By the time my thyroid patients come to me, they’ve usually already jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. I have no problem with this; low-carb diets can be a helpful way to lose weight and reduce thyroid-related complications like obesity and cardiovascular disease. If you’re unfamiliar with the low-carb diet, it seeks to get rid of carbs and put protein and fat in its place. This sounds promising to individuals with an underactive thyroid because there’s tons of research showing that people with hypothyroidism have a tough time digesting carbs. This struggle to absorb carbs can lead to some of the condition’s most frustrating symptoms: pain, fatigue, and high blood sugar. So yes, kicking your carbs to the curb can help your body regulate blood sugar, it can help you lose weight and cut down on calories, and it can help you combat leaky gut syndrome, which is often an issue that comes along with hypothyroidism.
That being said, these benefits don’t mean that a low-carb diet will work for everyone.
In fact, low-carb diets can actually worsen symptoms for some individuals.
If you’re on the fence about going low-carb, here are some things you should consider.
1. How will cutting carbs impact your thyroid?
There’s been a lot of debate surrounding the relationship between high carb intake and the thyroid. Some research is based on the fact that calorie restriction has the potential to reduce thyroid function, but the problem with that argument is that it doesn’t really mean carbs are to blame. A study from 2016 suggests that individuals with low thyroid function could benefit from following a low-carb diet with a high intake of proteins and a moderate intake of fat.
The participants in that specific study who held fast to a low-carb diet saw a significant decrease in thyroid antibodies.
These results paint a picture of how intense the immune system’s attack on the thyroid gland really is. In light of this study, it is important to keep in mind that the researchers removed dairy, eggs, and goitrogenic foods from the participants’ diets; however, they still concluded that most of the benefits were a result of eating a low-carb diet.
2. Get rid of carbs; get rid of bugs?
Another school of thought suggests that if you cut carbs, you’re starving some of the most important microbes that live in your digestive tract. It’s important to keep this in mind because your microbiome, the community of those microbes, plays a vital role in your overall health. An imbalance in your gut flora can lead to serious issues when it comes to digestion, immune function, inflammation, and brain health just to name several processes reliant upon gut function. What’s more is that most individuals who are suffering from hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmunity means that the microbiome is definitely involved. There’s a lot of back-and-forth about eating low-carb and how it can impact your gut health, but newer studies propose that going low-carb can have a huge and positive impact on autoimmune individuals and can normalize microbe concentrations after six months. Again, these results don’t automatically mean that everyone should rush to start a low-carb diet, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t rule it out.
3. Will your nutrition suffer?
When dealing with your thyroid function and your immune function, it’s important that you’re eating a high-nutrient diet. Some of my patients who swear by a low-carb diet end up increasing their intake of animal products like eggs or meat. Again, I have no problem with this, as there’s definitely room for animal products in a low-carb diet. I do, however, have an issue when they forgo plant-based foods to make room for their animal products. Plants are important to add to your diet because they are rich in nutrients and fiber. I actually recommend that you eat 9-13 servings of veggies and fruits every day. Some of the best plant-based foods are nuts, seeds, avocado, dark and leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, sweet potato, sweet peppers, squash, and berries. These foods have essential nutrients your thyroid needs to function optimally.
Get the Help You Need
It can be “easy” enough to scour the internet for info on how to start eating low-carb, and while there may be some good information out there, it’s important that you understand there’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to your thyroid treatment. I recommend always finding a functional medicine provider who can help you pinpoint your specific imbalances and nutritional needs so that you’ll receive an individualized treatment plan that takes your unique body into account. As I mentioned previously, low-carb diets aren’t for everyone, so before you take the leap, you should speak with your functional medicine provider who can either give you the go-ahead or build you your own nutrition plan– the “you” diet, which can do nothing else but put you on the right track.