These are the foods you should avoid if you have an underactive thyroid
01/01/2019 // Ralph Flores // Views

Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects 4.6 percent of Americans aged 12 years and older. While most cases are mild, this puts the hormonal disorder in the same list as other chronic diseases like epilepsy and severe gum disease, which affect 1.2 and 9 percent of adults in the U.S., respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person is said to have hypothyroidism when his thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones to meet his body's needs. The thyroid gland, in particular, is responsible for metabolism and heart rate, as well as other vital body functions. If a person's thyroid levels are low, it can result in symptoms, such as dry skin, irregular menstrual periods for women, slowed heart rate, goiter, and weight gain.

The disease is more common among older people, and women are more likely to have the condition. The most common cause for hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disease wherein the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, resulting in its inflammation and inability to produce hormones. Other causes include thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid; congenital hypothyroidism, where the thyroid isn't fully developed in newborns; and certain medicines and pre-existing medical conditions.

Hypothyroidism and diet

As with any chronic condition, hypothyroidism (also called underactive thyroid) requires regular care to relieve symptoms and prevent any complications. A healthy diet, especially, is part of this care, since it can help in managing some of its symptoms.


“Since hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease, diet alone probably won’t cause hypothyroidism, but it plays a big role once someone is diagnosed,” explained New York-based dietician Natalie Rizzo in an article on Everyday Health. “Making sure you eat a healthy diet is vital to maintaining a healthy weight.”

While hypothyroidism shouldn't limit a person from achieving a healthy lifestyle, it does present certain challenges, in particular, when it comes to which foods should be eaten more and which ones should be avoided. Certain types of food, for instance, might be unsuitable for people with hyperthyroidism, in particular:

  • Those currently being treated for (or have been recently diagnosed with) hyperthyroidism
  • Those with a strong family history of the disease, as they might be prone to it

If a person suspects that he might have an underactive thyroid, he should consult a healthcare professional. (Related: Hypothyroidism Reaches Epidemic Proportions, Causing Fatigue and Weight Gain.)

Which foods make hypothyroidism worse?

A lot of foods can help improve a person's thyroid; however, others can impair its function. Here are some of the foods that can inhibit hormone absorption, or even interfere with its production. These foods are known as goitrogens, or substances that induce the formation of goiter.

Cruciferous vegetables

It's widely known that green, leafy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage can make hypothyroidism worse. However, this only happens if the person is suffering from iodine deficiency -- a condition that is very uncommon in the U.S. and other developed countries.

“Cruciferous vegetables do release a compound called goitrin, which can interfere with the synthesis of thyroid hormones,” Rizzo added. “However, research shows that this is only a problem when accompanied by iodine deficiency, and cooking these types of veggies denatures the goitrin compound.”


Gluten -- a protein found in rye, barley, and wheat -- can interfere with the body's ability to absorb iodine. In particular, for those with hypothyroidism because of Hashimoto's disease, consuming gluten can worsen the condition, since the protein can mimic the ones produced by the thyroid gland. This drives the body to attack the thyroid gland, which can last anywhere from a few weeks to up to six months.


Having too little or too much of iodine can lead to problems in the thyroid. While iodine deficiency rarely happens in the U.S., going over the recommended daily allowance of 150 mcg (around half the amount in a teaspoon of iodized salt) could make hypothyroidism much worse. If a person is looking to increase his iodine levels, he should first consult with a healthcare professional before doing so.


People under thyroid medication shouldn't eat foods that contain soy during the time of their treatment as this can interact with the medication. The Mayo Clinic recommends a four-hour window after treatment before eating soy. If a person has deficient levels of iodine, eating soy can worsen hypothyroidism symptoms.

In addition, a lot of people with hypothyroidism also suffer from weight gain, with most having difficulty in reducing it, despite exercises. Staying away from foods with added sugars (like cakes and desserts) or that have too much fat (such as fried foods and butter) can help achieve better weight control.

Learn more foods that help with thyroid problems at

Sources include:

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