Having your thyroid removed, a procedure known as a thyroidectomy, can lead to significant changes in your metabolism and hormone levels. This means you may need to alter your diet to avoid certain foods that could exacerbate symptoms or interact with medications you’re taking. Knowing which foods to limit or avoid altogether can help ease your transition and allow you to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet after thyroid removal.
Why does diet matter after a thyroidectomy?
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate your metabolism. When your thyroid is removed, your body can no longer produce these hormones on its own. As a result, you will need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication to make up for what your body is missing. The dose of replacement thyroid hormone must be properly balanced – too much, and you could develop symptoms of hyperthyroidism like rapid heartbeat, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and unintended weight loss. Too little, and you may experience hypothyroidism, which can cause fatigue, cold sensitivity, weight gain, and constipation.
Your diet can directly impact how your medication is absorbed and utilized. Certain nutrients can interfere with thyroid hormone replacement, making it difficult to maintain optimal levels. Food intolerances may be exacerbated when hormone levels fluctuate as well. Paying attention to how different foods affect you can help you avoid triggers and get your replacement dose just right.
Foods to avoid or limit after thyroidectomy
Here are some key foods to watch out for after having your thyroid removed:
Foods that may interfere with thyroid medication
- Soy foods like tofu, edamame, and soy milk
- Calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, and fortified cereals
- Iron supplements
- Fiber supplements
- Foods containing isoflavones like soy, peanuts, and lentils
These foods can prevent your body from properly absorbing replacement thyroid hormone if consumed too close to the time you take your medication. Talk to your doctor about how long you should wait between eating these foods and taking your thyroid pill.
Goitrogens are compounds that can interfere with thyroid function by inhibiting the uptake of iodine, which is needed to produce thyroid hormones. Foods high in goitrogens include:
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
- Sweet potatoes
While most people don’t need to completely eliminate goitrogenic foods, you may want to limit intake of very high sources if you have trouble optimizing your thyroid hormone levels. Cooking can help deactivate goitrogens, so consume cooked vs. raw forms of goitrogenic vegetables where possible.
Some individuals develop a sensitivity to gluten after thyroid removal. Signs may include bloating, abdominal discomfort, fatigue, headache, and brain fog after eating gluten-containing grains. Because hypothyroidism can also cause digestive issues, new gluten sensitivities are not uncommon but may go unrecognized at first. If you experience ongoing digestive symptoms or feel unwell after eating bread, pasta, cereals, and other gluten-rich foods, try eliminating gluten for 2-4 weeks to see if symptoms improve.
Hypothyroidism can already predispose you to weight gain, fatigue, and mood changes. Consuming excess added sugars from things like sweets, sodas, syrups, and processed snacks and desserts can exacerbate these issues. As you re-learn your body’s signals after thyroid removal, minimizing added sugars helps prevent energy crashes, sugar cravings, and unwanted weight gain. Focus on getting sugar from natural sources like fruits instead.
Processed vegetable oils
Vegetable oils like soybean, corn, cottonseed, and canola oil are polyunsaturated fats that have been linked to inflammation, particularly when used in processed forms like margarine or shortening. Inflammation may worsen thyroid dysfunction symptoms. Cooking with naturally stable saturated fats like olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil may be a healthier choice after a thyroidectomy.
Alcohol can disrupt thyroid function in several ways. First, it may damage thyroid tissue, potentially exacerbating underlying thyroid conditions. Second, alcohol can negatively interact with thyroid medications. It’s best to avoid alcohol altogether when first regulating your thyroid hormone doses and learn how it affects you before incorporating it back into your diet in moderation.
Foods to enjoy
While you’ll want to be mindful of the foods listed above, focusing only on restriction can become frustrating and unhealthy. Be sure to emphasize foods that provide valuable nutrition and make you feel your best. Here are some nourishing foods to include in your post-thyroidectomy diet:
Choose lean, unprocessed proteins like:
- Fish like salmon and tuna
- Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans
- Seeds like chia, hemp, and flax
- Dairy like Greek yogurt and cheese if tolerated
Protein provides steady energy, helps keep you feeling full, and supports healthy muscle and bone mass – all important when managing hypothyroid symptoms.
Fruits and non-goitrogenic vegetables
Fruits and vegetables give you vital antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Enjoy a diverse range, especially:
- All types of leafy greens except spinach
- Cruciferous vegetables cooked instead of raw
- Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips
- Onions and garlic
- Citrus fruits
- Tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, bananas
- Apples and pears
Choose properly prepared whole grains like:
- Brown rice
Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting makes grains and legumes easier to digest. If sensitive to gluten, stick to certified gluten-free options.
Incorporate fats like:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon
These provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E for hormone balance. Steer clear of processed vegetable and seed oils.
Herbs, spices, and supplements
Some herbs, spices, and supplements can support thyroid function, including:
- Selenium – Brazil nuts, fish, eggs, meat
- Zinc – Oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds
Discuss supplementing with your healthcare provider, as optimal types and doses will vary based on your needs.
Sample meal plan
Here is a sample one day meal plan incorporating the best foods to eat after a thyroidectomy:
- Overnight oats with chia seeds, walnuts, and blueberries
- Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and avocado
- Green tea
- Quinoa salad with chickpeas, bell peppers, onion, olive oil, and lemon juice
- Carrot sticks
- Pear slices
- Curried chicken with cauliflower rice
- Steamed broccoli
- Hard boiled egg
- Nuts like almonds or walnuts
- Apple slices with almond butter
Lifestyle and diet tips
Beyond your food choices, other diet and lifestyle factors play a key role in managing hypothyroidism after surgery:
- Stay hydrated – Shoot for at least eight 8-oz glasses of water daily to avoid constipation and support metabolism.
- Manage stress – High stress can exacerbate imbalances from thyroid dysfunction. Make time for relaxation through yoga, meditation, massage, or other activities you enjoy.
- Supplement wisely – Selenium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D, and omega-3s may help, but check with your doctor first.
- Exercise regularly – Regular physical activity supports healthy body composition, energy levels, and cardiovascular health.
- Get enough sleep – Aim for 7-8 hours per night to allow your body to rest and repair.
- Quit smoking – Smoking worsens thyroid problems. Talk to your doctor about resources to help you quit.
Making dietary changes after thyroid removal requires patience as you re-learn your body’s needs. Keeping a food journal can help you identify triggers so you can customize your diet accordingly. Work closely with your healthcare team to ensure your replacement hormone dose is properly adjusted alongside any dietary shifts.
- Avoid soy, calcium-rich foods, iron supplements, fiber supplements, alcohol, and goitrogenic foods around the time you take your thyroid medication.
- Minimize added sugar intake to prevent fatigue, mood issues, and weight gain.
- Emphasize hormone-supporting foods like proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and anti-inflammatory fats.
- Consider reducing or eliminating gluten if you experience bloating, pain, or fatigue after eating it.
- Stay hydrated, manage stress, exercise, get enough sleep, and quit smoking to support overall wellbeing.
- Work closely with your healthcare team to find the right diet and lifestyle plan for your unique needs.
Adjusting your eating habits after a thyroidectomy is an important part of feeling your best and managing symptoms. Pay attention to how different foods impact your energy, digestion, weight, and other factors so you can limit triggers and emphasize nourishing choices. While dietary needs vary by the individual, focusing on whole foods like proteins, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and gluten-free grains is a great starting point. Pair this with lifestyle factors like staying active, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep, and you’ll be well on your way to thriving after thyroid removal.