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Understanding the Hashimoto's Diet

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Understanding the Hashimoto's Diet

Best Foods According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Marc Ryan L.AC
Marc Ryan L.AC More by this author
Sep 13, 2018 at 08:00 AM

If you’ve just recently been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, then Hashimoto’s Healing Diet is for you. It could be that by just applying the Elimination phase and incorporating some of the delicious and medicinal foods such as tangerine peel, radishes, or squashes, you put Hashimoto’s into full remission. Commit, and wondrous things will happen.

My grandmother used to say, “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” And I believe that the quickest way for you to achieve long-term, lasting results in getting your Hashimoto’s into remission also happens to run through your stomach and the rest of your digestive tract.

The stomach is also the most common place for problems with people I work with, and it’s the place where autoimmune disease originates and progresses. Therefore, I believe it is also the place where healing and remission can be leveraged and achieved.

I think the most important takeaway I got from this process is that one diet will not work for everyone and often does not even work for one person in the long term. Your body goes through cycles and changes, and you must be able to adapt to those cycles and changes.


 Diet and food choices have played an important role in my own story. As many of you know, I have Hashimoto’s and my daughter also has it, so we have had to heal as a family, and making lifestyle adjustments has been a big part of that healing.

 In the process of discovering my diagnosis for Hashimoto’s and another autoimmune disease (ankylosing spondylitis), I asked a number of doctors whether or not diet had any impact on my health. For the most part, I was looked at like a simpleton and was told that diet didn’t matter.

 In the case of the doctor who diagnosed my Hashimoto’s, I was told that in his experience, “It was easier to get an alcoholic to stop drinking than it was to get people to change their diets.” And besides, diet didn’t do anything for Hashimoto’s.

 In both cases, their only recommendation was that we wait and see and keep an eye on developments.

In other words, we wait until a sufficient amount of tissue was destroyed by my immune system—and only then would we take action.

I didn’t want to wait for my thyroid to be destroyed. 

The reasons why diet matters are pretty logical: first, most of the immune system lives in the gut (by some estimates as much as 70 to 80 percent), and there is an enormous amount of research supporting the idea that dietary proteins cause immune responses.

Autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s are the result of the loss of self-tolerance; our immune system short circuits, and the job it performs naturally (cleaning up old cells and dead tissue) morphs into something more destructive and dangerous.

But the bottom line is that diet is integral to the disease process and is, therefore, the foundation of any successful treatment of autoimmunity.

Food As Medicine

We will explore some of the basics of the thermal nature and flavors of foods, and we’ll look at proper proportions for achieving our treatment goals.

In order to understand how to use diet effectively, we need to start thinking of food not just as something we eat for pleasure and for nutrition, but also as something that we can use to restore balance to the body.

In Chinese medicine both herbs and foods have different temperatures, meaning they are cooling, neutral, or warming in varying degrees.


The idea that different foods have different temperatures is related to the theory of yin and yang. Cold and cooling foods tend to be more yin in nature and hot and warming foods tend to be more yang. Applying these principles to your food choices and meal preparation methods allows you to use food more strategically.

Foods and herbs that are cold or cooling in nature are used to slow metabolic activity and to help relieve excess heat conditions. This can be beneficial, but can also cause problems if applied inappropriately.

Heat in the body is exhibited in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Healthy forms of heat include metabolic vitality (like healthy hormone levels and natural energy) and robust movement of fluids and proteins (like healthy blood and lymph flow, which results in more rapid recovery from injury and illness).

In contrast, pathological heat is found in infections and inflammatory conditions. Examples of this include fevers induced by a viral infection and the red, painful swelling of rheumatoid arthritis.

 Use cold or cooling foods to help restore balance and relieve pathological heat and inflammation. But be cautious in instances of weakness and deficiency because this can exacerbate that weakness.

 For example, raw foods such as salads and juices are great if you have a robust metabolism and tend to run hot. They are also helpful if you are experiencing a lot of inflammation.

 However, if you are really yang deficient and have lots of hypothyroid or adrenal fatigue types of symptoms (i.e., sensitivity to cold, fatigue, lethargy, lack of motivation, sluggish digestion, etc.), they may not be a good choice for you.

 Raw foods also tend to be difficult to digest, so if you already have too little stomach acid or a deficiency of digestive enzymes, they can further tax your system.

 Methods of preparation and cooking like steaming, blanching, and stir-frying can preserve the cooling nature of these foods, and also make food easier to digest and assimilate.


 Hot or warming foods and herbs stimulate yang and boost metabolic activity.

 They help promote circulation, can generate and boost energy, and help warm your body. They also can cause problems if used inappropriately. Warm foods are helpful for deficiency and cold conditions, but too much heat can aggravate heat conditions or excess patterns.

 Use warming foods to create energy, boost fertility, help the body rebuild, and restore metabolic vitality. But be cautious when there is a lot of inflammation or heat in the body.

 Methods of preparation and cooking can also increase the warm properties of food (especially when you cook for prolonged periods of time, like stewing, roasting, and deep-frying).

 A slow-cooked stew with tonifying herbs that boost qi and warm yang can be very beneficial for healing deficient conditions and for those who are experiencing metabolic weakness.

Flavors Are Not Just for Savoring


Bitter flavors are helpful with inflammation, infections, and conditions that are characterized by dampness such as Candida, parasites, excess mucus, cysts, and nodules.


Sweet flavors tend to be yang in nature and are “harmonizing,” which means they assist in building synergy and they make ingredients that are less palatable taste better.

In addition, they have a calming, relaxing effect (sugar releases dopamine in the brain). In moderation, they can actually benefit the digestive system and are generally helpful for healing weakness and deficiency, in general.

Some examples of sweet vegetables are sweet potato, squash, beets, cabbage, celery, and lettuce (the last three are also bitter), mushrooms, eggplant, and cucumber.

Nuts and seeds like almonds, coconut, walnut, and sesame and sunflower seeds are also considered sweet. As are natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, molasses, barley malt, and unrefined cane sugar.


Sour flavors are yin tend to be cooling and yin. They keep fluids in, and generally promote gathering and absorption. Sour herbs are often used in Chinese medicine to prevent the abnormal leakage of fluids like sweat, sperm, and urine, as well as to treat hemorrhaging of blood, and diarrhea.


Salty flavors are also yin, and tend to encourage downward movement. (If you’ve ever had a glass of warm water mixed with Epsom salts, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

Salt is also cooling and moistening. It is used to soften and break up lumps and nodules like inflamed lymph glands and nodules.

It can be helpful for relieving swelling and pain, and is an effective home remedy for sore throats (gargle with salt water), sinus infections (use a neti pot with salt water), and periodontitis (brush your teeth with fine salt).

Let’s apply these to using diet to heal.

The simplest way to do this is to first determine if your challenges are deficient type challenges or excess type challenges. In general, a lot of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroid symptoms are deficient. Hypothyroidism can slow all the body’s metabolic functions, so this is no surprise.

In general, a diet that strengthens the spleen focuses on well-cooked, simple foods with relatively few components in each meal. Things are going to change, and unexpected things are going to happen.

Let Hashimoto’s be the best teacher that ever showed up. Let it be vocal, daring, and enlightening to your path.

About Author
Marc Ryan L.AC
Marc Ryan, L.Ac. is a graduate of Cornell University and a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in the State of California who practices functional medicine. After suffering from his own battle with Hashimoto’s and discovering an alternative appro Continue reading