I was a lover of food and of cooking before thyroid disease, in fact, my career revolved around it. In college, I was destined to become a researcher, an academic, an egghead. I was a psychology major with an interest in educational systems and wanted to learn how we could improve our nation’s educational system. It was a lofty goal and I was accepted to prestigious graduate programs but when I looked around, I found my fellow colleagues, subjected to the “publish or perish” lifestyle to be holy unhealthy…and unhappy and that didn’t seem like a fit for me. To pay for college, I worked in restaurants as I had from the moment I could drive. I was always invigorated by the restaurant atmosphere, inspired by beautiful meals and consumed with finding delicious food to eat. So after 4 years of a rigorous college education, I decided to exchange my pencil for an apron and pursue being chef professionally.
When your life is food, it is devastating to discover you have food sensitivities or allergies. It’s even worse when you are diagnosed with an illness that is complicated and requires that you nourish your body completely differently than you had before. Essentially, when I learned I had Hashimoto’s, I also discovered that many of my favorite foods were off the menu if I wanted to reverse disease and that threw me into a food funk.
When I started researching what foods I should eat to help support my body in healing and which to avoid, I was met with a host of conflicting information. I was totally confused. My passion for cooking faded. I dreaded feeding myself. I even avoided my kitchen. My world was turned upside down. But I found a way out of it.
After a boat load of research and trial and error, I sorted through the food confusion and cobbled together a delicious healing meal plan for myself and my clients.
Overcoming food confusion
There is a staggering amount of food confusion out there. In a sea of conflicting food messaging and research, what’s a person to do? I went through this confusion myself. In fact, there was a point where I just threw up my hands and gave up. I dreaded walking into the kitchen and was resistant to making changes that I knew deep down would help me.
One day, I got fet up with feeling sick and getting worse and decided to run a little experiment to see if any of these foods were part of the problem. I soon discovered what I could keep and what I could toss, and my gut has only improved since.
What to Avoid (and Why)
First, what are we trying to avoid here? We are trying to eat foods that nourish us and avoid those that inhibit nutrient absorption, inflame the gut or create reactions.
You’ll see the same types of offenders pop up often. Here’s a little bit on those:
*Important Note: Now, this doesn’t mean that you must eliminate all the foods on this list – not at all! My goodness, you’d be left with nothing to eat. Seriously. No, this is just your one-stop-shop for information on which foods may be presenting a problem for you and how they could be impacting your healing process. By healing the gut, you’ll be able to incorporate many of these foods into a healthy diet. This is just a list for when your gut is in repair mode.
- Phytates – Phytic acid is found in grains, legumes, and nuts, and it inhibits the absorption of minerals in our gut. We already know that we’re going to be eliminating gluten and grains from our diet for a host of reasons, but nuts are also a high source of phytic acid.
- Histamines – Those same things that make you sneeze in a field full of ragweed, are found in some foods and can cause hives, headaches, heartburn, swelling, and even symptoms that mimic a panic attack—and it can all be brought on by eating something as simple and healthy as an orange or some spinach.
- PUFAS – Polyunsaturated fatty acid or PUFA is the technical term for a type of fat with two or more double bonds. That really means nothing to me but what you need to know is that PUFAs inhibit thyroid hormone activation, down-regulating metabolism and causing weight gain. The most concentrated sources of PUFAs are in vegetable oils, like sunflower, safflower, corn, flax, sesame, and canola—in other words, the stuff the government told us was better for us. (SHEESH!)
- FODMAPS – The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. (Say WHAT?!?) Basically they are carbohydrates that are incompletely absorbed in the gut and can be easily fermented by gut bacteria. That fermentation can cause gas, bloating, pain, and lots of other bad belly symptoms.
- Cross Reactive Foods – Essentially, when our bodies have an immune response to a protein in food, like gluten, we’re also creating antibodies that will recognize and attack other, similar proteins from what are called cross-reactive foods. Cross-reactive foods include: Rye, Barley, Spelt, Polish Wheat, Oats (2 different cultivars), Buckwheat, Sorghum, Millet, Amaranth, Quinoa, Corn, Rice, Potato, Hemp, Teff, Soy, Milk (Alpha-Casein, Beta-Casein, Casomorphin, Butyrophilin, Whey Protein and whole milk), Chocolate, Yeast, Coffee (instant, latte, espresso, imported), Sesame, Tapioca (a.k.a. cassava or yucca) and Eggs.
- Yeast Producing Foods – Sugar, high glycemic fruits (bananas), and fungi (like mushrooms) to name a few. Candida infections can be caused by antibiotics, poor gut health, low stomach acid, and other conditions that are very common with thyroid, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Getting the gut balanced and the yeast under control will help immensely.
- Goitrogens – Compounds in foods including cruciferous vegetables, spinach, radishes, peaches and strawberries that inhibit thyroid hormone production by suppressing iodine uptake.
- Legumes – Legumes and grains both contain lectins that don’t get fully digested in the gut. The lectins trick the cells in our intestines into transporting them from inside the gut to outside the gut by “looking like” simple sugars. Then we get the immune system reacting to those lectins in the blood stream and BOOM! Autoimmune response.
- Nightshades – Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, and chili-based spices) are all from the nightshade family and contain lectins, saponin and/or capsaicin that tend to be highly problematic for people with autoimmune disorders. We already know that lectins contribute to gut permeability (not good!), and saponin has been shown to increase the autoimmune response (doubly not good!). Capsaicin is the compound that makes things spicy and—as should come as no surprise if you’ve ever touched your eyes after cutting peppers—is a major irritant.
- Alcohol – I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But alcohol directly causes higher intestinal permeability, meaning it actually punches fairly large “holes” in your gut lining that allow big molecules through.
- Caffeine – Ooh, this is one that many people don’t want to hear from me! But caffeine can be detrimental to your healing because it increases cortisol levels (and there’s a direct correlation between too much cortisol, adrenal and thyroid problems). Beyond that, studies have shown that coffee can increase inflammatory response and that it is a highly cross-reactive food for people with Celiac disease.
Let’s remember though that we each react uniquely to food, supplements and medications. What works for one, may not work for another. You may have to eliminate all the offending foods or you may only have to eliminate ones that are triggering a reaction until your body begins to heal.
Don’t look at this list as an all-or-nothing scenario. While there are diets that are wonderfully therapeutic that should definitely be considered for healing (like GAPS Diet or The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol), not everyone has to follow those diets to a tee in order to heal…but some people do.
As you begin to work within the paradigm of this meal plan, you will become more in-tune with your body and have a better grasp of how disciplined you need to be in order to feel great.
I recommend doing what your body recommends. Take your mind out of the game. If you’re doing great on a traditional Primal/Paleo diet stick with it; however, if you’re seeing results but know you can feel better, I highly encourage you to dive in further and become more disciplined. It’s all temporary anyway. Once you repair the gut and the root cause of what’s ailin’ you, you’ll be able to add foods back in although SPOILER ALERT—you may not want to!
I was a cheese-a-holic before I was diagnosed and never thought I could give it up. When I did, I felt so much better that I hardly have the taste for it anymore. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a little cheese but all I need is a little to savor.
The point is, don’t focus on what you can’t have, focus on all the delicious food you do get to eat + when you eat nourishing whole foods, you don’t have to stress about food or calorie count. Now, isn’t that awesome?
What’s your biggest food confusion? Share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!