Figuring out what to eat when you’re dealing with Hashimoto’s can be incredibly hard, frustrating and downright depressing because, depending on how badly you’re feeling and how many sensitivities you have, you may feel as though there is literally nothing left to eat. This can also be dangerous, because elimination is not always the answer. Too much elimination can put you in a serious state of malnutrition. I actually got to this point before deciding that I had to pick my battles. I couldn’t eliminate everything that might be causing me a problem. So, in this post, I’m going to talk about the “biggies” associated with autoimmune disease, as well as the approach I’ve taken with my own diet.
My current diet has been decades in the making, largely because no one seemed to have a clue as to what was causing my fatigue and brain fog, which were my earliest symptoms. I began with going on a low-carb diet, mainly cutting out bread and potatoes, which did help my energy levels for a while. But, I didn’t think about the carbs I was ingesting as a result of sugar intake: alcohol, snack foods, and the fact that sugar is in almost all processed foods.
Get Rid of the Sugar
This is a biggie for everyone. Sugar is at the root of so many problems for so many people that, if you value your health and longevity, you owe it to yourself to do this. Remember that your body is already compromised and struggling from the Hashi’s. Sugar compromises your systems even further.
I am a sugar (and chocolate) addict. I think there are a lot of people out there who struggle with this. We are constantly confronted with yummy, sugary foods every where we look in this culture and the temptations are monumental.
My cravings for sugar began when puberty set in. It was like having a constant itch that needed to be scratched. When I was a teenager, I remember going into the kitchen cabinets when my mom wasn’t home and looking for anything sweet to eat. Sometimes she would have baked goods in the pantry, but more often than not, I would have to improvise, like eating brown sugar right out of the box with a spoon. After I moved away from home, I would eat cans of frosting or the sweetest candies I could find. My mother used to remark on the fact that I never got sick from consuming these things, but it was as if my body just couldn’t get enough.
I was in my late forties before I began to seriously try to curb my sugar intake. In an attempt to abstain, I refused to keep anything in the house with sugar in it, but I would still have desserts if I ate at restaurants…and I was still drinking wine with dinner.
Finally, in my early fifties, I just got tired of feeling lousy every time I would have something sweet to eat, so I cut out all sugar. But, the cravings were still there. It wasn’t until I also cut out all grains (I had already been gluten-free for a long time at this point) that my cravings went away completely.
So, if you’re struggling with sugar addiction, you will need to take a serious look at your sources of sugar – these will include the obvious sugary items in addition to all grains, starchy foods, and fruits.
I also think, in hindsight, that my sugar addiction was connected to hormone imbalances that set in during puberty which resulted in a lack of endorphins and dopamine. I have struggled with depression for most of my life, beginning in adolescence, but since finding ways to supply my body with more endorphins, this has gotten much better. A magnesium deficiency was also probably at work here, since I have also always craved chocolate. I still do, but have found healthy ways to deal with this: lots of magnesium through supplements and lotion, and eating small amounts of very dark chocolate sweetened only with stevia. My personal favorite is from Dante Confections. This chocolate takes a little getting used to because it is very intense, but I love it now, and a little goes a very long way.
Gluten is a Problem with Hashi’s
A lot of changes have occurred since the 1950’s to the baking products we use now. Things have been added to wheat flour to make it more stretchable and elastic so it can be used in any number of foods like sauces, soups or even wine. Unfortunately, these additions or changes to our food have caused adverse reactions for many of us, including leaky gut and an activation of the immune system which causes the body to form antibodies to gluten. These antibodies are put on high alert every time you eat anything with gluten in it. What you have to do is read labels carefully and be knowledgeable about what foods might contain gluten. For a list of foods and products that contain gluten, go here. For more general info on this topic, go here.
Another Issue With Baked Goods…
Back in the good ol’ days (1950’s – 60’s), they used to add iodine to flour as an anti-caking agent. This was great because it meant pretty much everyone was getting adequate iodine in their diets. Then, they decided to used bromide instead. Since then, thyroid-related problems have been on the rise. You see, bromide is an endocrine disruptor which attaches to the same receptors as iodine. So not only are you not getting the iodine from your baked goods, but the bromide is actually interfering with the endocrine processes in your body and preventing your body from absorbing what little iodine you might be getting from your food. So read those labels and don’t buy any baked goods containing anything related to “bromide” or “bromine”. This lovely ingredient can also be found in certain soft drinks and pesticides used on fruits, among other things. For a detailed discussion on this, click here.
Are Goitrogenic Foods Our Friends?
Good question. For years, many of us with thyroid issues were told “Don’t eat that broccoli!” along with anything else related to it because these foods suppress the thyroid. This approach excludes a whole family of veggies that have a ton of health benefits. The goitrogenic food family includes items which contain soy, cruciferous veggies, and a few other foods such as strawberries, peaches and millet. The list includes:
- Brussel sprouts
- Mustard greens
It is now thought that cooking these foods dramatically reduces the goitrogenic effect. I make a practice of eating cooked greens regularly due to their incredible health benefits, and kale is a part of that regular practice. I have not noticed any adverse effects from doing this. I do stay away from peanuts and peanut butter except for the occasional indulgence, because I have experienced adverse effects from these foods. Soy has become so prevalent in our vegetarian/vegan culture that it would be really easy to negatively affect your thyroid with these products if you’re not careful. Once in a while is fine, but not daily. So, just remember: cooked and in moderation, and you should be fine. Always, always monitor yourself to be sure you’re not experiencing any negative effects.
For more information on how soy relates to thyroid health, click here.
