Your metabolism is the speed at which your body burns the calories we get from our food. The thyroid gland is the head of metabolism and energy production in your body, directing the release of thyroid hormones to oversee these functions. This chief endocrine gland is a distinctive butterfly shape and is located in your neck under your Adam’s apple.
Common signs of an underactive thyroid to look out for include: feeling the cold easily, feeling overly tired, suffering from low mood, having trouble sleeping, bowel issues such as IBS, skin problems and changes in texture or appearance, a lack of libido, and weight gain. Sound familiar?
Supporting your thyroid gland is important for helping to keep your metabolism in tip-top condition. Read on to discover how you can do this simply through your diet, as I list 15 foods to help support your metabolism.
Legumes include a wide variety of lentils, beans and peas. These are typically low in fat and high in protein, fibre and many essential minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium and folate.
Iron especially is essential for the production of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3). Iron also helps transport oxygen around the body which in itself helps to fuel many of your metabolically-active cells. Magnesium is really useful too as it helps support the production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which promotes T4 production in the first place.
Eggs are considered to be one of the most complete sources of protein within our diet. By ‘complete’ I mean containing all nine of the essential amino acids (the ones we need to obtain from our diet and can’t manufacture) and in the correct proportions for optimal use in the human body.
Adequate protein intake helps support the growth and repair of your lean muscle mass. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so the more muscle you have relative to fat the nippier your metabolism is likely to be! Transporter proteins are also responsible for manoeuvring thyroid hormones around the body. Is there anything we don’t need protein for?!
As well as all-important sources of protein, having plentiful fat in your diet is crucial for supporting your metabolism. Yes, fat, you heard me right! Fresh salmon fillets are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps supports many areas of your body; and this can be especially beneficial for a thyroid gland on the blink.
Oily fish is also a rich source of vitamin D. Both vitamin D and vitamin A support thyroid receptors on your body’s cells, allowing them to respond efficiently to the active thyroid hormone T3. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, also helps support the absorption of calcium in your body. Good levels of calcium support the functions of your thyroid gland as well as your metabolically active lean muscle. Winning all round!
Milk is excellent source of calcium and protein. Your thyroid gland will most likely thank you for some organic milk and other dairy products as they are alsoimportant sources of iodine. Iodine is essential for the production of T4 and should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. You can corporate some iodine-rich yoghurt in to reap the metabolism-associated benefits from some friendly bacteria too. Bonus!
Fish and shellfish are another great source of iodine for anyone out there who is dairy-free.
Drinking enough H20 is important for many bodily functions and thyroid health is no exception.
In addition to this, research has shown that drinking cold water can be particularly effective in supporting your metabolism and burning some extra calories.1 This is because of the extra energy used by your body to heat the water up. So, by drinking up to 2 litres of cold water a day you could burn up to 95 extra calories, but more importantly, the extra hydration will do you the world of good.
Chilli peppers contain an active ingredient called capsaicin. Capsaicin is an excellent natural anti-inflammatory which can support a sluggish (or over-active for that matter) thyroid gland.
Capsaicin has also been the subject of many scientific studies which suggests it promotes thermogenesis.2 Thermogenesis is the process of burning calories and producing heat as a result. Diet-induced thermogenesis is a part of our daily energy expenditure, so incorporating some spice into your diet can help burn more calories! Pass the chilli!
Eat an apple a day and keep the doctor away. Is this true? It has been suggested that apples may have positive effects on our metabolism.
Apples contain a source of soluble fibre called pectin which absorbs water and swells into a jelly-like substance in the body. This then helps to slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream and is thought to have a positive impact on fat metabolism while it’s at it. Glucose is important for the production T3 and the production of energy, so a balanced diet containing good proportions of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is important all round for optimal energy expenditure. You might want to think twice about cutting your carbs, and instead, concentrate on including the right ones.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These fats are important for balancing hormones all over the body and can contribute to a healthy thyroid. Fats act as precursors to many hormonal pathways - we need them!
