In the midst of the low-fat revolution mostly dying down, there’s a newer kid on the block… low-carb. It’s said to miraculous for weight loss, sustained health, long term healing, and blood sugar control. More and more people are dropping gluten, grains, and jumping on the paleo bandwagon while more brands are labeling their foods and menu items as “low-carb”. With weight gain being such a prevalent symptom of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease, it sounds like a low-carb diet is the perfect remedy right? I’m not low carb with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease… I don’t believe that you should be either.
I know that you read and hear the same things that I do… “low-carb” is healthy, it’s natural, it’s an amazing way to lose weight, and so forth. I also know what it feels like to be unhealthy and carry extra weight with Hashimoto’s. The desire to just be normal and be at a natural weight is so strong. I’ve felt it and I know you do too. However, I assure you that there are others way to heal your thyroid, and deal with weight gain and low carb is not one of them for the bulk of us.
But, what about our paleo ancestors? Didn’t they eat low carb? So shouldn’t we regardless of our thyroid disease? Yes and no. Yes, our paleo ancestors were low carb in the sense that they didn’t have an abundance of bags of sweet potatoes from Trader Joe’s at their beckon call. No, those of us with thyroid disease should not avoid carbs just to match what we believe that our ancestors ate in hopes that it will restore us to that health.
If you’ve tried a too low carb diet before and you have Hashimoto’s, you can most likely agree with me when I say, I felt terrible. I was tired, it wasn’t sustainable, and I don’t believe it’s health promoting for a number of reasons…
1.Carbs are needed to convert T4 to T3.
If you’re like me and have thyroid disease, you probably know what your last blood test said about your T4, and T3. But, what does it mean? T4 is the unusable thyroid hormone that needs to be converted to T3 for you thyroid to properly function. However, for this conversion to happen your body needs glucose, which are derived from carbohydrates.
You need to consume carbohydrates for you body to make this conversion. Without consuming an adequate amount of healthy carbs, your body will struggle to do this conversion or just not do it. In turn, this only throws off your thyroid function even more.
2. Carbs are necessary for proper hormone function and metabolism.
Along with the T4 to T3 conversion, carbs help balance other hormones in the body as glucose supports the hormone conversion, and your bodies ability to regulate metabolism. Think of your hormones as a cascading process in the body that are all closely related. When one thing is thrown off, it throws off the entire delicate balance of your hormones. Poorly regulated hormones only create more problems for those with thyroid disease, which is often the last thing that we need.
This disregulated hormone function can manifest in the following…
- Lost or missed periods
- Painful or irregular menstrual cycles
- Mood swings
3. Carbs are needed for energy.
One of the main functions of carbohydrates in the body is a quick source of energy. Carbohydrates start metabolizing and digesting as soon as we start chewing on them. They provide quick energy that the body can use immediately without having to process.
Doesn’t fat provide more sustained energy? Well, yes. However, a balanced ratio of fat and carbohydrates provides both energy and a more sustainable lifestyle, which is another huge factor…
4. Low carb diets are stressful on the body and the adrenals.
Adrenal fatigue, stress, and exhaustion can often go hand and hand with thyroid disease as it all relates to poorly managed stress and hormone production. Though adrenal fatigue is mostly caused and healed by lifestyle factors, carb intake is a huge factor.
Seeing as carbs are needed for energy and hormone conversions in the body, a lack of carbs is inherently stressful. It tires the body out, and doesn’t allow the adrenals to heal or the body to be at homeostasis.
5. Carbs are not evil.
We have this tendency to make food either good or bad. Either you can eat something, or you should avoid it like the plague… there’s no middle ground. However, that’s simply not the case when it comes to real food. Carbs are not all bad, all carbs do not make you fat, and low-carb is not required for sustained health and weight loss. French fries, crackers, and processed breads are bad, yes, of course. However, just because these things are classified as carbs do not make roots, tubers, fruits, and starchy vegetables bad.
6. It’s more sustainable and less “diet-y” to just eat a balanced diet rather than avoid carbs..
There are a few exceptions to the low carb dieting where I believe that it can be beneficial for a short period of time, such as:
- Correcting blood sugar regulation
- Gut healing protocol like GAPS or a candida management protocol
However, the keyword here is short time period.
Thyroid disease is indeed manageable and plenty of people have put their Hashimoto’s into remission, the lifestyle that promotes that healing is for life. To support long term healing, it’s crucial to build a healing plan that can sustain you for life. Low-carb dieting can easily turn into just another diet that is not as easily sustainable for long term.
This varies from person to person, but generally speaking, low-carb is less sustainable than a balanced diet.
How do you know that you may be too low carb?
With thyroid disease, it can be challenging to asses what is actually ailing you. The list of symptoms are massive, and finding a root to each one can be impossible. However, here are just a few of the signs that you could be eating too low carb that you may want to pay more attention to…
- Low energy
- Inability to recover from exercise
- Sugar cravings
- Disregulated menstrual cycles
So, how do you eat carbs healthfully?
You can over do it on carbs, or just eat the wrong kinds of carbs very easily.
- You need to balance your carb intake. Roughly 40% of your diet should be carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein. This varies by activity level and need, but I recommend women with thyroid disease to start with at least 100 g of carbs a day.
- You need to chew your food and eat in a relaxed state. Remember when I said that carb digestion starts in the mouth? Well, it really starts with chewing and in the brain! You need to be relaxed and chew your food to digest carbs.
- You need to eat the right kind of carbs.
So, what are some healthy carbs that you can enjoy with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease? To just name a few…
- Fruits (in moderation)
- Winter Squash
- Sweet potato (can be irritating to some as they’re kind of estrogenic)
What carbs should you avoid?
- Processed breads, crackers, breads, cakes, cookies, etc.
- Anything processed labeled “low-carb”
- Grains (be careful with these)
- Potatoes (be careful with these as well, as they are a nightshade that are inflammatory to many, but not all)
Where should you be careful?
- Overconsumption in general
- Flours, and starches (even gluten free and grain free)
- Processed grain free snacks
It takes time, diligence and practice to make peace with carbs and find your balance. If you have any questions about exactly how much you need, feel free to reach out!