The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland found around the throat, is one of the most important structures in the body when it comes to:
- Weight regulation
A healthy thyroid keeps the body warm, youthful, and energized.
Dieting may be a popular American pastime, but it can affect the thyroid in more ways than one. You can support a healthy thyroid with a nutrient-dense diet that includes fermented vegetables at each meal, made with the Veggie Culture Starter.
Unfortunately, many extreme diets can inhibit the thyroid from doing its job and fulfilling the body’s needs.
When it comes to optimal thyroid function, these are the most common traps that we fall into while dieting:
1. Under-Eating and Over-Training
This could mean athletes that want to maintain a certain body image or elevate their performance. It could also mean counting calories, back-to-back yoga, long hours at work, and even unhealthy weight loss goals.
The risk for compromised thyroid function arises when we do not have enough energy (food) to meet our needs and level of physical activity.
If you have ever cleansed the body by fasting, you may have experienced the sense of euphoria that can eventually replace gnawing hunger. This euphoria is caused by a release of a group of stress hormones, like cortisol. It is also an evolutionary adaption that kept our ancestors going - in spite of hunger.
It turns out that both exercise and stress can reduce the feeling of hunger. That’s not all. Competitive athletes, those on strict programs to lose weight, can under-eat or over-train to the point of:
- Bone loss
- Absence of menstrual period
- Low levels of testosterone
- Reduced libido
- Low energy
When red flags like anemia and missed periods begin to pop up, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are normally off balance throughout the day. Also known as your circadian rhythm, these highs and lows are natural, healthy, and indicate that your hormonal system is on point.
When we under-eat or over-train, thyroid-stimulating hormone levels, also known as TSH, can show up on a lab as low. The levels of active thyroid hormone may be normal to elevated.
If you have ever had your thyroid tested, you know that most physicians look at levels of TSH in the body. More TSH means that the brain is asking for an increase in the production of thyroid hormones.
While this marker alone is never a good indicator of thyroid function, when TSH levels are low and thyroid hormone levels are normal to elevated, you may not be meeting your body’s energy requirements.
In other words, by simply eating more nutrient-dense foods, you may find a dramatic shift in thyroid function. This can mean a faster metabolism, a warmer body, regular menstrual periods, and a healthy libido.
A vegetarian diet typically allows dairy and eggs, whereas a vegan diet has removed all foods that come from an animal. This includes dairy, eggs, and honey.
Vegetarian and vegan diets have been found to interfere with a regular menstrual cycle. (1)
Many times, those on a vegan diet are continuously in an energy deficit. As in the case of those who under-eat and over-train, too little food can lead to exhaustion of the hormonal system and a poor thyroid function. (2)
Those on a vegan diet will often make up for missing energy requirements with wheat, corn, and soy. Besides the fact that these foods are some of the most genetically modified foods on the planet, they are also common gut irritants and thus can cause allergic reactions.
The integrity of gut mucosa and the immune system balance have a close relationship. In fact, poor gut function often plays a role in autoimmune flare-ups. One factor that may affect the health and performance of the thyroid is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
If you eat a vegan diet and struggle with thyroid function, you may want to see if you can eliminate wheat, corn, and soy from your diet. Signs of poor thyroid function may include:
- Weight gain, especially around the middle
- Hair loss
- Low body temperature
In the case of Hashimoto’s, the thyroid often bounces between underactivity and overactivity. Signs of an overactive thyroid include:
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Poor sleep
- Heart palpitations
3. Low Carb, Atkins, and Paleo Dieting
Diets that limit carbohydrate consumption from 0-100 grams of carbohydrates a day are a popular way to meet weight loss goals.
However, when the body does not have enough glucose, which it pulls from carb-heavy foods, hormonal changes take place. These hormonal changes, which help the body to conserve glucose and protein, involve the stress hormone cortisol and the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3).
T3 is the most active thyroid hormone. When it comes to carbohydrates, T3 helps to move glucose into cells. (3)
Low levels of active T3 in the body can mean that there is less glucose moving into cells and less glucose being used throughout the body.
