Let’s talk about that butterfly in your throat. Well, not your throat exactly, but your neck; below and behind the Adam’s apple. This is the thyroid gland, and it is this gland which directs metabolic function. It does so by secreting the two thyroid hormones: T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These hormones, in turn, regulate the rate at which each cell of our body is able to burn energy. It follows, then, that the health of this gland is essential for the proper function of all body systems.
Many things can and do affect the thyroid’s ability to secrete its hormones. These include toxic chemicals, drug therapies, surgical intervention, autoimmune malfunction and exposure to iodine. When the effect on the thyroid is to produce too much hormone secretion, it results in the condition known as hyperthyroid. Alternatively, when hormone secretion is subnormal, it results in hypothyroidism. People suffering from hypothyroidism far outnumber those with hyperthyroidism. There is quite an array of unpleasant symptoms associated with hypothyroidism including dry skin and hair, brittle nails, sore muscles, feeling cold, constipation, decreased libido, fatigue and, most commonly, weight gain.
Protein intake is an important part of any diet, but more so for those with hypothyroid. Protein requires that the body use more calories to break it down than carbohydrates do. More calories burned means weight loss.
While carbohydrates are an essential in the Thyroid diet, close attention should be paid to the kinds of carbohydrate eaten. Hypothyroid as been associated with insulin resistance in studies. Insulin is a hormone which unlocks the cell in order for it to take up the energy found in carbohydrates and other foods. If cells become resistant to insulin, this will result in the carbohydrate sugars remaining in the blood stream. The body responds by increasing insulin production which means higher levels of insulin floating around as well. High insulin levels increase the appetite but fewer calories are burned because they can’t get into the cell so fat is stored. You can see how this sets up a vicious cycle for weight gain. It is, therefore, very important to choose low glycemic foods. These are foods which contain carbohydrates which do not rapidly raise blood glucose levels thus triggering high insulin production. Simple sugars and starches found in corn, cakes, pasta, white flour and most confections are just such foods. Look for foods which cause a slower rise in blood glucose such as whole fruits and colorful vegetables. For a more complete list, consult the glycemic index database.
Certain minerals are also essential to thyroid function. Because the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, are essential in telling each cell how fast to burn calories when we expend energy, their lower amounts result in a decreased metabolism. That is, fewer dietary calories are burned, which, naturally results in weight gain. If there is a lack of adequate dietary iodine, hypothyroid will result because iodine combines with the amino acid tyrosine to produce the thyroid hormones. A simple increase in dietary iodine found in foods such as seafood, iodized salt and certain vegetables grown in iodine rich soil can rectify the deficiency. The recommended daily allowance is 150 mcg for men and women. Zinc and selenium support T3 hormone levels. Recommended daily zinc intake is 15 to 25 mg, and selenium is 400 mcg daily. Foods rich in selenium include barley, lamb and fish while oysters are very rich in zinc.
Happily, hypothyroid is treatable with thyroid hormone replacement. But, becoming comfortable with a diet that supports thyroid function while reducing insulin resistance should be part of the overall plan for keeping the “butterfly” happy and healthy.