Diet is vital for anyone seeking health, but especially so for people suffering from thyroid disorders. Symptoms of thyroid conditions can range from lack of energy and sensitivity to cold, to weight gain and muscle weakness, to thinning hair, memory problems, and depression. But without a doubt, the top complaints from many people suffering from hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, or dealing with a thyroidectomy are difficulty losing weight, brain fog, and lack of energy—all of which can be made worse by the foods we eat.
We tend to think of foods as just food, but in reality, they are sophisticated substances made up of complex chemical compounds comprised of essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Our bodies access these chemical compounds through digestion. But what happens when our digestion is impaired by a thyroid condition, specifically hypothyroidism? The answer is to look for ways to help our bodies improve digestion through diet and supplementation while simultaneously addressing our underactive thyroid.
Thyroid hormones contribute to numerous metabolic processes in the body, but they play two key roles related to digestion. First, they regulate the rate at which the body uses calories (energy)—also called metabolic rate. In health circles people are known as having either a fast or slow metabolism. People with slower metabolisms, including anyone suffering from hypothyroidism, don’t use calories as efficiently. Therefore, they put weight on more easily and find it more difficult to take weight off. A slow metabolism can also result in lower energy levels, which can cause us to reach for a quick fix in the form of high-carb, sugary foods, which only exacerbate the problem.
Secondly, thyroid hormones influence the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract. Complicating matters for people with hypothyroid conditions is low stomach acid, or Hypochlorhydria. Because thyroid hormones play a role in the secretion of hydrochloric acid, many people with hypothyroid experience hypochlorhydria. Without proper levels of stomach acid, food won’t digest well. Not only does this negatively affect nutrient uptake, but it can create food sensitivities as well as gut infections: Food can sit in the digestive tract and putrefy, which can create conditions like brain fog and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).i
Depending on the severity of your condition, addressing hypothyroidism through medication or supplementation is a first step. But, diet is also critical. How can you make it easy on yourself and know what diet is best for people with thyroid conditions? Are there some diets that provide better fuel for this particular condition? The answer is yes!
For many reasons, a top choice is the whole-food, plant-based diet. However, that diet completely eliminates animal proteins, which isn’t going to work for some people. For this reason, we recommend a healthy, whole-food low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. This diet not only improves the symptoms we’ve spoken about so far, but also goes a long way to improve digestion but also balance blood sugars, which brings a host of benefits. Let’s take a closer look now…
Low Stomach Acid
Unfortunately, low stomach acid is a catch-22. Hypothyroidism can cause low stomach acid and low stomach acid can cause hypothyroidism.ii There is such a thing called the gut-thyroid connection: The gut helps the body activate and utilize thyroid hormone more effectively while the thyroid helps the gut to stay healthy by encouraging digestion.
Because thyroid patients typically have low stomach acid, and are not digesting food well, we must take specific actions to help our bodies. When our digestion is inadequate, it means we’re not extracting important nutrients from our food. The body can then sense that it is in one sense “starving,” and while we may be overweight, we will still have cravings and tend to overeat. One of the great benefits of a healthy whole-food, low-carb, high-protein diet, is that it can help with these cravings. Of all foods, animal proteins require the most time for digestion and cause us to feel fuller longer.
Poor digestion also increases the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, specifically in the case of calcium, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and magnesium.iii These deficiencies can be addressed with food or supplementation, including with Thyvita—our leading, 3rd-party-tested, patented thyroid formula.
But first… let’s address the problem of low stomach acid.
How to boost stomach acid naturally…
One in 300 people in the U.S. has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism.iv However, medical experts say the number may be much higher; many people have the condition without knowing it. For this reason, anyone suffering from digestive issues should have their thyroid hormones checked. In the meantime, it will be helpful to optimize digestive function.
One of the most effective ways to boost stomach acid naturally is with apple cider vinegar. Take one tablespoon in just a very small amount of water, or eat an apple-cider-vinegar gummy, just before each meal. The vinegar will help to balance your stomach’s pH, paving the way for better digestion.
The second thing you can do to remedy low stomach acid is to take digestive enzymes. Two capsules of a full-spectrum formula right before meals is ideal. Digestive enzymes will help your body more fully break down the foods you eat to extract important nutrients.
The last tip for improving digestion is to slow down when you eat! Take time to chew your food thoroughly and eat smaller, more frequent meals if necessary. Many of us rush through meals just to get to the next activity. As an experiment try a 20-minute meal with no distractions. Sit with yourself, a friend or family and just breathe while you eat, chew thoroughly, put your fork down between bites, and enjoy light conversation. What you could learn in doing this will be life-changing!
Benefits of the low-carb diet for hypothyroid conditions
Once you’ve taken these easy but crucial steps to boost digestion, you’ll want to focus on dietary changes. Because thyroid patients typically experience insulin resistance, and even metabolic syndrome, a low carb diet can, in fact, be a terrific solution for addressing these concerns.
