You’ve probably heard that going low-carb can do great things for your waistline. Now there’s exciting evidence it can also do great things for your thyroid. Recently, Italian scientists asked folks with sluggish thyroids to cut carbs to Atkins Diet levels.
What happened? Test subjects shed 5 percent of their body weight in just three weeks and — more importantly — saw a 44 percent drop in renegade compounds in their blood that trigger and worsen thyroid disease. Meanwhile, a group asked to cut calories instead of carbs saw thyroid-harming compounds spike. The bottom line: “Atkins helps keep your thyroid healthy — and the healthier your thyroid, the more easily you lose weight and keep it off,” reveals Colette Heimowitz, M.S., Atkins’ top nutritionist.
Texas mother-daughter duo Valerie and Ashley Pugh back her up. Both have hypothyroidism and struggled on Weight Watchers. Ashley’s doctor suggested cutting carbs, so the pair started Atkins. “I didn’t think we were capable of losing weight as fast as we did,” marvels 72-pounds-slimmer Ashley, 27. Adds her mom, 57: “Before, I always hit a wall after 20 pounds. This time, I’ve lost 45!”
Can Atkins help you and your thyroid? Here’s how to find out.
Atkins Thyroid Diet Quick-Start Guide
What you eat: To get closest to guidelines used in the Italian study, follow the Atkins 40 plan, which allows for 40 grams of carbs a day. As a general rule, each main meal should include 4 oz.-6 oz. of protein, a serving of fat and up to 10 grams of carbs. That leaves 10 grams of carbs for snacks. You’ll find a free carb tracker on Atkins.com that makes staying under your carb limit a cinch. For optimal health, adds Heimowitz, “at least 15 carb grams should come from vegetables.”
How cutting carbs slims: Scientists have long known that the body converts carbs into blood sugar and then uses that sugar as its go-to fuel. Trouble is, when we eat carbs in excess — which is easy to do these days — it causes us to overproduce insulin, a hormone that promotes rapid fat storage, explains Heimowitz. Restricting carbs Atkins-style forces the body to stop burning blood sugar “and start burning fat as its main fuel.” Bonus: Burning fat as your main fuel releases natural compounds called ketones that dramatically reduce hunger.
How cutting carbs revs thyroids: According to University of Michigan research, cutting calories to lose weight can send us into a thyroid-suppressing “starvation mode.” Luckily, on Atkins you’re not cutting calories — so you don’t stress your thyroid. Also key: The Italian team found that cutting carbs reduces autoimmune attacks on our thyroids. An autoimmune attack is when our bodies make antibodies that damage our own thyroids — and is the most common cause of thyroid disease. University of Maryland findings suggest that proteins in grains may trigger the antibodies to form; since we reduce grain intake when we reduce carbs, this “helps stop the problem,” says autoimmunity expert Michael Ruscio, D.C.
Atkins Diet and Thyroid: Success Stories
Real-world wow: Dr. Ruscio routinely prescribes a reduced-carb approach to protect his patients’ thyroids. Results can be impressive — with losses of up to 45 pounds in 30 days. Meanwhile, Enna Jones, 42, says Atkins relieved all her slow-thyroid symptoms. “I was finally able to lose 55 pounds!” Adds Donna Grant-Paige, who has a family history of thyroid issues: “I tried every diet, but none felt right until Atkins. Instead of starving myself, I eat food I love until I’m happy!” The Virginia mom, 48, lost 124 pounds in a year.
Ashley lost 72 lbs! After reading about Aktins on the Internet, Ashley Pugh opted to use a less restrictive version of the diet, allowing herself up to 40 grams of carbs a day. “I planned to drop my carbs when my weight loss slowed — but it never did!” says the Texas bridal gown designer, 27. She also had zero hunger. And, despite hypothyroidism and PCOS, “My energy went way up. If it worked so well for me, I think it can help anyone. I just wish someone had told me about it sooner.” Ashley’s best tip: Join my Facebook group! “It’s called [The Sugar Riot]https://www.facebook.com/groups/1650516518577231/), and I show what I eat and share fun recipes from the Internet.”
Thyroid-Revving Atkins Menu
Inspired by Italian research that found that thyroids benefit when we cut carbs to about 10% of total calories, our nutrition team created these Atkins 40 menus for you to try. It allows for 40 grams of “net carbs” a day. What’s a “net carb”? The total grams of carbs listed on a food label minus any grams of fiber listed. Turns out, fiber is a type of carb the body can’t break down, so it doesn’t count. An avocado, for example, has 17 grams of carbs, 13 grams of fiber and 4 net carbs. While using this plan, drink plenty of water. Add other ultra-low-carb beverages and extras (coffee, tea, vinegar, spices, zero-cal sweetener) as desired. Always get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Option 1: 2 eggs, any style 2-3 slices bacon. Muffin in a Minute: In coffee mug, stir 1/4 cup almond meal, 1 tsp. zero-cal sweetener, 1/4 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and dash salt. Stir in 1 egg and 1 tsp. melted coconut oil until well combined. Microwave 1 minute.
Option 2: 2 oz. ham Almond Raspberry Smoothie: In blender, blitz 4 oz. plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup raspberries, 20 almonds and 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
Lunch and Dinner
Option 1: 4 oz.-6 oz. canned tuna or salmon, 1 Tbsp. mayo and 1 tsp. dill relish, 1 cup cucumber slices, 1 cup raspberries, optional zero-cal sweetener, drizzle heavy cream Option 2: 4 oz.-6 oz. roasted chicken, 1 cup bell pepper slices, 1/2 cup guacamole
Option 3: 4 oz.-6 oz. boiled crab or shrimp with melted butter. Seafood Shack “Rice”: Thaw 1 cup cauliflower rice and pat dry with paper towels; sauté with butter or olive oil and pinch Old Bay seasoning 1/2 cup green peas
Option 4: No-Chop Chili: In medium pan, brown 1 lb. ground meat, stirring in 2-3 tsp. chili powder. Stir in 1 cup prepared mild salsa. Makes four servings. Garnish each with 1/3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper and 2 Tbsp. sour cream
Option 5: 4-6 oz. roast beef, beef au jus 1 cup mushrooms and 10 baby carrots roasted with olive oil and herbs 2 cups mixed greens, zero-carb dressing of choice
Option 1: 2-3 oz. beef jerky or leftover protein
Option 2: 2 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds or 25 almonds
Option 3: 4 Salted Caramel Cheesecake Bites, recipe below
Option 4: Low-carb cocktail, such as vodka and soda with lime
Make Your Own Menus
While using the Atkins 40 plan, each main meal should include roughly 4 oz.-6 oz. of protein, one serving of fat and up to 10 grams of net carbs. Snack on a bit more protein and fat plus another 10 grams net carbs. For best results, about 15 grams of the carbs you eat each day should come from veggies; get the rest from nuts, fruit or whole grains. Check out Atkins.com for a free carb-tracking tool and great recipe ideas.
Atkins Recipe: Salted Caramel Cheesecake Bites
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup plain protein powder
2 Tbsp. stevia
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1 Tbsp. sugarfree caramel syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. xanthan gum (optional)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
In large bowl, whisk cream, protein powder and stevia until smooth. Add cream cheese, nuts, syrup and vanilla; blend until smooth. Sprinkle with xanthan gum and mix again for 30 seconds. Spoon the mixture into a lined mini-muffin pan or a silicone candy mold. Sprinkle with salt and freeze at least one hour.
Makes 18 bites. Store in freezer up to 1 month.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.