Unsure how to improve your thyroid health? Start with delicious and nourishing meals
Hey, hey! Today we’ve got a guest on the blog and we’re so excited for you to ‘meet’ her. Lisa Markley, MS, RDN is a fellow real food dietitian nutritionist and the author of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook.
We were introduced to Lisa through a mutual dietitian friend who raved about her work in the field of thyroid health. We often get emails from readers who’ve either recently been diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid issues or have long battled them without marked improvement in their health despite multiple interventions so we thought it was the perfect time to have Lisa stop by and share a little about what the thyroid gland is and how you can improve your thyroid health using wholesome, nourishing foods. We think you’ll agree that Lisa’s approach to thyroid health is one of abundance, not restriction, and something we should all be doing to support the little gland that does so much.
So, without further ado, here’s Lisa!
The thyroid gland has been referred to as the body’s engine or metabolic “spark plug,” as well as its thermostat. That’s because it plays a key role in both energy metabolism and temperature regulation. It’s also a key player in sex hormone metabolism, cholesterol regulation, heart rate, bone health, fertility, and cognitive function. In fact, every cell in the body has receptors that respond to thyroid hormones. When the thyroid gland becomes imbalanced, thyroid hormone production gets thrown off and things can go awry causing seemingly unrelated symptoms to manifest throughout the body.
Depending on how much or how little thyroid hormone a person’s thyroid makes, they may experience symptoms on opposite ends of the spectrum, such as restlessness vs. fatigue or weight gain vs. weight loss. Symptoms of an underactive or hypothyroid may include sluggishness, weight gain, depression, constipation, dry skin, and hair loss, among others. Symptoms of an overactive or hyperthyroid include anxiety, insomnia, unintentional weight loss, and heart palpitations, to name a few.
What causes thyroid function to become imbalanced?
Over time various diet and lifestyle factors may cause the thyroid to become imbalanced. This is not something that typically happens overnight. While someone may currently have a perfectly functioning thyroid, it could become compromised after years of eating an unhealthy diet, dealing with chronic unrelenting stress, becoming burdened with accumulation of environmental toxins such as heavy metals, being attacked by an infectious agent such as Epstein-Barr virus or the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, or any combination of these factors.
How can nutrition help support thyroid health?
Nutrition is often overlooked as a viable and impactful therapy to support healthy thyroid function. Even with good intentions, many people struggle with eating healthfully (time constraints, lacking kitchen know-how), making nutritional deficiencies more common than you might think.
Poor nutritional status is one of the primary root causes for thyroid dysfunction because the thyroid gland is highly nutrient dependent.
Poor nutritional status is one of the primary root causes for thyroid dysfunction because the thyroid gland is highly nutrient dependent. Many people eating a diet low in nutrient-dense, plant-based whole foods and loaded with refined flours, processed sugars, and poor quality fats and oils may become deficient in key nutrients that drive thyroid hormone production. Some people may also be sensitive to various dietary triggers (e.g. gluten, dairy, etc.) which can lead to increased gastrointestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”), chronic inflammation, and a possible elevation in thyroid antibodies that would show the presence of Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism). The diet can also be an environmental source of toxins (pesticides, BPA, heavy metals, etc.) that can accumulate in the sensitive tissue of the thyroid gland and hinder its function.
Whole foods nutrition provides essential nutrients and compounds needed by the body to drive thyroid function and metabolic health. Here are just some of the ways nutrition plays a role:
- The nutrients iodine and tyrosine provide the building blocks of thyroid hormones.
- The minerals selenium, iron, and zinc help convert T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active thyroid hormone).
- Selenium can also help reduce thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, which when elevated, cause damage to the thyroid
- Zinc is needed to help your body gauge thyroid hormone levels and tells it to increase production with levels are low.
- Omega 3 fats provide cellular membrane integrity which protects them from becoming damaged and enables your cells to communicate well with each other.
- Nutrient-dense, plant-based foods provide nutrients that support the body’s ability to detoxify harmful substances (e.g. endocrine disruptors like BPA, pesticides, and heavy metals).
Roasted Bell Pepper and Tomato Soup
The Essential Thyroid Cookbook
When I became chronically ill several years ago with Hashimoto’s, being a dietitian I naturally sought out nutrition solutions as part of my regimen for supporting my health. As I learned about the role of various nutrients involved in thyroid function, I began to pay more attention to their food sources and ensured I was getting them in my diet. This required me to start eating dark green vegetables daily, increase my seafood and sea vegetable intake, and mix a little iodized sea salt in with my Redmond’s Real Salt, among other things. Because my thyroid antibody levels were elevated, I opted to remove gluten from my diet and began supplementing with selenium. I also started to address my gut health by sleuthing other potential dietary triggers, adding cultured and fermented vegetables, and taking probiotics and a few other targeted supplements.
I quickly realized there was a void when it came to resources that could help translate thyroid nutrition strategies into creative and delicious recipes. My co-author, Jill Grunewald, and I set out to fill this void with our cookbook, The Essential Thyroid Cookbook: Over 100 Nourishing Recipes for Thriving with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
Our cookbook is a book within a cookbook – it contains a substantive educational component as well as over 100 original ”food as medicine” recipes. The recipes:
- Incorporate key nutrients necessary for optimal thyroid function
- Emphasize nutrient-dense, whole food ingredients full of color and flavor
- Are gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of refined sugars and other highly processed ingredients
- Are targeted to the home cook and easy to prepare; many can be made in 30 minutes or less
- Are thoughtfully created to appeal to all palates
Golden Cauliflower ‘Rice” – Get this recipe here
Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms with Kale and Sausage
Asian Forbidden Rice Salad with Mango and Jicama
When one size doesn’t fit all
We recognize that people may be in different places on their healing path, so our book does not take a one-size-fits-all approach. We provide ample information for everyone to make their own decisions about whether or not to include hotly debated foods such as grains, legumes, “goitrogenic” foods, and soy in their diets. We also provide sensible adaptations, whenever possible, to fit dietary practices commonly used to address thyroid imbalances and autoimmunity, such as Paleo and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).
Our ultimate goal is to support our readers for a lifetime of peak thyroid function no matter what dietary practice they follow or where they currently are on their wellness journey.
Good health starts in the kitchen and good nutrition provides the building blocks needed by the body to heal, whether someone is dealing with thyroid dysfunction or other health challenges. Using nutrition strategies to improve/enhance health is one of the most impactful ways to gain some sense of control over one’s own health in order to prevent or alleviate chronic illness. Most of us eat at least three meals per day – each time we sit down to eat we are presented with an opportunity to choose foods that heal and nourish the body or foods that harm the body and deplete our health and vitality. I choose nourishment.
About the Author
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN is a dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and co-author of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook: Over 100 Nourishing Recipes for Thriving with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. As a seasoned culinary educator and recipe developer, Lisa translates nutrition science to the plate using health-supportive ingredients prepared with peak flavor, seasonality, and nutrient density in mind. She shares her kitchen wisdom and food-as-medicine recipes to teach others how to harness the healing power of whole foods for vibrant health. You can learn more about Lisa and her cookbook at www.thyroidcookbook.com.