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Health Coach Tips: Best Foods for Hypothyroidism

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Health Coach Tips: Best Foods for Hypothyroidism

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Hypothyroidism affects about 5% of the U.S. population 12 years and older. The condition has different causes but results in a thyroid gland that produces or releases insufficient amounts of essential hormones. 

As a trainer, you may have clients with this condition. One of the symptoms is weight gain, so they may be coming to you to lose weight. If you are a health coach, they may need help sticking with a healthy diet that supports thyroid health. 

Learn more about this condition, how diet impacts it, and how to talk to and support your clients as they strive for a healthy lifestyle. 

What is Hypothyroidism? 

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce and release an adequate amount of hormones. The thyroid is in the neck. It receives signals from the pituitary gland in the brain, which tells it to release certain hormones. There are two main types of hypothyroidism: 

  • Primary hypothyroidism is most common and occurs when the thyroid fails to release enough hormones. 
  • Secondary hypothyroidism occurs when the pituitary gland does not send the correct signals to the thyroid, resulting in an inadequate release of hormones. 

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that triggers the immune system to attack the thyroid. 

Other potential causes of an underactive thyroid include overtreatment of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), iodine deficiency, genetic disorders, thyroid surgery, and certain medications. 

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include: 

  • Cold sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • High cholesterol
  • Slow heart rate
  • Poor memory
  • Depression
  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Enlarged thyroid

This ISSA post describes other endocrine (hormone) disorders, what you need to know about them as a health coach, and how to work with clients with these conditions. 

How Thyroid Function Affects Metabolism

You may encounter training clients with hypothyroidism because this condition causes weight gain. Thyroid hormones control several functions in cells and in the body, including metabolism. 

If your thyroid produces or releases too little of these hormones, your metabolism will be slower. This is what causes people with the condition to feel fatigued and cold and to put on extra weight. They cannot burn as many calories at rest as they would with normal thyroid function. 

Exercise is important for everyone, but for someone with hypothyroidism, it is essential for losing or maintaining weight. 

Carbs can be really tricky for someone who struggles with weight, whether is it due to a thyroid problem or other factors. Check out this post to help clients try carb cycling for better results. 

What Are the Best Foods for Hypothyroidism?

Unfortunately, there is no curative diet for hypothyroidism. However, you can select or avoid certain foods and nutrients to support thyroid health and faster metabolism. 

The Best Foods for Hypothyroidism Include Specific Nutrients

Iodine function relies on certain nutrients more than others. To support a healthy thyroid and to boost metabolic rate, eat foods rich in these: 

  • Iodine. Iodine deficiency is not common in the developed world because we have access to iodine-rich foods and iodized salt. However, it is possible to become deficient in this micronutrient that is essential for thyroid function. It is possible to consume too much and damage the thyroid, though, so avoid supplements unless directed by a physician. 
  • Selenium. Selenium is responsible for activating thyroid hormones. If you have a deficiency, it can lead to dysfunction. Again, avoid supplementation unless a doctor recommends it. Excess selenium can be toxic. 
  • Zinc. Zinc also activates thyroid hormones. It may also help regulate thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This is the hormone released by the pituitary gland that signals the thyroid gland to produce and release its hormones. 
  • Vitamin D. Recent studies have found that vitamin D may play an important role in thyroid function. One study found that people with hypothyroidism benefitted from vitamin D supplementation. It increased their TSH levels. 

Most of these do not require supplementation. You should be able to get adequate amounts from diet. Talk to your doctor before trying a supplement. There may be good reasons you should not use them. These are some of the foods richest in the important, thyroid-supporting nutrients: 

  • Iodine – seaweed, seafood, dairy, eggs, iodized salt
  • Selenium – Brazil nuts, legumes, tuna, sardines, eggs
  • Zinc – oysters, other shellfish, beef, chicken
  • Vitamin D – fortified dairy, fortified cereal, fatty fish, egg yolks

Weight and energy levels can be a big problem with hypothyroidism. Focus on a balanced, whole food diet with lean proteins to keep you full. 

