My guest blogger for December is author Jill Grunewald. Jill is an Integrative Nutrition and Hormone Coach who specializes in thyroid health. I’ve known Jill for a number of years, and have always been impressed with her work, especially in regards to the importance of nutrition for the immune system and treating thyroid illnesses.
When Jill told me about her new cookbook: The Essential Thyroid Cookbook, I was thrilled, as I know a number of clients and friends out there who are dealing with thyroid issues or know someone who is looking for solutions.
Here are the questions I put out to Jill for her insight:
There seems to be an epidemic rise in thyroid diseases. Is this true, and if so, why?
Yes, there really is an epidemic, unfortunately. The reasons are multi-factorial, and for many, there are a few of these factors at play, creating “the perfect storm” and setting the stage for thyroid dysfunction.
Some of the primary causes are unrelenting stress and the subsequent adrenal hormone imbalances; genetic propensity (although this plays a less significant role than many people are lead to believe); pregnancy and delivery; systemic inflammation; a virus (such as Epstein Barr); exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, plastics, and the chemicals in skin care and cosmetics products (a biggie for women—and largely the reason why we see so many more hormonal and immune imbalances in the female population); and nutritional deficiencies.
But just because thyroid disease is epidemic doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily difficult to manage or reverse. Contrary to what many in the conventional medicine community will tell you, it’s possible to support thyroid function—often without thyroid hormone replacement (for real!)—with some straightforward nutritional, supplemental, and lifestyle strategies.
What is Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s is the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism or low thyroid function. It’s the the most common autoimmune disorder in the U.S. and studies show that at least 90 percent (some experts claim 97 percent) of those with low thyroid function have Hashimoto’s, which means that they have autoimmune antibodies that are attacking their thyroid gland. I dislike using alarmist words like “attack,” but this is essentially what’s going on, to varying degrees.
(Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, is much less common, although Graves’ disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism) is on the rise.)
Non-autoimmune hypothyroidism is often an iodine deficiency or a result of excessive bromine exposure. Or both. Bromine is nasty stuff—it’s a toxic halogen found in brominated fire retardants (found in some carpet padding, mattresses and electronics), pesticides and insecticides, soft drinks (especially Mountain Dew—just say no to the neon drink!) and baked goods.
If you suspect a thyroid condition—even if you’ve been tested but told, “Hey Lady, you’re fine; here, take this laxative”—it’s imperative to get a full thyroid panel that includes antibody testing: thyroperoxidase (TPOAb) and thyroglobulin (TgAb).
How does Hashimoto’s affect the body? What are some of the symptoms?
When you consider that every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormones and that the thyroid turns on the genes that keep cells doing their job, it’s easy to understand how the symptoms can run the gamut. This is why Hashimoto’s sufferers often end up, by no fault of their own, being “symptom chasers.”
Common symptoms include:
- · Constipation (hence the laxative comment above)
- · Weight gain/weight loss resistance
- · Fatigue
- · Depression
- · Hair loss, including outer third of eyebrows
- · Dry skin
- · Dry, wiry hair (“thyroid hair”)
- · Difficulty thermo-regulating (feeling cold)
- · Brain fog
- · Poor reflexes
Lesser known (but no less annoying) symptoms include:
- · Pronounced morning fatigue
- · Digestive issues
- · Irregular menstrual cycles
- · Edema/fluid retention (mostly around eyes/face)
- · Frequent infections
- · Other hormonal imbalances (primarily adrenal and reproductive)
- · Low libido
- · Being stiff and achy upon waking
- · Dry mouth
- · Gravely voice
- · Anxiety
- · Premature greying
- · Infertility, including miscarriages
- · Severe PMS
- · Headaches
- · High cholesterol
What made you decide to write this cookbook?
It was Lisa, my co-author’s idea. On November 12 of 2012 (to be exact), I wrapped up one of my 4-part Fire Your Thyroid online group class series. Lisa had taken part in those classes and less than five minutes after that final session, she emailed to say, “When you’re ready to translate your nutrition recommendations to the plate, let me know.” (Exact words.)
I slapped my forehead and immediately responded to say, “Let’s do it.”
Lisa is a master recipe writer/developer. She’s brilliant. I’d eaten her food on many occasions and it’s always simple yet mouthwatering—truly restaurant quality without the difficulty or complexity. And that’s some of the best feedback we’ve gotten about the cookbook—that people who aren’t “cooks” or who don’t necessarily love being in the kitchen have “fallen in love” with their kitchens again.
How is nutrition helpful to treating thyroid and Hashimoto’s?
