On the Menu: Treat your thyroid to some home cooking

Many people discover they have thyroid problems after battling expanding waistlines for many years


The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland. It secretes two specific hormones: thyroxine (also called T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which help regulate how your cells and organs work.

The production of the thyroid hormones is controlled by another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland in the brain.

Together, T3 and T4 regulate your body’s metabolism, everything from digesting food, breathing and repairing cells. They control how efficiently your body burns energy and have a direct impact on your weight.

Your thyroid function not only affects your waistline but also how much you sleep. It appears that chronically poor sleep patterns can disrupt other hormones like ghrelin and leptin which have adverse effects on your appetite and satiety. So you may end up nibbling between meals, but fail to feel satisfied, so you nibble some more.

Low levels of thyroid hormones or hypothyroidism can slow down the body and leave you feeling constantly tired, sensitive to the cold, and even depressed. You may notice other symptoms too, such as muscle cramps, dry skin and hair, and poor concentration levels.

A visit to your GP and a simple blood test for TSH, T3 and T4 can reveal an underlying problem. Clinical hypothyroidism is identified by an abnormally high level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and abnormally low levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).

For many, the GP appointment is made after unsuccessful efforts have been made to manage an expanding waistline.

Despite people’s best efforts to increase their activity and restrict their calories, a sluggish metabolism and basal metabolic rate can persist without the appropriate medical treatment.

Good news

The good news is that treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone is usually safe and effective once you and your doctor find the right dose. Bear in mind that treatment doesn’t result in an immediate recovery. It may take months for symptoms to improve and even longer to feel better and lose weight.

While weight gain may be the most common complaint, hypothyroidism can also lead to a higher blood lipid profile, increased blood pressure, and elevated levels of homocysteine and inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. These risk factors collectively raise your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. So stick with it.

Diets that are both too low and too high in iodine are associated with hypothyroidism. Iodine is found in table salt and the guideline intake of 6g per day provides sufficient iodine.

Seaweeds like Dulse, which are naturally high in iodine, may be useful as a snack or in cooked dishes if you have hypothyroidism, but this is beneficial only for people who are deficient in iodine.

The thyroid gland contains more selenium by weight than any other organ. This trace element selenium is necessary for the activation of thyroid hormones. You may benefit from having your levels tested and including healthy selenium-rich foods into your diet, such as Brazil nuts and seafood.

Certain foods known as goitrogens (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones and worsen symptoms. However, this is only a concern if you are iodine deficient, or if you eat vast amounts of these cruciferous vegetables.

Soya is another potential goitrogen. Isoflavones in soya can inhibit an enzyme involved in the production of thyroid hormones. The general advice is that raw goitrogenic and soya foods should be consumed in reasonable portion sizes, and not with thyroid medications.

Medication absorption
Calcium supplements, fibre supplements, coffee and antacids containing aluminium or magnesium can also interfere with the absorption of your thyroid medication, so avoid taking these at the same time.

Managing chronic stress has a positive effect on the thyroid too. Activity, relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation and yoga can positively affect your thyroid and overall general health.

And cooking may be your way of escaping too, especially if you’re not on wash-up.

Butternut squash with provencale vegetables and goats cheese
This is a super little recipe, it has it all. Easy to prepare, looks great and tastes delicious.

Serves 4 as a main course

2 medium size butternut squash
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1 medium courgette, diced
1 medium yellow pepper, diced
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 stem of rosemary finally chopped
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp of olive oil or rapeseed oil
100g goat’s cheese or feta cheese

Steam butternut squash for 40 minutes until soft. In the meantime, make the provencale vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, courgette and peppers and pan fry gently for about 5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

Next, add the chilli and garlic, followed by the rosemary, cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes to your pan and simmer for 6-8 minutes until most of the liquid from the tomatoes has reduced. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

When the butternut squash is cool enough to handle, cut each one in half from top to bottom. Using a spoon, scoop out the seers and fill the cavity with the provencale vegetables. Sprinkle cheese on top, goat or feta, and bake in the oven at 170 for 15 minutes or until warmed through.

Creamy cauliflower, carrot and Brazil nut soup
This is a surprisingly tasty and selenium-rich seasonal soup. Don’t worry about the goitrogen cauliflower. In the suggested serving it isn’t a problem. Adjust the thickness to your liking by adding more or less water.

Serves 4

1 cauliflower head
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
6 cups water
90g Brazil nuts, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 205°C/400°F. Arrange cauliflower into florets. Transfer to large mixing bowl and add olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay cauliflower in a single layer and put it in the oven to roast for 30-35 minutes, until cauliflower is fragrant, tender and has taken a nice golden coloration. Flip the pieces once halfway through cooking.

In a large saucepan, cook the carrot and garlic along with second quantity of salt and pepper over medium high heat, until carrots start to soften, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl or plate and set aside.

Add roasted cauliflower and water to saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add Brazil nuts and puree soup with an immersion blender (you could also use a food processor). Add cooked carrots (reserve a few teaspoons to garnish) and half the chopped rosemary.

Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with reserved carrots, a few chopped Brazil nuts and chopped fresh rosemary.

Paula Mee is a dietitian and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute.

Email pmee@medfit or tweet @paula_mee

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