One role that the stress hormone cortisol plays is that it keeps blood sugar from falling too low. Once blood sugar begins to dip, cortisol prompts the liver to make glucose. Low blood sugar, or too little dietary carbohydrates, can push the body into a hypothyroid state where there are:
- Low levels of active thyroid hormone T3
- High levels of stress hormone cortisol
Research has found that reduced levels of active thyroid hormone and higher levels of cortisol are also found in situations of starvation and total fasting. (4)(5)
A Healthy Diet for Sluggish Thyroid: Try the Principle of 80/20
One of the easiest ways to support thyroid function is to make sure that the body has nutrient-dense sources of energy. While many diets and weight loss programs tell us that sugar makes us fat or that the body does not need carbohydrates to be healthy, we know that health is all about balance!
At Body Ecology, we encourage each other to practice the Principle of 80/20. This means that while 80% of a meal is made up of fermented vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, and sea vegetables, we suggest that the remaining 20% of a meal is:
- A starchy vegetable
- A grain-like seed such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, or amaranth
- An animal protein such as meat, eggs, or fermented dairy
Fruit is another source of glucose that is also brimming with antioxidants and phytonutrients. When just starting out on the Body Ecology Diet, make sure to stick with sour fruits, such as:
- Green apples
During the fall season and early winter, sour fruits like green apples, cranberries, and pomegranates are easy to find. They combine best with a protein fat, such as fermented dairy or nuts. Or, simply enjoy fruit alone and on an empty stomach.
Investigate the Benefits of Seaweed
If you really want a boost and don’t have the time or desire to eat seaweed - or if you want to give your thyroid extra support, try Ocean Plant Extract. It is made from the potent Laminaria Japonica, a powerful sea vegetable that Russian doctors used to help people recover from nuclear fallout.
If you are struggling to optimize thyroid function, keep in mind that the thyroid is like a little furnace in the body. It has a special relationship with energy and glucose.
The principles of the Body Ecology Diet can help to protect thyroid health and hormonal balance, while restoring the health of the digestive tract.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
The thyroid is an essential gland that the body uses to regulate weight, energy, and fertility. In short, a healthy thyroid will keep you looking and feeling your best!
If you’ve fallen into a common dieting trap, it could be affecting your thyroid as we speak:
- Under-Eating and Over-Training: Athletes and rigorous dieters are susceptible to low levels of energy, along with anemia, bone loss, and even a reduced libido. Eating more nutrient-dense foods can supply energy and support healthy thyroid function.
- Vegan Diet: A vegan diet without dairy, eggs, and honey can interfere with a regular menstrual cycle and cause low levels of energy. Popular vegan foods like wheat, corn, and soy can irritate the gut and even trigger allergic reactions. Vegans with poor thyroid function may experience weight gain, hair loss, a low body temperature, and more.
- Low Carb Dieting: Carbohydrate restricted diets include Atkins and the Paleo Diet. Limiting carbohydrates can affect active thyroid hormones to push the body into a hypothyroid state.
To get your health back on track after dieting, we recommend eating 80% fermented vegetables at every meal to support balance in the digestive system. You can also give your thyroid a much-needed boost with the potent Ocean Plant Extract, full of powerful sea vegetables that can optimize thyroid health.
- KM Pirke, et al. Dieting influences the menstrual cycle: vegetarian versus nonvegetarian diet. Fertil Steril. 19 86 Dec;46(6):1083-8.
- JE Benson, et al. Nutritional aspects of amenorrhea in the female athlete triad. Int J Sport Nutr. 1996 Jun;6(2):134-45.
- M Shetty, et al. Stimulation of glucose transport in Clone 9 cells by insulin and thyroid hormone: role of GLUT-1 activation. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1996 Nov 8;1314(1-2):140-6.
- H Shimizu H et al. Altered hormonal status in a female deprived of food for 18 days. J Med. 1991;22(3):201-10.
- J Palmblad et al. Effects of total energy withdrawal (fasting) on the levels of growth hormone, thyrotropin, cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, T4, T3, and rT3 in healthy males. Acta Med Scand. 1977 Jan;201(1-2):15-22.
Want more articles like this?
Sign up to receive weekly articles. You'll also receive a 15% off coupon, weekly articles, and tips from Donna and her team.