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Your Guide to Thyroid Disease

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Best and Worst Foods for Thyroid Eye Disease

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Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an autoimmune condition also known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy or Graves’ eye disease. It occurs when the immune system triggers an overproduction of thyroid hormone, and those same autoantibodies lead to damage of healthy tissue around the eyes. Common symptoms are eye swelling, bulging, and dryness. While there is no one definitive thyroid eye disease diet, certain foods have been shown to make symptoms better or worse.     

Foods That May Help

Fruits, vegetables, and nuts that contain antioxidants can strengthen the immune system and potentially improve TED symptoms. Consider working more of them into your meals and snacks, including:

  • Berries (blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Walnuts and pecans

Foods That May Hurt

Think about your salt intake. Salt makes fluid retention and swelling worse, so cutting back can have the opposite effect. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer these tips to reduce sodium in your diet:

  • Substitute garlic and other seasonings for salt when you cook
  • Buy canned and frozen foods with no salt added
  • Look for foods with labels that say reduced sodium and low sodium
  • Avoid prepared meals with more than 600 milligrams of sodium

Keep an eye on iodine, too. While everyone needs to get some iodine through foods like fish or dairy to produce thyroid hormone, those who have an overactive thyroid are likely getting enough. Adding more iodine through high-iodine foods like seafood, kelp, and sushi can backfire.

It’s generally a good idea to avoid fried foods and foods with added sugar. They don’t have the nutritional value you need to strengthen your immune system. Try whole grain breads and pastas in place of white. Bake or broil instead of frying. Experiment with better-for-you butter trades like olive oil, canola oil spray, or margarine.

Some people with TED benefit from adopting a low-carbohydrate, gluten-free diet heavy in fruits and vegetables. The connection isn’t entirely clear, but roughly half of those who have TED also have celiac disease, a severe sensitivity to gluten. Common foods that contain gluten include:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt

To find out if you have celiac disease, your doctor can do a simple blood test. If you think you have celiac disease, don’t quit gluten until after your blood test. It’ll need to be in your blood for accurate results.

If you smoke, quitting can also make a difference. People with TED who smoke tend to have more severe symptoms more often. Ask your doctor to help you develop a quit strategy.

Your doctor may also be able to add a nutritionist or registered dietitian to your healthcare team to provide guidance on healthy food choices and create menus that suit your taste and leave you satisfied, with your symptoms eased.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 12
View All Your Guide to Thyroid Disease Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2111403/
  2. Thyroid Eye Disease (TED or Graves Eye Disease). Kellogg Eye Center University of Michigan Health. https://www.umkelloggeye.org/conditions-treatments/thyroid-eye-disease
  3. Thyroid Eye Disease ̶ What to Expect. Kellogg Eye Center University of Michigan Health. https://www.umkelloggeye.org/conditions-treatments/thyroid-eye-disease-what-expect
  4. How to Reduce Sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/reduce_sodium_tips.htm
  5. Graves’ disease and nutrition recommendations. Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/graves_disease_and_nutrition_recommendations
  6. Antioxidants. Mayo Clinic. Thyroid and diet factsheet. British Thyroid Foundation. https://www.btf-thyroid.org/thyroid-and-diet-factsheet
  7. Iodine. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-Consumer/
  8. Alternative to surgery for Graves' eye disease: Low-carb, gluten-free diet may help. Loyola University Health System. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140709151533.htm
  9. Sources of Gluten. Celiac Disease Foundation. https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/what-is-gluten/sources-of-gluten/