Hashimoto's disease is the most common autoimmune condition and the leading cause of hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. It is sometimes called Hashimoto's thyroiditis or shortened to Hashimoto's.
The thyroid gland plays a major role in metabolism, hormone regulation, and body temperature. When a person has Hashimoto's, their thyroid is chronically inflamed and cannot function as well as a healthy thyroid.
In this article, learn about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid to help ease symptoms of Hashimoto's disease.
There is no specific diet proven to treat everyone with Hashimoto's. An individualized approach to nutrition is necessary.
Some clinical evidence has shown that the following diets have helped some people with Hashimoto's:
- gluten-free diet
- sugar-free diet
- Paleo diet
- grain-free diet
- dairy-free diet
- autoimmune modified paleo diet
- low glycemic index diet
We take a closer look at some of these diets below.
Gluten-free or grain-free
Many people with Hashimoto's also experience food sensitivities, especially to gluten. There is no current research to support a gluten-free diet for all people with Hashimoto's unless they also have celiac disease.
However, in a survey of 2232 people with Hashimoto's, 76 percent of respondents believed they were sensitive to gluten. Those respondents cited constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea, reflux, gas, headaches, fatigue, and brain fog as symptoms of their reactions to gluten.
Of the respondents, 88 percent of those who attempted a gluten-free diet felt better. Many people also reported improvements in digestion, mood, energy levels, and weight reduction.
Gluten-free diets remove all foods with containing gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains.
Gluten is commonly found in pasta, bread, baked goods, beer, soups, and cereals. The best way to go gluten-free is to focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and eggs.
A grain-free diet is very similar to gluten-free, except grains are also off-limits. These grains include:
There is little evidence, however, that cutting out non-gluten grains is beneficial for health. Cutting out these grains may also eliminate fiber and other sources of essential nutrients, such as selenium, which are important for people with Hashimoto's.
Paleo or Autoimmune Paleo
The Paleo diet attempts to mimic the eating patterns of our early ancestors, with an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods.
Grains, dairy, potatoes, beans, lentils, refined sugar, and refined oils are not allowed. Cage-free and grass-fed meats are encouraged, as are vegetables, nuts (except peanuts), seeds, seafood, and healthful fats, such as avocado and olive oil.
The Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet aims to decrease foods that may cause inflammation and damage to the gut. It begins with the basic principals of the Paleo diet but also cuts out nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
A low glycemic index or low-GI diet is based on an index that measures how each food affects a person's blood sugar levels.
For people who do not want to focus on what foods to cut out, opting for a nutrient-dense diet plan may be the best option.
A nutrient dense diet includes variety and focuses on whole foods with a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fibrous carbohydrates. Foods include:
- leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
- fatty fish, including salmon
- a variety of colored vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, beets, and red, yellow, and orange peppers
- fruits, including berries, apples, and bananas
- healthful fats, including avocado and walnuts
- lean proteins, including tofu, eggs, nuts, beans, and fish
- fibrous foods, including beans and legumes
Having these foods as the primary focus of the diet will leave less room for processed and refined sugar foods.
Anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic are also encouraged.
Research suggests that certain nutrients also play a role in Hashimoto's disease. These include:
Anyone diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease should be sure to get their vitamin D levels tested. Vitamin D can be produced in the body during sun exposure or consumed through food or supplements.
As many adults now spend most of their days indoors, low vitamin D levels are becoming more common.
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), "approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D."
If consistent sun exposure is not possible, it is a good idea to take supplements, since very few foods contain adequate amounts of vitamin D.
The best food sources of vitamin D include:
- cod liver oil
- fortified orange juice
- fortified milk
Low selenium levels are common in many people with Hashimoto's. Selenium is an essential trace mineral important for brain function, immunity, and fertility.
The highest amount of selenium found in the body is stored in the thyroid gland. Several studies have shown that selenium supplementation can be beneficial for people with thyroid dysfunction.
Best food sources of selenium:
- Brazil nuts
- grass-fed beef
- sunflower seeds
Every person is different, but some people with Hashimoto's have reported improved symptoms when avoiding:
- foods with gluten
- foods with refined or added sugar
- processed foods
Anyone thinking about starting a gluten-free diet should talk to their doctor, as they may be able to help determine if a person has a gluten sensitivity.
It is more important for a person to follow a well-balanced diet that works for their lifestyle than to try to put a label on their eating habits. People should focus on whole, unprocessed foods and eat foods that grow in the ground, not foods that come in a box or a bag.
While a gluten-free diet or autoimmune protocol may help alleviate symptoms for one person, it may not work for everyone.
People with Hashimoto's should be open to trying different eating styles until they find the one that makes them feel best. They should also speak to a doctor or dietitian about how to make sure they get all of the essential nutrients.