Nutrition and Hypothyroid
What group of hormones affects your weight, energy, digestion, and mood?
You guessed it: it’s your thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control your metabolism which affects every system in your body. When your thyroid hormone levels are too low things slow down and you feel sluggish.
Your thyroid needs nutrients to function and make its hormones. Improving your diet can help you feel better (along with any medications you might need).
Thyroid problems can cause several seemingly unrelated issues throughout the body. These include changes to your weight, energy, digestion, and mood. These are all linked to the thyroid because it directs important processes that happen throughout the body.
Thyroid hormones help control your metabolism. When the levels are too low, metabolism slows down. Symptoms can include feeling chilly, fatigued, getting constipated, feeling down, and gaining weight. Low levels of thyroid hormone is called hypothyroidism.
There are some important foods and nutrients that can help you feel better. By providing your body with proper nutrition—along with prescribed medications—you can help reduce your symptoms.
Before we dive into my nutrition tips for you, let’s start by understanding the thyroid and why it’s so important for your body and mind.
What does your thyroid do?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck that secretes thyroid hormones. These hormones control your metabolism (the way your body uses energy). These affect several processes throughout the body, including your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and brain. When thyroid hormones are high, many systems speed up. When hormone levels are low, they slow down.
Thyroid hormones are very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Not only for the health of the mother but also the developing baby. Thyroid hormones help with proper development of babies’ bones, brains, and nervous systems.
Low thyroid (hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s)
Low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) is common. Nearly 1 in 20 Americans aged 12 or older experience underactive thyroid. Overactive thyroids, or hyperthyroidism, is much less common—affecting just 1 in 100 Americans. Thyroid problems occur most often in women, people over 60 years old, and those with a family history of thyroid issues.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. This is an autoimmune condition. It happens when the body’s immune system—designed to fight off germs and infections—mistakenly attacks and destroys the body’s own cells. People with other autoimmune disorders (celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, etc.) are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease than those who do not have an autoimmune disease.
Other less common causes of hypothyroidism are inflammation, iodine deficiency, other diseases, medications, or it can be present at birth.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
There are many symptoms of hypothyroidism. Some common ones include:
- Fatigue and weakness (feeling unusually tired, having less energy)
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold (feeling chilly when others around you feel fine)
- Depression, difficulty concentrating, memory problems
- Joint and muscle pain
- Puffy face
- Dry or thinning skin, hair, and nails
- Heavy or irregular menstrual problems or fertility problems
- Slow heart rate
These symptoms can vary from person to person, and may have causes other than low thyroid. Hypothyroidism develops gradually over time, so it’s possible not to notice symptoms for months or even years.
The Art and Science Of Food Preservation
Food preservation is not a new idea. Our ancestors were forced to be creative in order to survive around the year. They used a variety of methods, from drying food in the sun, to submerging food in salt for salt curing, to buying and burying ice in the summer to create makeshift refrigerators. Humans have worked very hard over the last years to perfect those ways and create new ones to keep food tasty and edible all year round!
While this innovation means that many of the options are now available at the store, preserving your own food can save you money and often be even healthier, since you control what goes in your food. You don’t have to be an expert in order to make your own preserved food either! Thanks to the internet, learning how to preserve food is a Google search away.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/ is an especially great source for learning preservation techniques. They go over how to can, freeze, dry, pickle, etc. nearly any food you can think of! Need to know how long to blanch a cauliflower? How to make fruit leather? The perfect pickle recipe? They’ve got it all! Check them out today!
Have you ever taken a moment to think about your bad habits? Or maybe someone has pointed them out to you? Have you told yourself a thousand times “I should quit that or stop doing this?” Most people can answer yes to the above questions, me included. No one is perfect or can be “perfect” all the time.
Now, take a moment and think about that one thing you really want to change. Whether it is to quit smoking once and for all or maybe you need to cut back on the sugar and give up candy or that daily Mountain Dew. Maybe it’s not something related to your physical health – maybe you need to stop being so hard on yourself, give yourself more acceptance and grace, maybe you need to stop saying “no” and try new things. Whatever the case may be I want you to think about your surroundings. Do they enable your current situation? What can you change in your environment that might help?
It’s important to understand the presence of a situation causes the behaviors! For example if you are trying to eat healthy but there are donuts on the counter you are setting yourself up to fail! Proximity effects the extent to which you engage in a specific behavior. Both visibility and convenience matter! So this means we need to fix our bad environments to help us change our negative behaviors and thus meet our goals. Think about how you can promote healthy environments – leave yourself notes or reminders, keep a journal of your progress, surround yourself with people who want similar things as you.
