Results from one of the largest nutrition studies in history surprised everyone — even the scientists! — with the delicious cure for a slow thyroid. The best part: You can eat all you want!
Millions of women the world over struggle with fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, and low moods — and as many as 60 percent of them don’t realize that a sluggish thyroid is to blame.
“Most people go their whole lives never thinking about their thyroid,” says weight-loss expert Neal Barnard, MD, a professor at George Washington University. “But the thyroid is as central to your body as your furnace is to your house.”
The thyroid helps regulate energy and fat burning by producing thyroid hormone, Dr. Barnard explains. “If your thyroid isn’t making enough of this hormone, your energy and metabolism just flag. Everything starts slowing down. It’s like your body has lost its spark.”
In America, the most common cause of slow thyroid is an autoimmune condition in which antibodies — microscopic torpedoes that attack viruses and other foreign invaders —mistakenly attack your own thyroid, Dr. Barnard says. Indeed, 90 percent of thyroid trouble in developed countries begins with autoimmune attacks on the delicate gland. And Dr. Barnard’s studies show this response is often triggered by the foods we eat.
Fueling the problem: animal proteins. Especially, says Dr. Barnard, those found in butter, milk, eggs, and processed meats. Turns out, these foods cause widespread inflammation throughout the body, which overexcites the immune system and increases the likelihood that our antibodies will attack the thyroid.
“Foods are made up of proteins that can be mistaken for a virus, causing the immune system to create antibodies,” Dr. Barnard says. “These same antibodies travel to the thyroid and interfere with its ability to make thyroid hormone.”
Indeed, scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have linked a diet heavy in animal fats, butter, milk, and eggs with increased levels of inflammation and thyroid-attacking antibodies in the blood.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to heal a slow thyroid and sidestep future damage. “A simple diet change seems to be a cure for thyroid problems,” Dr. Barnard notes. “I have to say, this surprised me at first!”
It turns out that whole plant-based foods are loaded with compounds that lower inflammation by 48 percent, calming the immune system so it stops attacking the thyroid. And in an EPIC-Oxford trial — the largest study of plant-based eaters in history —researchers discovered that people on a semi-plant-based diet were 50 percent less likely to develop a slow thyroid compared with omnivores.
What’s more, even those without a slow thyroid lose weight on this plan. “No other diet is more effective for weight loss,” says plant-based expert Michael Greger, MD, founder of NutritionFacts.org. In one trial, subjects following a plant-based diet lost an average of 19 pounds after three months. But here’s where things got interesting: Months after the study ended, the subjects returned for another weigh-in, and they had lost more weight: an average of 27 pounds total.
“They were feeling so good physically and mentally that they were sticking to the diet on their own — and kept losing,” says Dr. Greger. “That’s the secret: It’s about the quality of food rather than the quantity. This plan doesn’t leave you hungry.”
Plant-based eating powers off stubborn pounds fast. “Women typically see significant weight loss in the first week,” says Dr. Barnard, who has seen women lose more than 100 pounds, nearly effortlessly. Just ask 49-year-old Sarah Land, who shed 41 pounds in 30 days on the plan. After struggling with a problematic thyroid for 24 years, she says, “I’ve been able to substantially reduce my thyroid medication. I am very happy. My results are dramatic!”
Speedy slimming isn’t the only benefit: A plant-based diet has been linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, fewer headaches, less pain and improved moods. “And it’s the only diet ever proven to reverse heart disease”, says Dr. Greger. Read on to get started today!
Easy Kitchen Tricks That Speed results
Reducing body-wide inflammation with a plant-based diet calms the immune system, which helps heal the thyroid and power off pounds. To get the benefits, try these inflammation-busting tweaks:
- Get cheesy flavor — without the cheese. Love the subtle nuttiness of Parmesan cheese? You can add the same flavor to popcorn or pasta by sprinkling on nutritional yeast. The topping eases inflammation and is loaded with thyroid-healing B vitamins.
- Select a better spread. Instead of butter, which contains inflammation-producing fats, opt for nonfat, plant-based toppings. For example, spread toast with whole-fruit jam and top a baked potato with salsa for a kick of flavor and inflammation-easing spices.
- Sauté with this. Reach for vegetable broth instead of oil next time you heat up a pan. The broth will prevent the veggies from sticking and add depth of flavor — without inflammation-triggering fat and calories.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.