January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, a time dedicated to promoting the prevention, treatment, and cure of thyroid-related illnesses. Thyroid disease is more common than you may think––an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60 percent of them don’t know they have it, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Women are also at higher risk and are five to eight times more likely to develop thyroid disease than men.

What is Thyroid Disease?

You’re probably wondering – what is the thyroid and why is thyroid disease so common? Small but mighty, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This gland controls the rate at which every cell, tissue, and organ in your body functions, including the brain, heart, and digestive tract. “The thyroid is the master controller of metabolic function throughout the body,” Dr. Ryan M. Green, DO, MS, the Medical Director of Preg Appetit! and Principal Medical Advisor at Monarch Athletic Club in West Hollywood tells The Beet. This is because the thyroid produces the hormones T3 and T4, which regulates your metabolism – a chemical activity of cells converting nutrients into energy.’

What is the Difference Between Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism?

There are two main types of thyroid disorders most common in the United States: Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormone and hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland makes too much hormone, says the Cleveland Clinic. “Imbalance in either direction regarding thyroid function can have a major impact on how someone lives day-to-day,” explains Dr. Green. As seen with most non-infectious illnesses nowadays, thyroid diseases are generally provoked by increased environmental toxins in the air, water, and food. Another popular cause entails nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, which means you’re probably not getting the right nutrients to support your thyroid, says Dr. Green. “Unfortunately, many of the nutrients that are essential for proper thyroid function are not made by the body and therefore need to be consumed in our diet,” Ashley Shaw, MS, RDN, a registered dietician at Preg Appetit! tells The Beet. “Adequate levels of these nutrients allow the thyroid to produce and secrete hormones that are invaluable to normal body processes, including but not limited to, rate of metabolism, bone development, muscle growth and contraction, speed of heartbeat, and body temperature regulation.” Below, we have listed five nutrient-rich foods that can optimize thyroid function and help prevent disease.

The 5 Best Foods to Boost Thyroid Health

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1. Seaweed, like nori and sea lettuce, for iodine

If you’re a big fan of sushi, you’re surely going to love this one. Seaweed, aka sushi wrapper, is a form of edible algae that grows in the sea. It is naturally full of iodine with some varieties containing up to 2000% of the daily value. “Iodine is a nutrient used by the thyroid gland, essential for the development of thyroid hormones that have many functions,” says Shaw. It is not something our bodies make on their own, so we have to get it from foods or supplements. It’s important to keep the right balance of iodine in your diet, according to a 2019 study. Researchers found that while some people can tolerate high amounts of iodine, it may lead to hyperthyroidism or thyroid autoimmunity. Be aware of your iodine intake and incorporate a variety of seaweed, such as hijiki, nori, and Irish sea moss in your diet.

2. Brazil nuts filled with selenium

Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium, a key nutrient in preventing thyroid disease. The recommended daily intake of selenium is 55 mcg for adults and brazil nuts, on average, contain 96 mcg per nut. Since the 1990s, selenium has been widely researched as an enzyme that activates the thyroid hormone, according to a 2020 study. Data from previous studies have shown that a low selenium status is linked to autoimmune thyroiditis and Graves disease – an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. Start incorporating more selenium in your diet with brazil nuts but beware of consuming them in large numbers, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Taking more than 400 mcg of selenium per day (for adults) can lead to serious health implications like myocardial infarction, kidney failure, and more. So approach with caution –– it’s all about keeping the right balance!

3. Pumpkin seeds high in zinc

Believe it or not, the most nutritious part of a pumpkin is the pumpkin seeds as they are filled with vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. “Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which are especially important for the thyroid hormones T3 and T4,” explains Shaw. A 2019 study found that zinc is a crucial part of the enzyme deiodinase which converts T4 into T3. These hormones play a significant role in homeostasis by facilitating the metabolism of blood sugar, responding to changes in energy intake, and controlling our body’s process of heat production. In other words, pumpkin seeds can do wonders for your thyroid. Add them to your salads, oatmeal, cereal, soup, and favorite dessert for a hearty and thyroid-boosting meal.

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4. Berries rich in antioxidants

We’ve surely raved about the powerful benefits of berries before in optimizing brain health, PMS symptoms, and PCOS. It’s because berries are high in antioxidants that can neutralize harmful free radicals, which can cause inflammation and lead to negative health implications. They’re also great for the thyroid as they have a low-glycemic index, considering too much sugar can create hormone imbalances and thyroid flares, according to a 2018 study. Researchers examined a case study and found that sugar substitutes can provoke the development of Hashimoto’s disease, leading to the failure of the thyroid gland. Berries are a great way to incorporate something sweet into your diet without compromising your thyroid health. Use them in smoothies, parfaits, and as a no-guilt, nutritious dessert.

5. Whole grains full of fiber

A high fiber diet is not only beneficial for your heart and brain but also just as influential for your thyroid. Complex carbohydrates are full of fiber and also low-glycemic, which means they do not impact your blood sugar levels. Dietary fiber can help ease some of the symptoms associated with thyroid diseases, such as poor digestion and constipation, according to Harvard Health. It also prevents type 2 diabetes, weight gain, insulin resistance, and other health conditions that are associated with the greater risk of thyroid disease. Make sure to incorporate complex carbohydrates – like brown rice, quinoa, and kidney beans – in your diet to ensure a good supply of dietary fiber. However, do proceed with caution if you’re on medication for your thyroid disorder as fiber can affect medication absorption, says Harvard Health.