So now that you understand situational support let’s talk about actually breaking those habits. So you have a goal in mind – make sure it’s specific and attainable. Visualize yourself succeeding – think about the goal, see it, see the obstacles and know how you will overcome them. Knowing you obstacles is crucial in completing your goals. By knowing potential things that could and will get in the way you can create a plan for how you will overcome. This is called implementation intention – a strategy in the form of an “if then” plan that can lead to better goal attainment. For example, IF I’m trying to quit smoking and a friend starts smoking around me, THEN I can excuse myself to the restroom or another place away from that environment. Another example could be IF I’m trying to cut out pop and I stop at a gas station (where I’m known to purchase a fountain pop or two), THEN I will pay for my gas at the pump and not go inside.
By creating these plans and using this method we can break habits, create new habits, and change our behaviors and routines. We all want to do better, be better, but we all need tools to help us get there. Stay positive and commit these tools to memory. And remember, YOU are worth it, and you CAN do it!
Hydration in the Heat
It’s officially summer and the weather has been HOT, HOT, HOT! And that means more sweating, and fluid loss. Did you know that even mild dehydration means a deficit of 1 - 2 percent of your total body fluid?
That’s only 1 ½ - 3 pounds for a 150-pound person. Total body water comprises approximately 45 - 75% of a person’s body weight. Muscle mass is 70 - 75% water, while water in fat tissue can vary between 10 and 40%.
Water functions in the body to:
- Regulate body temperature
- Lubricate joints and organs
- Provide structure to cells
- Transport vitamins, minerals and nutrients through the body
- Preserve heart function (such as maintain a lower heart rate) In this hot weather,
if we’re not rehydrating adequately it is really easy to become dehydrated.
Our bodies are Amazing!
Maintaining constant water and mineral balance requires the coordination of sensitive detectors in our bodies. These detectors are precise; when there is a lack of water, fluid is pulled out of cells (intracellular) and pushed into the bloodstream (extracellular), causing the cells to shrink. Signals are then sent to our brain to tell us to hydrate, and hormones cause a decrease in urine output (helping us hold on to our water stores). This means, THIRST is a poor indicator of hydration. Because if you’re thirsty, your body is already adjusting to conserve its’ precious resource!
Signs of mild dehydration include:
- Moodiness (mood aspects particularly affect women, like issues such as happiness, fatigue & confusion)
- Decreased physical performance and slower reaction time
It’s worth noting that most studies on hydration and cognitive performance are short-term (i.e., hours, days) and it is not certain if there are longer-term cognitive declines resulting from dehydration.
Stay hydrated this summer!
A great way to tell if you’re adequately hydrated…look at your urine (that’s right, check out your pee). It should be mostly clear, with a tinge of yellow, anything darker and you’re dehydrated. An exception to this rule is if you’ve recently taken a multivitamin (which naturally turns your urine a bit of a neon yellow).
For those of you who are more methodical and would prefer a numerical target. You should aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces. For example, a 150-pound person would drink about 75 ounces per day. Adjust this number according to your activity level. The more active you are, and the heavier you sweat, the more you should drink. If you were to weigh yourself before exercise and post exercise, you would replete your body with 16 ounces for every 1-pound loss. For example, if you weighed 150 pounds pre-exercise, and 149 pounds post-exercise, you should consume 2 cups of water to reach euhydration (hydration homeostasis).
Tips to staying hydrated:
- Drink water! Our bodies are made of water, not soda, or juice.
- Although these beverages will help hydrate; in reference to soda they may cause an increased loss of calcium (which is concerning for both bones and kidneys). And the juice adds unnecessary sugar!
- Flavor your water; try lemon or lime juice, mint leaves, lemon balm, cucumber or berries.
- I do not recommend using commercial flavor enhancers as many use sugar substitutes like artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols that studies show disrupt the microbiome (our healthy gut bacteria).
- Find what fits you: some people drink more when they have a straw, others less, some prefer ice water, others room temperate.
- Carry a glass or stainless-steel water bottle (if you need to, create challenges for yourself to consume “x” amount by 12, 4 and 8 pm, for example).
- Eat fruits and veggies! Fruits in particular are water dense; foods such as watermelon, grapes, lettuce and cucumber can offer some of your fluid needs.
- Drink smoothies, eat popsicles and enjoy frozen fruit as a refreshing summer snack!
