For the millions of us who struggle with frequent tiredness and stubborn weight gain, one leading health expert has this surprising Rx: “Eat more carbs!” From fruit-studded cereal and hash browns to bean burritos and piled-high pasta dishes, “research tells us these are foods linked to optimal thyroid health — and a healthy thyroid is the ‘furnace’ that lets your body burn calories and stored fat to make energy,” explains George Washington University researcher and plant-based nutrition authority Dr. Neal Barnard.
“People start to feel better right away, often even in cases where thyroid meds didn’t seem to make much difference.” Weight loss is also dramatic, with women speeding off the pounds — some losing 100, 200, 250 pounds or more. Says Dr. Barnard, “The turn-arounds have been miraculous to see.”
Dr. Neil Barnard’s Thyroid Diet Plan
Your thyroid is a little gland in your neck that secretes the hormones responsible for regulating weight and energy along with body temperature, breathing, heart function, brain function, and much more. “When the thyroid becomes sluggish, metabolism and just about everything else become sluggish,” explains Dr. Barnard, author of Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health ($19.49, Amazon). “Unfortunately, thyroid problems are becoming very common.”
One big reason: Research shows the gland easily comes under attack by our own immune systems. “Antibodies that are supposed to hunt down viruses and other invaders can inadvertently target your thyroid,” says Dr. Barnard.
No one knows exactly why this happens, but research suggests certain everyday foods are a main trigger. Luckily, with a few simple menu tweaks, “it’s usually easy to get your thyroid back in great shape.”
Several years ago, a massive study on over 65,000 Americans found that folks enjoying a carb-rich, plant-based diet were least likely to develop thyroid issues — in fact, their thyroids were far better off than those of folks eating seemingly healthy diets with animal products.
More recently, European scientists used both blood tests and food logs to determine that adults with the most thyroid-attacking antibodies eat more animal fat, dairy, eggs, processed meat and oil. Meanwhile, those with the fewest dangerous antibodies “eat more vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and whole grains” — which neatly sums up what Dr. Barnard (and our thyroids!) want us to put on our plates.
“Animal foods trigger inflammatory conditions inside us, while natural plant foods generally have the opposite effect. Having less inflammation seems to protect the thyroid and provides a host of other benefits, including reduced risk of everything from arthritis and skin aging to heart disease and cancer,” says the doc. On top of that, plant foods have been shown to significantly increase metabolism even while being lower in calories than animal foods, “so people lose weight— and sometimes quite a lot of weight—without skimping on portions. There is no downside to eating more plants. They’re the best foods for you!”
To learn more, check out Your Body in Balance or get free resources at pcrm.org.
Feed your thyroid.
To boost thyroid health, Dr. Barnard recommends building meals around veggies, beans, fruit, nuts, and whole grains while limiting processed food, animal products, and oil. Aim for portions that keep you comfortably full without snacks.
Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms like fatigue, dry skin, and brain fog; thyroid meds may be necessary to protect your health. Always get your doctor’s okay to stop a prescription or to try any new diet.
Breakfast: Spread slices of whole-grain toast with plant-based cream cheese or any variety of nut butter; top with assorted berries and sliced seasonal fruit.
Lunch: Pile a bowl with cooked beans, corn, diced veggies and herbs (like bell pepper, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro). Enjoy with guacamole and fresh lime juice.
Dinner: Toss cooked whole-grain pasta, peas, cooked potato, assorted diced veggies and a healthy oil-free dressing; if desired, top with toasted nuts.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.