Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Is your thyroid gland making you fat, sad, and tired? It’s possible. An estimated 10 million to 25 million people suffer from underactive thyroid—a condition called hypothyroidism. And some studies show even mild thyroid impairment can result in cognitive impairment.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck; its job is to make hormones that regulate energy, metabolism, mood, heart rate, and other important functions. When it’s out of whack, symptoms can include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, sluggish thinking, and even depression.
If you suspect your thyroid’s not functioning properly, check with your health care provider. And support your thyroid—and overall health—with these seven foods.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Are a rich source of zinc, which is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Other good sources of zinc include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Try this: Purée raw pumpkin seeds with avocado chunks, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime for a creamy twist on guacamole. Combine pumpkin seeds, canned black beans, shredded carrots, and instant oats in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped, and form into burgers; fry until crispy on the outside and cooked through. Or toss pumpkin seeds with melted butter or coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, and cardamom, and toast in the oven at 300°F until browned.
Is a great natural source of iodine. The thyroid requires iodine, a trace mineral, to synthesize sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone, and studies show that even mild iodine deficiencies can lead to thyroid problems. Other than iodized salt, the richest source of natural iodine is seaweed, with kelp, kombu, and wakame having the highest amounts.
Try this: Soak wakame seaweed in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and combine with rice vinegar, sesame oil, grated ginger, honey, or agave, and thinly sliced green onions for an easy seaweed salad. Brush sheets of nori with olive oil; sprinkle with a mix of brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne; and pan fry for 15 seconds. Allow to cool, and cut into triangles. Soak hijiki seaweed in hot water for 10 minutes; drain; and toss with a mixture of minced red onion, shredded carrots, cooked quinoa, and green peas; drizzle with a dressing of white miso, black sesame seeds, sesame oil, and garlic.
3. Brazil Nuts
Are an especially rich food source of selenium. The thyroid has the highest selenium content of any organ, and studies suggest that selenium deficiencies may be a primary cause of thyroid disorders. Other sources of selenium include tuna, sardines, beef, turkey, and chicken.
Try this: Combine Brazil nuts, olive oil, garlic, and a handful of arugula and basil in a food processor, and process into a savory pesto. Soak Brazil nuts overnight in water, then drain and purée with fresh water, a couple of dates, and a dash of vanilla for a delicious milk alternative. For a rich, dairy-free soup, cut sweet potatoes and onions into chunks and simmer in stock with a sprig of rosemary until soft; remove and discard rosemary; add Brazil nuts, and purée until creamy and smooth.
Related: Supplements for Thyroid Health
Like pears, plums, and citrus fruits, are rich in pectins, a gelatinous fiber that helps clear the body of heavy metals, especially mercury, which has been associated with lower levels of thyroid hormone in people with higher exposure.
Try this: Cut apples crosswise (don’t peel them—the skin is the richest source of pectin!), dredge in brown sugar, then pan-fry in coconut oil until tender; top with shredded basil and crumbled blue cheese. Spiralize a whole apple with skin on, lightly steam in apple juice until tender, and serve with yogurt, hemp seeds, and blueberries as a breakfast noodle bowl. Simmer chopped apples, parsnips, shallots, and sprigs of thyme in broth until tender; remove thyme sprigs, and purée until smooth; top with additional thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Like Brazil nuts, are high in selenium. They’re also rich in omega-3s, which help lower inflammation and enhance immunity, reducing the risk of Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Other good sources of omega-3s include salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.
Try this: Arrange sardines in a glass casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; broil till hot and then shower with parsley before serving. Mash boneless, skinless sardines with olive oil, chopped olives, capers, coarse black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne for an easy, spreadable fish dip. Simmer boneless, skinless sardines in tomato sauce with minced rosemary leaves and crushed red pepper flakes; serve over cooked pasta with grated Asiago cheese.
Is rich in vitamin D, a key hormone-like substance that’s involved in immune system regulation. Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with increased risk of Hashimoto’s. Other good sources of D include fortified orange juice, dairy-free milks, sardines, and sunshine.
Try this: Make a lassi, a traditional Indian drink: purée yogurt, frozen mango chunks, and lime juice, then pour into glasses and garnish with slices of lime. Purée yogurt with blackberries, honey, and grated ginger; stir in vanilla yogurt to make swirls, and then spoon into Popsicle molds and freeze. Dump a container of yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate overnight; stir in your favorite herbs and seasonings, and use as a substitute for sour cream.
Like other beans and legumes, are high in fiber, which can help prevent or reduce zonstipation—a common complaint among people with thyroid disorders. Bonus: chickpeas are also high in zinc, which is critical for thyroid function.
Try this: Toss cooked chick-peas with olive oil, coarse salt, and minced rosemary; spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400°F until crispy; let cool for a crunchy, nut-like snack. For a vegan tagine, cook chickpeas with sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, and broth; stir in chopped dried figs and slivered almonds; top with parsley. Or toss chickpeas, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower florets with olive oil, and roast at 400°F until tender.