Fish … such a polarizing food, am I right?! To some seafood is the smelly, mealy texture of food they’ll never eat. So, some just don’t like it, others avoid fish and seafood due to allergies. Still others such as pregnant and lactating woman, have previously been told to avoid fish for fear of mercury toxicity.
With all of that, fish are really swimming up creek without a paddle (silent giggle to myself).
However, I want to tell you why you should be consuming fish (assuming you don’t have any allergies or intolerances).
NUTRITION Since fish live in water, they absorb, and consume many different nutrients than our land animal protein sources. And variety is a good thing!
- Fish are some of your best sources of selenium, iodine, iron and Vitamin D.
- Fish is also a great source of protein, and if the fish you’re consuming is skin-on and bone-in, you also get a dose of calcium and vitamin A.
- If you’re selecting fatty fish, you’ll also get a dose of omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA which have anti-inflammatory properties (these nutrients affect pathways of inflammation and oxidation, maybe even helping one live longer)!
Did you know? Fish are the best source of DHA and EPA! Plant sources of omega 3’s (ALA) can convert to DHA and EPA, but the conversion rate is rather inefficient. There are many factors that play a role, but this conversion is anywhere from 5-10% in most populations. The exception is in younger women who have a much greater capacity (up to 35%) because of the importance of long chain fatty acids in child development. Those at particular risk of for omega 3 deficiencies are those populations whose ancestors ate a lot of fish, for example if someone from Asia were to move to the states and their offspring consume a diet with less fish.
A number of studies aren’t able to substantiate the benefits of fish oil supplements long term. It seems the benefits really come from eating the fish itself.
With that said, for those who don’t consume fish, or who are vegan, a fish oil supplement may still be a good idea for you. Generally, a safe dose is 2 grams of fish oil per day, but you should always speak with your health care provider to see what’s right for you. A well sourced supplement is very important to ensure they aren’t adulterated or that they don’t contain metals and other toxicants. Due to fish oils high susceptibly to rancidity, high quality supplements that are properly stored is of utmost importance! I like Nordic Naturals, check out this link for 15% off: https://us.fullscript.com/welcome/cultivate-nutrition.
For those with thyroid conditions, fish is excellent because it provides nearly all of the nutrients required to improve thyroid function. Namely, selenium, iodine, iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin A and omega 3 fatty acids. Each of these nutrients assists in the thyroid’s ability to produce the active form of thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine.
Omega 3 fatty acids alone may improve a host of mood conditions such as depression and anxiety. Although this one is not conclusive yet, studies look promising, and no doubt nutrition has a role in mood disorders. Therefore, there’s no harm in suggesting someone increase their fish intake to see how it works for that individual.
One of the omega 3 fatty acids in particular, DHA, is a well-known nutrient required for brain development of fetus and young children. New recommendations come from FDA for pregnant women; it is recommended that this population consume at least 8 – 12 ounces of fish weekly.
New research suggests that DHA is not only protective in young, but may be protective in neurological conditions that develop in adults, such as dementia and multiple sclerosis. These fats help to cushion and protect our nerves, myelin sheath and synapses. (Remember the phone cords that allow different body systems to “talk” to each other)? Those are better supported with omega 3’s.
Fish are some of the best sources of Vitamin D; cod, trout, salmon and sardines top the list! There is no lack of research when it comes to Vitamin D’s benefits. Having adequate vitamin D is shown to reduce your risk of cancer, including breast and colon, improve your body’s insulin sensitivity and improve our microbiome. Remember the microbiome is home to over 70% of your immune system!
HOW TO SHOP
Now I know you’re asking, what about mercury and PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls, highly toxic industrial compounds), right? Well two things. First, mercury is highest in the fish who live the longest, and who are the largest, so choose wisely.
Although diversity is always a good thing, you should opt for these five fish the most. These are the richest in omega 3 fatty acids with the least amount of toxins; Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring. More often larger fish, and bottom feeders have more PCB’s, opting for Wild Caught is best whenever possible. Which is also a more sustainable approach (did you know that if we continue at the rate we’re going with farmed fish that by 2050 we may be all fished out!). SEAFOOD WATCH is a great resource to use, you can go online, or load the app.
CULINARY A couple ways to try fish:
• An easy lunch option is tuna + sardine salad. Mixing these two boosts the omega 3’s with sardines but makes the taste more tolerable with the milder tuna. Just mash together with avocado, or mayonnaise, celery, onions, lots of dill, garlic and some salt & pepper!
• We love fish tacos- BONOS it’s a great way to introduce your kids to fish because tacos are a familiar food. Try this rendition: https://www.livingplate.org/recipes/white-fish-lime-tacos/