Thyroid Patients: Is the Paleo Diet for You?

Many thyroid patients struggle to lose weight and reduce inflammatory symptoms of autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. As a result, the Paleo diet has become of particular interest to the thyroid community. The Paleo diet focuses on a diet of the food groups eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors before the agricultural revolution. Let’s take a look at the Paleo diet and whether it might be right for you.

Cooked roast.

What is the Paleo diet?

The emphasis of the Paleo diet is healthy proteins (such as meat, poultry, and seafood), fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, seeds and nuts, and healthy fats. Sugar, dairy, grains, and processed foods are avoided.

The motto of the Paleo diet is that if a caveman didn't eat it, it's not on the diet. Calories are not counted, but portions are tracked.

High protein foods.

What are the characteristics of the Paleo diet?

  • The Paleo diet is around 20-30 percent protein — higher than the typical 15 percent of the Western diet.
  • The Paleo diet is lower in carbohydrates and sugar. Grains are avoided, and the diet's estimated 40-percent carbohydrates are provided by low-glycemic (low-sugar) fruits and vegetables.
  • The Paleo diet is higher in fiber than the typical Western diet.
  • The Paleo diet is higher in fat, but mostly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, instead of unhealthy trans fats.
Woman grocery shopping for produce.

More characteristics of the Paleo diet

  • The Paleo diet is lower in sodium.
  • The Paleo diet helps achieve alkaline/acid balance. The typical Western diet is acidic, which contributes to a variety of diseases.
  • By replacing grains with more fruits and vegetables, the Paleo diet is higher in vitamins, especially vitamins C, A, and B12.
Happy couple looking online.

What are the health benefits of a Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet has a number of health benefits, including:

Fresh eggs.

What should you eat on the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet allows you to eat the following foods:

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fish/seafood
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, avocado, coconut)
Different grains.

What foods should you avoid on the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet prohibits the following foods:

  • cereal grains and gluten
  • legumes, including beans, peas, soybeans, peanuts, peanut butter, and lentils
  • dairy
  • refined sugar
  • potatoes
  • processed foods
  • refined vegetable oils
  • salt and overly salty foods
  • starches and starchy vegetables
  • alcohol
  • candy/junk food
  • fruit juices
  • soft drinks
Paleo foods.

Where can you find Paleo diet food lists?

Some helpful resources for Paleo diet food lists include:

Paleo foods.

What does a basic Paleo-diet meal look like?

A basic Paleo diet meal is as follows:

  • 4 to 8 ounces of lean protein, i.e., poultry, lean pork, lean beef, bison, lamb, chicken, seafood, or eggs
  • Several servings of vegetables — raw, steamed, or cooked
  • Some good fat, such as avocado, oils, or a handful of unsalted nuts

Fruit is typically limited to 1 to 2 servings per day maximum of lower-glycemic fruits such as berries or melon.

Couple making online recipe.

Where can you find Paleo diet recipes?

Some helpful resources for Paleo diet recipes include:

Autoimmune disease and medications.

Can the Paleo diet help autoimmune diseases?

Some experts believe that a variation of the Paleo diet — called the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) — can help with autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Eliminating “Neolithic” foods such as dairy and grains can reduce inflammation — a hallmark of autoimmune disease — and help resolve symptoms.

In a popular TED talk, Terry Wahls, M.D., explained how she reversed her multiple sclerosis — an autoimmune disease — with a Paleo diet.

Woman with word no written on hand.

What foods should you avoid on the AIP Paleo diet?

Many experts recommend that if you are following the autoimmune protocol variation of the Paleo diet, you should also limit the following foods that are known to be inflammatory for autoimmune patients:

  • eggs
  • nightshades, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers
  • curries, paprika, and chili powder
  • nuts and seeds
Checking blood sugar.

Is the Paleo diet safe for diabetics or people with insulin resistance?

We asked HealthCentral contributor Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. — a registered dietitian and certified specialist in adult weight management — whether the Paleo diet is safe for people with type 1 or 2 diabetes or insulin resistance. She says, “Definitely, since it restricts simple carbohydrates and contains complex carbohydrate sources like vegetables and nuts. Maintaining consistent carbohydrate intake can also help to balance glucose (blood sugar) levels.”

Woman reading book with cat on her lap.

How do you get started on the Paleo diet?

A good starting point is this Guide to Getting Started with the Paleo Diet, from The Paleo Diet site.

Also, Carmen has some good advice: “If this is a radical change, I would start gradually. For example, start by eliminating processed foods, then cut out simple carbohydrates, then dairy products, etc.”

Using a tablet to get information.

Where to learn more about the Paleo diet?

To learn more about the Paleo diet, here are some recommended resources:

Mary Shomon
Meet Our Writer
Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author who empowers readers with information on thyroid and autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight loss and hormonal health from an integrative perspective. Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered hormonal healthcare. Mary also co-stars in PBS’ Healthy Hormones TV series. Mary also serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board.