Foods that help improve thyroid function

The tiny butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in your neck may be small, but it has a big effect on pretty much everything that happens in your body.

Thyroid hormones control your metabolism and help regulate blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and growth.

“If your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, a condition known as hypothyroidism can leave you feeling sluggish, increase your blood cholesterol levels and make it harder to lose weight,” says  Australian Thyroid Foundation (ATF) chief executive Beverley Garside.

Iodine’s role in thyroid function

Thyroid diseases expert and ATF medical adviser Prof Creswell Eastman says eating foods containing iodine can play a major part in improving thyroid function.

“Iodine is essential for producing thyroid hormones,” he says.

“If the thyroid doesn’t have enough iodine to do its job, it has to work harder, which can lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland – known as a goiter – and a swollen neck.”

The best source of iodine

Iodine is a chemical element and while our bodies need it, they can’t make it – which means it has to come from the diet.

“The best vehicle for iodine is salt,” Prof Eastman says. “We failed to get universal salt iodisation in Australia as the food industry opposed it. But we succeeded in getting it into bread, and all the salt in bread has iodine in it.

“So every time you have bread or baked product in Australia, you’re getting iodised salt. It’s made a world of difference to iodine deficiency levels.”

Why eggs are an important player for thyroid function

In what can be seen as a welcome health benefit of modern farming, eggs are loaded with iodine and selenium – another key player in thyroid function. 

This is due to chickens receiving fortified feed, a highly digestible mixture of fibres and concentrated nutrients which enriches the already high amount of selenium already found in eggs.

These nutrients promote the hormones in charge of body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate.

Similar to iodine, selenium deficiencies are typically found in a number of people with thyroid issues.

Other ways to get iodine in your diet

The other main sources of iodine in Australia are:

  • Seafood
  • Milk or dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese
  • Any foods containing iodised salt

“Some people have concerns about salt because of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease,” Prof Eastman says.

“A mineral supplement containing iodine can be a better source for those on a low-salt diet.”

Selenium is also found in:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Legumes

Think you have a thyroid problem?

With thyroid disorders affecting Aussies of all age groups and demographics, awareness is the key to ensuring you don’t overlook a condition that could be affecting your health and wellbeing.

“Check your neck and visit your GP,” says Beverly. “A simple blood test and if necessary a thyroid ultrasound examination will tell you.”

Written by Liz McGrath. Updated September 2022 by Zak Malcolm Wheeler.