12 foods to eat for a healthy thyroid, and 3 to cut out

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The thyroid may be a small gland in the human body, but it plays a big role in regulating our health. The butterfly-shaped gland - located just below the Adam's apple at the base of the neck - is responsible for producing hormones that keep important organs, like the heart, running smoothly, burning calories and helping us stay warm.

However, according to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. More than 12% of people in the U.S. will develop a thyroid condition, and around 60% are oblivious of their condition. Women are five times more likely than men to develop a thyroid problem, and pregnant women who have undiagnosed or untreated conditions face higher health risks.

If you have or suspect that you might have a thyroid problem, don't keep it a secret from your doctor. But if you want to make lifestyle changes that will benefit you and your health, clean out your fridge and invest in foods that will leave you feeling fit and full.

Although there isn't a specific diet plan that you should follow if you have a thyroid condition, modifying your diet to include, or eliminate, certain foods can improve your overall health.

Here are the healthiest and unhealthiest foods to either increase or decrease in your diet for a healthy thyroid.

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Increase: Beef

According to a 2013 study completed by the International Journal of Trichology, a lack of zinc - a nutrient pivotal to the body's immune system - in your diet can be associated with hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough hormones to keep the body running. Zinc is necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and thyroid hormones are essential for the absorption of zinc. Men 19 years of age and older should consume a recommended 11 milligrams of zinc a day, and women of the same age group should consume eight milligrams a day. A three-ounce beef patty contains about 5.3 milligrams, making it the perfect addition to a healthy thyroid diet. Increase your beef intake with a next-level healthy burger.

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Increase: Chicken

In addition to being a great source of protein, chicken also contains zinc. Three ounces of cooked chicken contain about 2.4 milligrams of zinc, and half of a roasted, skinless chicken breast has 0.9 milligrams of zinc. Bonus: if you have leftover chicken in the fridge, there are plenty of ways you can use it to create delicious, healthy meals.

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Increase: Eggs

According to the American Thyroid Association, one of the most important elements needed to assist in the production of thyroid hormones is iodine. Your body can't produce iodine on its own, and if you have an iodine deficiency, you can no longer make the thyroid hormone, putting you at a higher risk of developing an enlarged thyroid or hypothyroidism. Men and women 19 years of age and older should consume a recommended 150 micrograms of iodine a day. Two cooked large cooked eggs can contain up to 48 micrograms, more than 30% of the suggested daily intake.  If adding eggs to your diet sounds boring, try adding a few fun ingredients to spice up the dish.

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Increase: Yogurt

Yogurt is another food that is rich in both iodine and zinc. Eating yogurt might also lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Avoid adding an abundance of sweet toppings, like candy or chocolate chips, to keep your diet in check.

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Increase: Dark chocolate

There are plenty of reasons why you should be eating dark chocolate every day. It's a mood booster, it's good for your heart and, shocker, it can even help lower your risk of diabetes. But did you know that it's also a superfood with nutritious value? One square of dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, copper and zinc.

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Increase: Cod

Cod is another great source of iodine. Just make sure to bake it, not fry it. Three ounces of baked cod has approximately 99 micrograms of iodine - more than 50% of the National Institute of Health's recommended intake.

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Increase: Seaweed

Seaweed is a newly popular superfood that can be incorporated in dishes other than your favorite sushi roll. The leafy snack is low in calories, packed with protein and one of the best sources of iodine. However, the amount of iodine can vary greatly. A sheet of seaweed contains between 16 to 2,984 micrograms of iodine.

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Increase: Canned tuna

According to a study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, evidence has indicated that an increase in vitamin D in your diet could reduce the occurrence of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid. Canned tuna is full of vitamin D. It also contains 17 micrograms of iodine, another beneficial nutrient.

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Increase: Unsalted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds have a double health punch. In addition to being essential for a healthy thyroid diet, they are also good for your heart. According to the American Heart Association, pumpkin seeds, especially those taken straight from the pumpkin, are a great addition to your diet. The seeds are also packed with nutrients like magnesium, which aids in bone and heart health. Adding an ounce of dried pumpkin seeds to your diet is a great way to increase your daily zinc consumption.

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Increase: Brazil nuts

Studies have proven that the consumption of selenium is necessary for the thyroid gland to function. Brazil nuts, along with being one of the healthiest nuts, are loaded with selenium. One Brazil nut contains between 68-91 micrograms of the nutrient. Just don't go overboard when snacking: Too much selenium has dangerous health risks. The daily recommended amount for adults age 19 and older is 55 micrograms.

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Increase: Whole grain

A diet that includes whole grains can help lower your blood pressure, improve your gut health, and lead to a healthy thyroid. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, whole grains are a good source of zinc and part of a balanced, nutritious diet.

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Increase: Beans

Beans are a healthy source of protein that should be incorporated into every balanced diet. They are also a great source of daily zinc and iodine. Half a cup of baked beans contains 2.9 milligrams of zinc. With so many options to choose from, you'll never get tired of incorporating beans into your meal.

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Cut out: Brussels sprouts

Yes, it is possible to eat too many vegetables. And if you are struggling with hypothyroidism, there are a few vegetables to avoid. A high intake of raw foods that fall in the Cruciferous category, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, has been proven to have a negative effect on your thyroid and could cause hypothyroidism.

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Cut out: Soy

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with thyroid conditions can consume soy and products with soy in moderation, but it should be consumed up to four hours after taking thyroid medication. The plant-based phytoestrogen found in soy can interfere with your body's ability to absorb the thyroid hormone.

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Cut out: Walnuts

Walnuts contain biotin, a B-vitamin that converts the fat, carbohydrates and proteins in your body into energy. While biotin doesn't interfere with thyroid hormone measurements, if foods that contain the vitamin are taken at the same time as thyroid hormone replacement medications, they can interfere with absorption. Eliminate walnuts from your diet if you don't want it to mess with your medication. And if the nut is one of your favorite snacks, wait a few hours after taking your medication before indulging. If you need a healthy snack to swap out for walnuts, try one of these foods best for weight loss.

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