroidism. If you have iodine deficiency, then use iodized table salt in the diet. You can also eat iodine rich food such as fish, dairy, eggs that can help to increase the iodine level in the body and also help to improve the production of thyroid hormones in the body.

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Zinc is another element that helps to activate the thyroid hormones. Zinc may help to regulate the TSH level, the hormone which sends to the thyroid gland to release the thyroid hormones. Zinc deficiencies are rare but if it happens, you have to eat zinc rich foods, such as oyster, crab, lobster and mushrooms. Otherwise, it can lead to hypothyroidism.


Selenium is the micronutrient that plays an important role in the production of thyroid gland. It is also present in the thyroid gland naturally and has antioxidant properties. So, it also protects the thyroid gland from free radicals. Avoid using selenium supplements because excess amounts of it may also be toxic. Try to eat foods that contain selenium such as shrimp, beef, turkey, chicken, egg and oatmeal etc.

Harmful nutrients

Many nutrients are harmful in hypothyroidism, so you should avoid those nutrients.


Goitrogens get their name from goiter which is basically enlargement of thyroid gland. This condition seems to be hypothyroidism. These compounds interfere with normal function of thyroid and decrease the production of thyroid hormones. People should avoid goitrogens that are present in many foods. Goitrogen compounds are inactive when food is cooked. If people consume a large amount of goitrogens, it causes underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism.

The food contains goitrogens include:

  • Green cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, kale, cabbage, spinach etc.
  • Soy foods: Tofu, tempeh etc.

Foods to eat

People who are suffering from hypothyroidism have many options of food to eat. You should eat lean meat, fruits and vegetables that are less caloric and very filling. It helps to decrease appetite and control weight.

Eggs: Eggs are good in hypothyroidism because selenium and iodine are present in the yolk portion while whites are full of protein. So, it helps to improve the condition of hypothyroidism.

Other options are eating fruits, lean meat, gluten free grains and seeds, dairy products and fish. Do not drink caffeinated beverages because they are harmful.

what food to avoid for hypothyroidism

Foods to avoid

Luckily, you don’t need to avoid too many foods, if you have hypothyroidism. Moreover, food that contains goitrogens should be cooked properly or eaten in moderation.

Processed food:

You should also avoid processed food that can increase weight gain. Also, processed food contains a large amount of sodium, people with hypothyroidism cannot consume too much sodium. In hypothyroidism, risk of high blood pressure increases, consumption sodium may also increase the risk of high blood pressure. Moreover, processed food contains a large number of calories that leads to increase in weight.

The examples of processed foods are:

  • Fast food
  • Cakes
  • Donuts
  • Hot dogs


Gluten is a protein found processed from barley, rye and wheat and other grains. People who have Hashimoto’s disease are more likely to have celiac disease than other people. The reason behind this is that both are autoimmune diseases. So, if a person has one disease, it is more likely to develop other disease. This disease causes chronic inflammation into the intestine when ingested the gluten diet. Therefore, you have to remove gluten from the diet and prefer a gluten free diet. Removing gluten from the diet may improve the condition of hypothyroidism in the body.   

Sugary food:

The foods that contain a large amount of sugar have high calories which is not good for hypothyroidism. So, sugar food such as chocolate cakes should be avoided. It is best to eliminate the sugar completely from the diet. It helps to maintain normal body weight.


Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormones. Try to not drink coffee because it can imbalance the thyroid level in the body. Some people take morning medication for hypothyroidism with coffee that is not good for health. The proper way is to take medication for hypothyroidism with water. If you want to drink coffee, drink it after 30 minutes after taking the medicines.

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Hypothyroidism is the condition in which the level of thyroid hormones decrease in the body. Thyroid gland releases the thyroid hormones that play an important role in proper body functioning. It is also helpful in growth, cell repair and metabolism. Hypothyroidism can cause many health problems including increase in cholesterol level in the body. It can lead to an increase in body weight. There are many nutrients such as zinc, iodine and selenium that are helpful for the normal production of thyroid gland. Eating more protein in your diet can boost up your metabolism. Other food items are vegetables, fruits and lean meat. These foods are low caloric and can be easily metabolized in the body. It can also help to decrease body weight. Hypothyroidism may lower the metabolism. Research shows that aerobic exercise is helpful because it increases the thyroid hormone level in the body. There are some food items that should be avoided in this condition. You can minimize the symptoms and want a healthy weight then you should follow a thyroid friendly diet.

what food to eat for underactive thyroid

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9 thoughts on “What foods to eat when you have an underactive thyroid?”

  1. So many conditions have similar symptoms. I imagine it can be hard to pinpoint something in the beginning, but I bet it is a relief when you finally do!


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