You’ve probably heard that going low-carb can do great things for your waistline. So it's not shocking that many people flock to the Atkins diet — a weight-loss plan that emphasizes low-carb meals — to slim down. Now, there’s also exciting evidence that it can also do great things for your thyroid. Think of your thyroid as your "metabolism gland," since this part of your endocrine system plays such a crucial role in regulating that important function. Recently, Italian scientists asked folks with sluggish thyroids to cut carbs to get to Atkins diet levels.
What happened? Test subjects shed 5 percent of their body weight in just three weeks. More importantly, they saw a 44 percent drop in renegade compounds in their blood, which trigger and worsen thyroid disease. Meanwhile, a group that was 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,” said Colette Heimowitz, MS, Atkins’ top nutritionist.
Texas mother-daughter duo Valerie and Ashley Pugh back her up. Both struggled on Weight Watchers, so when Ashley’s doctor suggested cutting carbs, the pair started the Atkins diet for hypothyroidism. "I didn’t think we were capable of losing weight as fast as we did,” marvels 27-year-old Ashley, who is now 72 pounds lighter. Valerie, 57, couldn't agree more. “Before, I always hit a wall after 20 pounds. This time, I’ve lost 45!” Sounds like their hypothyroid Atkins diet sure paid off.
Thinking of trying Atkins for thyroid health? Here’s how to find out if the plan is right for you.
Atkins Thyroid Diet: Quick-Start Guide
What you eat: To get as close to the guidelines 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 to 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, Heimowitz adds that “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 on an Atkins thyroid diet 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 it's 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, DC.
Atkins and Thyroid Health: Success Stories
Dr. Ruscio routinely prescribes a reduced-carb approach to protect his patients’ thyroids. Results can be astounding, with losses of up to 45 pounds in 30 days. Talk about some seriously impressive Atkins one-month results! Enna Jones, 42, says Atkins relieved all her slow-thyroid symptoms. “I was finally able to lose 55 pounds!” she says.
Donna Grant-Paige, who has a family history of thyroid issues, adds: “I tried every diet, but none felt right until Atkins. Instead of starving myself, I eat food I love until I’m happy!” The 48-year-old Virginia mom lost 124 pounds in a year.
Remember Atkins dieter Ashley Pugh's weight-loss success on the plan? Interestingly enough, she actually 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. She also had zero hunger. Despite hypothyroidism and PCOS, Ashley says that her "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 her Facebook group! “It’s called The Sugar Riot, 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 percent of total calories, our nutrition team created these menus based on the Atkins diet for women just like you. It allows for 40 grams of “net carbs” a day. What’s a “net carb”? It's 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 four 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. Of course, always get a doctor’s OK before trying any new plan.
Option 1: Two eggs any style, two to three slices of 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 a dash of salt. Stir in 1 egg and 1 tsp. melted coconut oil until well combined. Microwave one 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 to 6 oz. canned tuna or salmon, 1 Tbsp. mayo, 1 tsp. dill relish, and 1 cup cucumber slices. 1 cup raspberries, optional zero-cal sweetener, drizzle heavy cream.
Option 2: 4 to 6 oz. roasted chicken, 1 cup bell pepper slices, 1/2 cup guacamole.
Option 3: 4 to 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, add 1/2 cup green peas.
Option 4: No-Chop Chili: In medium pan, brown 1 lb. ground meat, stirring in 2 to 3 tsp. chili powder. Stir in 1 cup prepared mild salsa. Makes four servings. Garnish each serving with 1/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup chopped green bell peppers, and 2 Tbsp. sour cream.
Option 5: 4 to 6 oz. roast beef, beef au jus, 1 cup mushrooms. Pair with 10 baby carrots roasted with olive oil and herbs, or 2 cups mixed greens with zero-carb dressing of choice.
Option 1: 2 to 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.
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. sugar-free 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.