Oh, let me count the ways!
This is all outlined in detail in the educational component of the cookbook (for the people who really want to geek out with us), but focusing on whole foods should always be the initial step in managing hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. These foods are minimally processed and contain naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that our bodies need for optimal health.
And again, because every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone, it’s easy to understand how a nutrient-deficient diet can interrupt this cellular communication.
So, in preparation for our choices of foods and ingredients for our recipes, Lisa and I created a nutritional “springboard” that’s the foundation of this cookbook. We spent weeks weeding wide-eyed through the subjective nature of nutrition and sleuthing out the most supportive nutrients for the thyroid and immune system and then researching the foods that are dense sources of these nutrients – not simply moderate or mediocre sources, but concentrated sources.
You can find a pretty version of our findings here.
In other words, we did the necessary foundational work to prevent this cookbook from being “just another cookbook.” Our readers can rest assured that the foods we’ve chosen to highlight are an excellent bang for your buck—each one possesses a broad and substantive thyroid- and immune-supportive spectrum.
And for those who don't have our cookbook, use our nutrition chart! Get a variety of these foods regularly, and you’ll be feeding your thyroid and immune system well.
How did you and Lisa Markley, your co-author, come up with the recipes?
Lisa took the nutritional springboard and did her magic. That’s really the best way I can explain it.
But also, we created a nerdy ranking system where each ingredient in our chart had to possess four thyroid- and immune-supportive nutrients to “make the cut” and each recipe or recipe combination (e.g. side + main dish) had to contain at least five of these ingredients. That’s not to say that every single recipe is comprised only of these ingredients—but these are the foods that laid the foundation for the recipes.
What are some foods that are most helpful to thyroid nutritional support?
It’s all outlined in our chart, food group by food group, but I really need to give dark leafy greens a shout-out. These nutritional powerhouses are so thyroid- and immune-supportive, they got their own category, separate from “other vegetables.” If you can get these superstars in your diet daily, it’s a significant step in supporting your thyroid.
There are so many nutrients that are thyroid-supportive, but I also want to highlight the mineral, selenium. I call it “the thyroid triple play” because it supports healthy thyroid hormone metabolism, helps the body convert T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) into T3 (the active form), and helps to reduce Hashimoto’s antibodies.
Selenium-rich foods include: tuna, shrimp, sardines, salmon, cod, scallops, turkey, chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, mushrooms (crimini and shiitake), and asparagus.
Besides nutrition, what are some of the most helpful things people can do in treating their thyroid issues?
One of the single best things I can recommend is to go clean and green with your skin care and cosmetics products. This is a huge deal. We have thousands of pores all over the body that absorb everything we slap on it—makeup, lotion, fragrance, shampoo, etc.
Whatever goes on the skin goes straight to the bloodstream. If these products are riddled with chemicals and toxins, it not only disrupts our hormonal harmony (the thyroid is a particularly sensitive gland), but also ups the ante on autoimmunity—the immune system goes, “WTF? What is this? This isn’t supposed to be here.”
Support liver function—this is where much of our thyroid hormone conversion takes place. Drinking warm lemon water every morning is a great place to start.
Eat organic as often as your pocketbook will allow.
This is easier said than done, but find a way to chill out. Chronic stress is a big problem for our society in general and our adrenal glands that produce our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) affect thyroid function. I call the thyroid and adrenals Frick and Frack—they each play a significant role in how the other works, for better or worse.
(I wrote a substantive Essential Thyroid Cookbook Companion Guide, where I cover several topics not fitting for a cookbook. It goes into a lot more detail about the topics above. It’s a free download for those who own the book.)
Could this book also be helpful to someone without thyroid problems? The recipes look delicious!
Absolutely. And this is a common question we’ve been getting—“I don’t yet have a thyroid issue, but will this cookbook be helpful in prevention?” While we would never say, “Yes! Cook these recipes and you’ll never get Hashimoto’s,” simply getting thyroid- and immune-supportive nutrition on a regular basis will go a really long way in supporting the body.
Also, when you consider that the nutrients we’ve outlined have so many other benefits, it really isn’t just a “thyroid cookbook.”
The other common question has been, “I have another type of autoimmunity—will this cookbook help me?” Yes—by way of all of the immune-supportive nutrition. The recipes won’t “cure” autoimmunity, but they will undoubtedly enhance the immune system.
Some of the other heartwarming feedback we’ve gotten is that everyone in the family is enjoying these simple, delicious dishes. Every time someone says, “My kids asked me to make fill-in-the-blank recipe again,” Lisa and I smile from ear to ear.