Is a Low-Carb Diet Good for Hypothyroidism?
Losing weight can be difficult for people with hypothyroidism because of the decrease in their metabolisms. While there isn't any direct evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet can help people with hypothyroidism, the diet has been shown to be effective in helping people lose weight, improve heart-health markers and blood sugar -- all concerns for people with hypothyroidism. If you're struggling to lose weight due to hypothyroidism, consult your doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of a low-carb diet before you make the shift.
Low-Carb Diet 101
To help you lose fat, a low-carb diet restricts carb intake so your body is burning fat for fuel instead of glucose. The amount of carbs you eat each day depends on the plan you follow. It usually starts with 20 to 50 grams a day, but may be as liberal as 150 grams a day. For the record, the recommended dietary allowance for adults is 130 grams of carbs a day, the amount necessary to fuel the brain. To keep carb intake down, a low-carb diet is filled with mostly animal meats; low-carb plant or dairy proteins such as tofu and cheese; low-carb veggies; and fats such as vegetable oil and butter.
Gaining control over how many carbs you eat each day is recommended for people with hypothyroidism trying to lose weight, according to a 2012 article published in Today's Dietitian. And while you may not need to restrict carbs to 20 grams a day, a low-carb diet may be beneficial in helping you get better control of your carbs and assist you in reaching your weight goals.
Health Benefits of Low-Carb Diets
The Best Low-Carb Induction Meals
In addition to weight, people with hypothyroidism also struggle with gaining control over blood sugar and blood lipid levels, according to a 2012 article published in Today's Dietitian. A 2008 clinical study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people on a low-carb diet lost more weight and showed a better improvement in blood lipid levels than those following a low-fat diet. A low-carb diet has also been shown to be effective at helping improve blood sugar control in a group of people with diabetes, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. It's important to note that these studies didn't include people with hypothyroidism, and without condition-specific studies, it's hard to say if you would get the same benefits.
Low-Carb Diet for Hypothyroidism
When you have hypothyroidism, you should fill your diet with complex carbs from whole grains and vegetables, lean sources of protein and healthy fats such as omega-3s from foods like salmon and walnuts. In addition, you need to cut back on your intake of raw cruciferous vegetables -- broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts and cabbage -- due to goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid production; refined carbs such as white bread and soy foods should also be limited.
You can easily modify these recommendations to fit the low-carb diet by basing your diet on healthy sources of protein, goitrogen-free low-carb veggies and healthy fats.
A 28-Day Meal Plan
If you're on a 50-gram a day carb plan, you might enjoy a 1/2 cup serving of cooked oatmeal with 1/4 cup of fresh blueberries and 12 chopped walnuts with a hard-cooked egg at breakfast for 18 grams of net carbs. Fill up at lunch with a stir-fry made with 1 cup of bok choy, 1 cup of broccoli, 1 cup mung beans, chicken, olive oil and soy sauce, served with a small orange for 22 grams of net carbs. Grilled salmon with 1 cup of green beans is a low-carb meal rich in omega-3s that's a great way to end the day. This dinner has 6 grams net of carbs.
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A 28-Day Meal Plan
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- Today's Dietitian: Thyroid Disease and Diet — Nutrition Plays a Part in Maintaining Thyroid Health
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- New England Journal of Medicine: Weight Loss With a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean or Low-Fat Diet
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Agricultural Library: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Orlando Sports Chiropractic: Hypothyroidism Nutritional Handout
- Atkins: Phase One List of Acceptable Foods
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Improvements in Glucose Metabolism and Insulin Sensitivity with a Low-Carbohydrate Diet in Obese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes
- Atkins: Carb Counter
- European Food Information Council: Glucose and Mental Performance
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.