Before we begin, it’s important to know the fundamental difference between the ketogenic or keto diet, which is 20 grams or less per day of carbohydrates, and a basic low-carb, high-protein diet, which focuses on 20-50 carbohydrates per day. When followed strictly, the keto diet puts people in a state of ketosis, where the body changes its primary source of fuel from glucose, which carbohydrates provide, to ketones, produced by fat.
While many people have success on the keto diet for a variety of metabolic conditions, it can be difficult to follow. There is also some evidence that a strict keto diet can further reduce thyroid hormones, which could be disruptive for a person with hypothyroidism.v Simply reducing carb intake lower than normal—without going into ketosis—is unlikely to negatively influence thyroid hormone levels, making it a safer option for people suffering from hypothyroidism.vi
But what does the low-carb, high-protein do and why does it work? First, there will be less glucose for the body to burn in terms of fuel. This causes the body to look to stored fat for extra energy. So when we eat healthy low-carb, high-protein diet, we can expect to lose both fat and weight, especially when we combine it with a solid exercise program, which is always recommended.
Also, because protein takes longer to digest, you will feel more satiated between meals and be less likely to snack. Low-carb, high-protein diets also balance blood sugar levels, which lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.vii
More than anything, the low-carb, high-protein diet will help you become more aware of your eating patterns and help you change your overall eating habits. Most Americans over-eat simple or refined carbohydrates in the form of breads, chips, pastries, crackers, pastas and other packaged foods. Not only are these foods often high in salt, sugar, and calories, but they often contain numerous preservatives, dyes, and other potentially disease-causing chemicals. When you eliminate these by switching to a low-carb, high-protein diet, rich in low-starch vegetables like greens, cruciferous vegetables, squashes, alliums, and others, naturally raised meats, and high-quality fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and butter from grass-fed cows, you will be giving your body better nutrition. That will go a long way in improving digestion and balancing hormones, including those important thyroid hormones.
Berberine to cap your success…
Once you’ve taken steps to boost digestion and adopt a healthy low-carb, high-protein diet, the next step for assisting weight loss is to add berberine to your diet. Berberine is a compound found in plant foods like Oregon grapes and goldenseal that is shown to have powerful effects on many different biological systems. Among other results, berberine is known to restore healthy bacteria in the gut, prevent inflammation, reduce blood sugar levels, and support lower cholesterol and weight loss.viii
For this reason, berberine could be a key supplement for all of us!
As with any diet, you want to tailor it to your lifestyle. If you exercise frequently for prolonged periods, your carbohydrate and calorie requirements will be greater than average. Adjust your eating program as needed. Be aware that you may experience some short-term side effects, such as constipation, headache, or muscle cramps, when shifting to a low-carb, high-protein diet. It’s helpful to increase moderate exercise (think walking) and drink more water between meals when making any dietary changes. Also, low carb diets have been known to increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol in some individuals, likely due to an increase in saturated fat intake. Consider this if you are at risk for heart disease, and be sure to have routine blood tests to check lipid levels. One final point: low-carb, high-protein diets are not for everyone. Be smart and consult a health professional as needed. Remember, our bodies thrive on variety. For this reason, it might be helpful to incorporate cycles of healthy higher-carb diets, such as the whole-food, plant-based diet, with lower ones over time for best results.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed today by the seemingly endless choices of diets. As such, it’s best to incorporate any of these suggestions as part of a comprehensive plan that includes other targeted supplements, hormones (as necessary), dietary changes, stress management, and better sleep.
When evaluating any diet, regularly check in with how you feel. How are your digestion, your energy, your mood, and your sleep? Doing this can help you determine the best and right path at any time. As always, we recommend speaking with your doctor or dietitian before making any major dietary changes. Understanding important health values and the goals you want to achieve will help keep you on track and increase your success!
1 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, January 06). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth/symptoms-causes/syc-20370168
2 Knezevic, J., Starchl, C., Tmava Berisha, A., & Amrein, K. (2020). Thyroid-Gut-Axis: How Does the Microbiota Influence Thyroid Function?. Nutrients, 12(6), 1769. 3 Childs, W. (2022, December 7). 10 Gut Problems Associated with Thyroid Disease. Accessed from https://www.restartmed.com/gut-problems-thyroid/
4 Wilson, S.A., Stem, L.A., Bruehlman, R.D. (2021). Hypothyroidism: diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician. 103(10):605-613.
5 Bisschop, P. H., Sauerwein, H. P., Endert, E., & Romijn, J. A. (2001). Isocaloric carbohydrate deprivation induces protein catabolism despite a low T3-syndrome in healthy men. Clinical endocrinology, 54(1), 75–80. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2265.2001.01158.x
6 Nuttall, F. Q., & Gannon, M. C. (2006). The metabolic response to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet in men with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 55(2), 243–251. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2005.08.027
7 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, November 15). Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/low-carb-diet/art-20045831
8 Gunnars, K. (2017, January 14). Berberine – A Powerful Supplement with Many Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/berberine-powerful-suppleme