Cholesterol is actually produced by our liver and is also an essential component for supporting your metabolism. So, is it true healthy fats can actually help us to stay slim? Yes!
Seaweed is an excellent source of iodine. Iodine is required to make both T3 and T4 and is therefore crucial for a healthy metabolism. Low iodine is especially dangerous in pregnancy and can risk contributing to birth defects in babies.
In addition to iodine, seaweed such as kelp or bladderwrack are extremely nutritious and are rich in a range of minerals including selenium, zinc, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and calcium, plus vitamins A, B, C, D and E. Selenium alongside iodine is especially important in the conversion of T4 into T3. Vitamin C and the B vitamins found in seaweed are particularly important for actually transporting iodine into your thyroid cells so it can be put to good use.
If you aren’t too confident about adding seaweed into your diet, why not try a Kelp supplement to support your metabolism instead? This is a great natural option provided you are NOT taking thyroid medication.
10. Green tea
Green tea is all the rage nowadays but what are the health benefits when it comes to metabolism? Green tea is rich in EGCG – a catechin which has been the subject of many studies aiming to assess its role in thermogenesis, and increasing metabolism3.
Green tea is naturally rich in antioxidants which can support our thyroid gland and many other areas of the body. It contains a moderate caffeine content which can give your metabolism a gently boost but avoid creating a caffeine onslaught; too much caffeine and the opposite effects are true and you can be left feeling exhausted as your poor adrenal glands weep. Over time, your metabolism can plummet.
In conclusion, green tea can be a, gentle, antioxidant-rich alternative to high-caffeine alternatives such as coffee, helping to gently increase your metabolism.
Some of you might shake your head in disgust at the thought of oysters. But maybe you’ll think again when you consider the health benefits they have to offer!
Oysters are extremely high in the essential mineral zinc; one of the highest sources out there in fact. Zinc is extremely important for the production of many hormones around the body and a deficiency in zinc is thought to affect the conversion of T4 into the active the active thyroid hormone T3. Why not get adventurous and try some fresh oysters, for the sake of your thyroid!
Cranberries are very high in iodine. These are a nice choice as taking too much iodine (be cautious of taking high strength supplements) can be a shock to your poor thyroid gland - remember, more is not necessarily better.
The recommended daily amount (RDA) is 150µg, so don’t go overboard.For a quick and easy whole-food source, incorporate some organic cranberries into your diet or some low-sugar juice such as Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry.
13. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is claimed to offer a host of health benefits; from oil pulling (swishing good quality oil around in the mouth to improve oral hygiene), to weight loss. So, what are the mechanisms involved?
Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat (yes, that’s right!), which are mainly comprised of unique structures called medium chain triglycerides. These are oxidised quickly for energy in the body compared to others sources of fat such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Therefore, they can give your metabolism a well-needed boost.
Try replacing your normal cooking oils with coconut oil; I can promise you your Sunday roast potatoes will have a new lease of life (and you too with any luck!).
14. Sea salt
Sea salt is a raw, unrefined form of salt which means it contains a wider range of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals; iodine being one of them.
Salt should be used sparingly though, the recommended daily amount is only 6g. If you feel you have to reach for the salt, why not try Herbamare® which is infused with organically grown vegetables, herbs and kelp. This makes it a nice, iodine-rich choice.
15. Eat Organic!
Opt for organic foods wherever possible and your thyroid gland will repay you in the long run. The interference of chemicals in your body as a result of choosing of non-organic meat, fruit, vegetables or dairy can take their toll and play havoc with your hormones.
While we’re on the subject of what you’re putting into your body, it is also important to eat enough to keep your metabolism ticking over, don’t jump on the bandwagon of many fad diets and cut out all carbs, fats or fret over calorie counting; your thyroid gland needs them all!
These foods are particularly useful in helping to keep your metabolism ticking over but the key is to adopt a fresh, varied diet, which will naturally be packed with thyroid-boosting vitamins and minerals. Enjoy your food!
Originally published on 02/08/16, updated on 04/03/19