Nutrients and Foods to Avoid

Choosing supportive foods helps, but you should also take a look at the nutrients and foods that may disrupt healthy thyroid function: 

  • Goitrogens. The term goitrogen comes from goiter. A goiter is an enlarged thyroid, and a goitrogen is any compound that could interfere with thyroid health. Soy products, like tofu, edamame, and tempeh contain goitrogens. Other culprits include the cruciferous vegetables—cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale—and certain fruits like peaches, pears, and strawberries. 
  • Millet. The grain millet is also on the list of foods with goitrogens. What makes it different is that cooking it does not seem to mitigate the effect of these substances. Cooking other goitrogen-rich foods may inactivate them to some degree. While you might want to limit the others, avoid millet entirely. 
  • Processed foods. Because of the risk of weight gain, it’s best to avoid processed, calorie-dense foods. Choose whole foods rich in nutrients and fiber and lower in calories. 

How to Support Thyroid Health

Diet is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to supporting thyroid health. If you or a client struggles with hypothyroidism, many lifestyle choices come into play to minimize symptoms. Here are a few other things to consider:

See Your Doctor

If you have any symptoms of hypothyroidism or another thyroid condition, it’s worth a visit to the doctor. Diet alone cannot fix this problem. Thyroid medications will help stabilize hormone levels and mitigate symptoms. 

Take Medications Correctly

If prescribed a thyroid medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the correct way to take them. Certain nutrients and compounds can block absorption, so it’s best not to take them with iron or calcium supplements, goitrogen foods, and certain medications. 

Be Aware of Endocrine Disruptors

Some of the chemicals common in our modern life may disrupt hormones in the body. Exactly how they affect people or contribute to thyroid health is not well understood but limiting exposure might help. 

Endocrine disruptors include bisphenol A, found in some plastics; dioxins in herbicides; perchlorate, found as a contaminant in drinking water; PFAS, used in firefighting foam and non-stick pans; phthalates in packaging and cosmetics. 

Manage Stress

Too much stress causes all kinds of health problems. It can also impair healthy thyroid function. Give your thyroid the best possible chance of success by reducing stress or managing it in healthy ways. Exercise is a great antidote to stress that also aids weight loss. 

Coaching Clients with Hypothyroidism

As a health coach, you work with clients to help them set and meet lifestyle goals. You can help those with hypothyroidism stick with a healthier diet and other habits that promote thyroid health. 

Of course, your scope of practice in this role is limited. You cannot provide medical advice or prescribe certain diets. What you can do, is provide motivation, assessments, and strategies to help these clients make better dietary choices and work with their doctors to improve thyroid function and symptoms. 

Interested in becoming a Certified Health Coach? ISSA has an online program to get you there. Learn how to work with clients and help them achieve their goals. Complete the courses at your own pace as you build your health coaching career. 

ISSA

References

References:

Information, Health, Endocrine Diseases, Hypothyroidism Thyroid), Hypothyroidism Thyroid), and National Health. 2021. "Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) | NIDDK". National Institute Of Diabetes And Digestive And Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism.

"Hypothyroidism - Symptoms And Causes". 2021. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284.

Triggiani, Vincenzo, Emilio Tafaro, Vito Giagulli, Carlo Sabba, Francesco Resta, Brunella Licchelli, and Edoardo Guastamacchia. 2009. "Role Of Iodine, Selenium And Other Micronutrients In Thyroid Function And Disorders". Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders - Drug Targets 9 (3): 277-294. doi:10.2174/187153009789044392.

Talaei, Afsaneh, Fariba Ghorbani, and Zatollah Asemi. 2018. "The Effects Of Vitamin D Supplementation On Thyroid Function In Hypothyroid Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial". Indian Journal Of Endocrinology And Metabolism 22 (5): 584. doi:10.4103/ijem.ijem_603_17.

"Can Certain Foods Increase Thyroid Function In People With Hypothyroidism?". 2021. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/expert-answers/hypothyroidism-diet/faq-20058554.

"Endocrine Disruptors". 2021. National Institute Of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/.

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