The Problem With Nightshade Veggies
Nightshades are another group of vegetables that are usually avoided by people with Hashi’s. They contain saponins, lectins, and capsaicin, all of which can be problematic for digestion, leading to various food sensitivities and leaky gut.
Saponins are a protection device utilized by plants against microbes and insects. These compounds can resemble detergents and cause inflammation in the body. Foods containing saponins include peppers and tomatoes.
Lectins are found in grains, legumes, nightshades, and oils made from seeds. They are incredibly hard to digest and can penetrate the protective mucus of the intestinal lining, leading to leaky gut.
Capsaicin is a potential irritant to the intestinal lining and may also contribute to leaky gut. It is found in chili peppers.
Some of the more common veggies that belong to the nightshade family include:
- white potatoes
- sweet and hot peppers
- chili-based spices (including paprika)
- goji berries
I make a practice of avoiding these foods altogether because I can tell when I eat them that they are not my friends. I usually end up with some kind of digestive distress. For a more complete discussion of this issue, click here.
More About Lectins
Lectins are found in grains, legumes, nightshades, nuts and seeds. I already mentioned above that lectins can be a problem as they can agitate the lining of the intestinal wall and possibly cause leaky gut and autoimmune reactions.
However, choosing to eliminate these healthy foods completely can lead to a lack of certain nutrients, notably the B vitamins, which are crucial in staying healthy. I did go off of these for a while, but I was even more tired and lost more hair and muscle tone, so I decided to incorporate small amounts back into my diet.
I tend to stick with seeds more than nuts, and I avoid grains altogether because they cause sugar cravings and many of them contain gluten. I also avoid beans because I simply can’t digest them well. I eat a small amount of sunflower and pumpkin seeds several times a week and it doesn’t seem to bother me. In fact, I can tell a difference in my energy levels when I do this. On the days that I don’t do this, I make sure I have some other kind of high protein snack, like dried beef. This helps with my iron and B12 levels.
So, you will need to experiment a bit to see what might work for you. If you are experiencing adverse effects from any of the members of this group, then you should probably avoid them for a while and try again in 6 weeks or so to see if they still affect you.
If you would like to read more on this topic, click here.
Give Up Dairy (?)
Yes, here’s another “enemy” food group and this one hurts almost as much as giving up sugar.
I was born lactose-intolerant, so I probably never should have been consuming dairy at all during my life. The doctors took me off of dairy as a newborn and put me on soy formula (which also did not do me any favors), but at some point, my mother put me back on it. Then, when puberty hit, out came the acne. My mother took me to the dermatologist and I was fully expecting to be taken off of everything fried and sweet, but he simply said, “No more milk”…and it worked!
So, I stayed off of it again for a while, but eventually went back to eating cheese and ice cream. I never had much of a reaction to cheese, but the ice cream always left me bloated and gassy, so I didn’t eat much of it. As I continued to have problems with fatigue, brain fog and allergies, I realized that these foods were actually producing more mucus in my body. Now I never have any dairy….ever.
Here’s the thing about dairy: milk proteins are similar to gluten, so it can cause the same kind of reaction from your immune system that gluten would. These reactions fall into several categories known as IgE, IgA and IgG.
IgE reactions happen immediately and it is these reactions that people are usually referring to when you talk about food “allergies”. Think peanuts, for instance.
IgA reactions happen in the intestines every time you eat a particular food and can lead to intestinal damage. Celiac disease is probably the most well known IgA food reaction.
IgG reactions are more subtle and can occur some time after eating something. It is harder to “connect the dots” with these reactions because there is a span of time between eating and reacting. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, memory problems, bloating, just to name a few.
For detailed explanation of all these reactions, click here.
Dr. Osansky at Natural Endocrine Solutions believes there are other reasons to stay away from dairy:
- Cow’s milk has hormones that were not intended for humans
- The pasteurization process has the potential to alter milk proteins in a harmful way
- Homogenization has the potential to alter the natural structure of milk
- Sensitivity to casein and whey protein
For more details on all of this, click here.
There seems to be a difference of opinion out there regarding dairy and Hashi’s. Many people say you should always be 100% dairy-free, while others say eating those things that don’t seem to cause a reaction is probably ok. I have chosen to stay away from it just to be safe and because I have a long history of reacting to it adversely. Since inflammation is a major part of dealing with Hashi’s, I believe it’s always better to err on the side of safety.
I have other sensitivities that are often not addressed in the typical Hashi’s diet. I am currently struggling with histamine intolerance and salicylate sensitivity which force me to eliminate a ton of foods that normally would be very nutritious and helpful. I’ll talk more about this in another post, but for a start on dealing with these issues, check out The Low Histamine Chef. She has tons of great information and recipes.
Which Diet to Follow?
There are several diet options out there to help you construct a daily plan for dealing with inflammation and the autoimmune responses that come with Hashi’s:
- Autoimmune Gut Repair Diet – this diet comes from Dr. Datis Kharrazian who has become one of the leading figures in Hashi’s treatment and research. You can take a look at this diet here. The diet is very restrictive and may include things that you might still react to, so you may need to customize it for your own sensitivities, as I did.
- Autoimmune Paleo Protocol – this is very similar to the gut repair diet, but may be slightly less restrictive as it is a maintenance program for people dealing with various autoimmune diseases. Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt have created a great website with tons of recipes and cookbooks. They are dealing with autoimmunity themselves and have worked tirelessly to bring delicious meals to those of us who feel we have nothing left to eat. Check it out here.
- The Autoimmune Protocol – Dr. Sarah Ballantyne is another great source of information on autoimmune disease and diet. You can take a look at her ideas here.
I hope the information here is enough to get you started on an interesting journey in structuring a diet that will support your system and lead to healing.
Vanessa Gunter, D.M.A., M.A.