Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eating with the Thyroid in Mind: the Carbohydrate Discussion

I swear this thyroid-related post started on Thursday; it just took a few days to get it all together.

Besides goitrogenic foods to consider as part of the hypothyroid diet, I started looking into what people thought was the ideal diet for this condition, more specifically in the role of carbohydrates. 


If you are hypothyroid, you may notice the craving of carbohydrates over any other food group. According to Maura Banar’s (2011) article “Hypothyroidism & Carbohydrates”,
“This may be due in part to a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of calm and pleasure. Since carbohydrates tend to raise serotonin levels, craving them is your body's way of trying to restore balance. Unfortunately, because your metabolism is also compromised with hypothyroidism, your body is also less adept at using the excess calories you eat in an attempt to satisfy your cravings. Left untreated or misdiagnosed, hypothyroidism can therefore lead to obesity and increased risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

So along with avoiding gluten/wheat, soy, millet, and raw goitrogenic foods, we have to avoid carbohydrates, right? Not necessarily. In some cases, whole cereal grains are considered essential to thyroid health, as Banar continues to say:
“Because hypothyroidism can lead to an increased risk of chronic and preventable illnesses, if you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to see your doctor. Once your condition is properly managed, you should have increased energy, which can help you implement a plan of regular physical activity to lose and manage your weight. Making significant changes to the foods you eat, including carbohydrates, can also help increase energy levels and decrease weight. Individuals with hypothyroidism should emphasize foods that contain antioxidants. These include fruits and vegetables, which are also rich sources of carbohydrates. Eating whole-grain versions of breads, cereals and pastas adds dietary fiber that can help you manage your weight.”

Most of the resources I found looked at carbohydrates with a focus on weight loss with a thyroid condition. It is especially difficult to maintain a consistent weight with hypothyroidism, particularly a healthy one, and many end up being overweight despite calorie restriction and an active lifestyle. Recently the newest dietary lifestyles to become popular are the Paleo[lithic] and Keto[genic] diets, both of which are low carbohydrate diets (paleo carbs are found in fruits and veggies). Those who are overweight to the point of obesity have seen continuous positive results with these diets with fast weight loss. However, changing to a low-carb diet too fast can trigger thyroid problems and hormone imbalance, as Dr. Cate (2012) wrote:
“People who run into trouble going low-carb seem to follow a pattern. They follow any number of diets from SAD to vegan before making a relatively abrupt switch to a low carb (often less than 50 gm) diet. At first they lose weight as hoped but then, instead of feeling more energetic from their weight loss, they develop fatigue, sometimes accompanied by symptoms of low thyroid function including cold extremities, hair loss, and digestive problems. Only by consuming more carbs again can they reduce these symptoms.”

In other words, “Research in humans shows that… our thyroid hormones are influenced by major changes in the amount of carbohydrate consumed.”


I went through the grain-free, low carb regimen last fall, and I did lose some weight, but I also lost patience, the ability to retain information, and had the overall feeling of imbalance and adrenal overdrive. (And it is likely not related, but I noticed my immune system was rather iffy.) This is not to say I don’t enjoy having grain-free meals or days, but like all foods, carbohydrates are wonderful additions to a healthy lifestyle with moderation. All bodies handle food differently, including carbohydrates, so some may benefit from a low-carb diet living with hypothyroidism and others may not.

For example, my body benefits from gluten free cereal grains (i.e., CGF oats, buckwheat, rice, etc.) and fruit with nut butter in the mornings. I’ve experimented with high-protein/low-carb breakfasts and ended up hungry a lot sooner than I would be had I eaten my preferred morning foods. Throughout the day, however, I choose high-protein/fat foods over cereal grains, and the majority of my carbohydrate consumption comes from fruits and veggies. (I may eat between 1 – 6 servings of cereal grains on any given day… usually in the form of rice crackers.)

After dinner, because of my increased rock climbing and running activity, I find that I am still hungry and curb that hunger with a bowl of rice cereal, yogurt, and applesauce.

So is there an ideal diet for hypothyroidism? I think it varies person to person. Since it is difficult to maintain a healthy weight with both thyroid conditions, being low-carb may help make it easier. Mary J. Shomon, author of the book Living Well with Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You… That You Need to Know says that processed carbohydrates like breads, pasta, and sugary foods may promote weight gain for a person with hypothyroidism. Tracey Roizman, author of the LiveStrong article “Is a Low-Carb Diet Good for Hypothyroidism?” (2011) also goes further to paraphrase Laura Richard’s book The Secret to Low Carb Success: How to Get the Most Out of You Low Carbohydrate Diet:
"A low-carbohydrate diet can discourage yeast overgrowth, a condition that can suppress thyroid function and lead to hypothyroid symptoms such as low body temperature and cold hands and feet in some people."

Be sure to talk to your physician before changing your diet, though it seems clear that eating whole grains (gluten free, preferably) and as unprocessed a dietary lifestyle as possible will help keep you and your thyroid happy campers.

For more resources on the topic, click on the following links for the low-carb/hypothyroid discussion:

  1. search: "hypothyroidism" + "carbohydrates"
  2. search: "hypothyroid" + "carbohydrates
  3. "Seven Thyroid Diet Secret." Mary Shomon (2009).
  4. "The Zone Diet for Thyroid Patients and Losing Weight With Hypothyroidism." Mary Shomon (2003).
  5. "Best Foods for Hypothyroidism." Debbie Whittaker (2001).

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