Is the Hashimoto Diet Healthy?
We’re going to let you in on a little secret. Most popular healthy diets that are touted for weight loss—from Paleo to Mediterranean and vegetarian—share many of the same basic principles. All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet. However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles. In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.
As one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism, many people may be wondering how they can adjust their diet to help with Hashimoto’s disease. We’ve got the Hashimoto’s Diet decoded for you.
What is Hashimoto’s Diet?
First, let’s back up a little bit and talk about Hashimoto’s disease. According to the National Institute of Health, Hashimoto’s affects about five percent of the population and is at least eight times more likely to occur in women than men. Supermodel Gigi Hadid has Hashimoto’s, which she famously discussed on social media back in 2018 in response to body shamers.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that leads to damage and inflammation of your thyroid, a small but mighty gland that sits at the base of your neck and secretes important thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate energy metabolism, which means they affect nearly every organ and play a large role in your weight, heart rate, digestion, nervous system and more.
Overtime, the persistent inflammation leads to an underactive thyroid gland aka hypothyroidism. As a result, those with Hashimoto’s may experience a variety of not-so-fun symptoms including fatigue, unexplained weight gain, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, muscle aches, joint pain and depression.
While Hashimoto’s is often treated with synthetic hormones, diet may also help improve symptoms. You might find a variety of diets recommended for Hashimoto’s including the autoimmune protocol diet, gluten- and grain-free diets, dairy-free diets, or anti-inflammatory plant-based diets. There’s no one specific diet recommended for Hashimoto’s, but all suggested diets aim to reduce inflammation, alleviate symptoms, and reduce the risk of conditions that are often linked to Hashimoto’s such as other autoimmune diseases, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
What You Eat
With Hashimoto’s it’s all about nutrient dense whole foods like fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, lean protein like chicken, turkey, eggs, and tofu, and sources of healthy fats like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. These foods help reduce inflammation and the risk of related chronic diseases. Plus, prioritizing nutritious whole foods will help keep your weight in check.
You’ll also want to be sure you’re getting enough vitamin D as studies have found that most Hashimoto’s patients are deficient. In addition, the trace mineral selenium is essential for proper thyroid function and has been beneficial in the treatment of Hashimoto, so it’s typically recommended to include healthful sources of selenium like brazil nuts, fish, brown rice, and eggs into your diet.
What You Don’t Eat
This part is going to depend on your personal needs. However, most diets recommend avoiding foods that could contribute to inflammation or an immune response. As an autoimmune disease, some suggest following the Autoimmune Protocol diet. This phased elimination diet closely resembles a paleo diet and removes potentially problematic foods like grains, dairy, added sugar, coffee, legumes, eggs, alcohol, and food additives.
Even if you don’t follow the autoimmune protocol diet, you might come across advice to specifically remove gluten and grains from the diet. Those with Hashimoto’s have a higher likelihood of celiac disease, in which case a gluten-free diet is necessary. While you may not need to avoid gluten if you don’t have celiac, some people report feeling better after following a gluten-free or even a grain-free diet. Similarly, many with Hashimoto’s may also be lactose intolerant, so avoiding dairy would be helpful in this case.
Goitrogens should be limited and avoided in the diet. These substances are found in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), soy, cassava, and sweet potatoes, and interfere with thyroid hormone production. Goitrogens in these foods can also contribute to the development of goiters. A goiter is enlargement of the thyroid gland due to increased levels of TSH (which stimulate growth of the thyroid gland).
Pros and Cons
You can’t go wrong prioritizing nutritious whole foods that not only contribute to an overall healthful diet, but also have research to back up their association with reduced inflammation and risk of chronic disease. That being said, there’s not a lot of research on whether eating these foods will directly relieve symptoms of Hashimoto’s.
In the same way, it won’t hurt to reduce your intake of inflammatory processed foods or refined grains, but the research supporting an autoimmune protocol diet or a gluten- or grain-free diet outside of diagnosed intolerances or allergies is still very preliminary. In a recent pilot study in 34 women with Hashimoto’s disease, those assigned to a gluten-free diet had improved thyroid function and vitamin D levels. In addition, another pilot study of 16 women with Hashimoto’s found that the Autoimmune Protocol diet reduced symptoms and markers of inflammation over the course of the intervention. Still, it’s important to remember these interventions had very small sample sizes and more studies are needed.
The Bottom Line
There is no specific diet recommended for Hashimoto’s disease and a diet alone isn’t going to treat or reverse the condition. More research is needed to determine how diet specifically affects Hashimoto’s, but we’re all for any diet that’s loaded with nutrient dense whole foods and low in processed or refined foods. You’ll just want to make sure you aren’t avoiding any foods unnecessarily and work with your endocrinologist or a registered dietitian to develop diet modifications that will help you better manage the disease.