Are you jumping on the low-carb bandwagon? It’s true; low-carb diets can be an effective way to lose weight and reduce risks associated with low thyroid function like obesity and cardiovascular disease. The low-carb diet forgoes carbohydrates and replaces them with fat and protein. Some research has found that those with low thyroid function struggle to digest and absorb carbohydrates, which can lead to frustrating symptoms like pain, fatigue, and high blood sugar.
Ditching carbs can help regulate blood sugar, reduce caloric intake, decrease weight, and improve symptoms of leaky gut, which is commonly seen in those with low thyroid.
Does that mean going low-carb is right for everyone? The answer is NO. Low thyroid sufferers have unique metabolic needs, and low carb diets can make symptoms worse for some and better for others. Here are three critical factors you need to consider before going low-carb.
1. Can Cutting Carbs Crush My Thyroid?
There has been a lot of debate over the years about whether the thyroid gland needs a high-carb diet to function optimally. While calorie restriction has been shown to reduce thyroid function, that does not mean carbs are to blame. Research from 2016 found that those with low thyroid function saw big benefits from following a low-carb, high-protein, and moderate-fat diet. After just three weeks, all the patients on a low-carb diet had a significant decrease in their levels of thyroid antibodies, which indicate how aggressively the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. I should mention that the study also removed dairy, eggs, and goitrogenic foods, but it still concluded that a majority of the benefits were from the low-carb diet.
2. No Carbs; No Bugs?
Some scientists have warned that cutting carbs means starving out the vital microbes in the digestive tract. It’s a warranted concern because the community of bugs that live in the gut are directly linked to health and disease in the human body. Imbalances in gut flora can mean big problems for digestion, immune function, inflammation, brain health, and more. Moreover, the majority of those suffering from low thyroid are harboring the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which means the microbiome is surely involved.
Recent studies have found that following a low-carb diet can yield big benefits for those with autoimmunity and can normalize concentrations of microbes after 6 months.
This does not mean that it’s best for everyone, but it does mean that low-carb nutrition plans don’t have to be ruled out.
3. Does Low-Carb Mean Low Nutrition?
For both thyroid and immune function, a high-nutrient diet is essential. Some patients who opt for a low-carb diet increase their intake of animal products like meat and eggs. While there’s a place for animal products in a low-carb diet, plants should still take the center stage to ensure the individual is getting enough nutrients and fiber. I recommend that my patients consume 9-13 servings of plants per day such as nuts, seeds, avocado, dark leafy greens, cucumber, carrots, sweet potato, sweet peppers, squash, berries, and more. This means that your thyroid will still get the essential nutrients it needs to function at its best.
Don’t Go It Alone
Carbohydrate restriction can most definitely result in weight loss and thyroid benefits for many. However, no two bodies are the same, and it may take some experimenting to find the right level of carbs, fat, and protein for you. This is why I believe so strongly in a functional medicine approach. Instead of generalizing underactive thyroid treatments, we utilize comprehensive diagnostic testing to help each patient find the best path for managing and reversing symptoms of low thyroid. Following generalized advice will only get you so far; to truly heal from low thyroid you need a therapeutic plan that is built just for you.