In Defense of Carb-Heavy Fruits and Vegetables: Thyroid Heart Health

I’ve been (unsurprisingly) thinking a lot these days about health. Pandemic aside, my thyroid meds have needed to be adjusted again (hurray for Hashimotos!) — and as I’ve been learning more about my manageable-but-irritating-permanent companion, it’s led me to question more in-depth some of the passive beliefs that have been hammered into my skull over the last decade (FAT BAD! SUGAR BAD! DON’T EAT THAT POTATO OR BANANA OR OATMEAL!)

coffee drinks

Someone once looked me in the eye, sipped from their second enormous chocolate mocha of the day, and told me in all seriousness that the banana I was putting into my fruit-and-greens smoothie was not good for me because, and I quote, “bananas have too much sugar.”

True story.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.20.45 AM
“One of these things is not like the otherrrrrr….”

Diet culture has been my constant companion since even before I was born; my mother was morbidly obese my entire life (and died at age 66 from related complications). While pregnant with me, according to my father, she carefully ate a special diet to prevent her from gaining any additional weight.

So, it’s no surprise that I’ve seen every diet fad come and go since before I was in diapers.

Despite that, I have a relatively good relationship with food–I even luckily recognized it when I briefly started avoiding heart-healthy avocados and anti-oxidant-rich berries because they would break my “Team Beach Body!” diet.

Real talk, if a diet you’re trying tells you to avoid eating “too many” fruits and vegetables, it is likely waaaaaay too restrictive to be healthy.

That said, back in February before the world imploded with a full-on pandemic, I had a full physical, including detailed bloodwork with all kinds of fancy-pants numbers and metrics. After all, I’m in my thirties and throwing my legs into stirrups every few years wasn’t going to ensure my optimum health–especially not with an auto-immune disorder and a sordid medical history throughout my entire family tree.

My health is only one of many reasons I will not be having biological kids–I wouldn’t wish this condition on anyone else, least of all any daughter of mine!

While I’ve always read that hypothyroidism can cause heart disease, those numbers confirmed it first-hand: I was border-line slipping into “high cholesterol” territory. The news wasn’t all bad—my HDL is solid (woohoo!) and my blood pressure and triglycerides are in a good range (yaaaaay!), but my LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and overall cholesterol totals are borderline high–not to mention, a few more complicated markers are cheerfully waving hello.

If I do nothing, this path leads to heart disease.

no kidsI will forever love Anne Lamott for her wisdom on people: while I am not my fault, (nor am I the sum of my faults), it WILL be my fault if I don’t take action to combat this lovely bequest my mother inadvertently bequeathed to me in her genetics.

I quite enjoy living. I can enthusiastically fly my #bestlife flag truthfully and unironically (though definitely obnoxiously).

So, it’s time to make some changes: knowing that my condition lends itself to heart disease is one thing, but seeing the numbers on a report with my name on it is totally another.

  1. More Fiber!

    Fruits, veggies, and carb-heavy grains, please.

    I am sure a passing Cheerios commercial cheekily informed me their sugar-packed honey-nut cereal was good for my heart (come on, normal Cheerios just taste like sawdust), but I definitely had forgotten that fact. A higher-fiber diet leads to more flexible veins and a more efficient heart–and lower LDL cholesterol. I’m off to a good start because we have already been aiming for our 5-a-day fruit-and-vegetable intake by adding veggies to every meal (we already do well with fruit), this gets us close to our daily fiber targets! However, I could definitely stand to add chia seeds back into my smoothies, occasionally enjoy oatmeal, pop a fiber supplement, or cook my favorite red curried lentils more often.

    That said, increasing my fiber intake can definitely impact my absorption of Levothyroxine. The good news is that there is a way to mitigate that effect (so I don’t lose any of that sweet, sweet T4-to-T3 energy) and help me lower my LDL cholesterol in other ways–leading to #2:

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.56.45 AM2. Weight loss.

According to my BMI, I’m approximately 10 lbs overweight thanks to the slow, steady march of Hashimoto’s (before I started treatment two years ago.) Even dropping 5 or 10 lbs will make a difference for my heart (and potentially my confidence, though being called “thicc” is often apparently a compliment–though folks, you may want to make sure your partner considers it a positive statement before applying that label to her, just saying.)

I’ve dropped several pounds over the last few months due to my newly-adjusted meds and intermittent fasting–which helps me to get enough fiber without impacting my levothyroxine absorption. My strategy is simple: I only eat from noon to eight pm—all I’m doing is skipping breakfast and cutting off the wine at 8 p.m!

3. More light exercise!

At the time of the blood test, we hadn’t been moving a ton. Jason started out the New Year with a case of pneumonia that he oh-so-generously passed on to me—likely a relic from the cold or flu we had in December. Add the mysterious respiratory virus we caught either on an airplane or an ER we were forced to walk through (we were visiting my father after he had surgery) in March (no, we couldn’t get tests, unfortunately), and just like that, we have a quarter of a year simply not moving. We’re moving more now that we are healthy, finding exercises that feel less like a gauntlet and more like loving ourselves, such as yoga, walking, swimming in our trashy above-ground pool—we just need to move for 30 minutes a day. Honestly, though, I LOVED feeling strong with P90X (and being able to move our entire bedroom set around the room by myself), so we will definitely be giving a go again soon.

I’ll have to do more than just soak up the St. Augustine sun to stay healthy!

4. And finally, a word on vitamin D:

All of these heart-healthy changes will likely be made easier with a boosted vitamin D level. While I take everything I read about my condition with a grain of salt (as many doctors don’t know enough about it to treat it well and others have really outdated information), one item stood out from this book, Hypothyroidism And Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: A Groundbreaking, Scientific And Practical Treatment Approach, (written by Dr. Zaidi, an actual leading endocrinologist in the field) about vitamin D—his book agrees that “Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD) such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT) and Graves’ disease (GD)“, and that optimum vitamin D levels for those of us with our auto-immune condition hover around 50 to avoid the dreaded fatigue and brain fog.  

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 10.50.57 AMMy blood test revealed that my Vitamin D levels were chilling at 31—which, according to both the lab test and the aforementioned book, are the absolute bottom of the “in range” barrel (30 is the lowest). Fun fact, I take a daily multivitamin–it’s clearly doing just enough! The book states that the optimal level of Vitamin D “to be in the range of 50-100 mg/ml”. He goes on to assert that, “a vitamin D concentration at this level is important to build strong bones, improve immune function, treat aches, pains, chronic fatigue and prevent and treat cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, tooth fractures, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and depression” (Zaidi 185).

Since then, I’ve been taking a modest amount of D3 supplements (based on the recommendation in his book). Dr. Zaidi makes the compelling case that it’s nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun and diet alone–and it’s pretty hard (but not impossible) to overdose on Vitamin D. And anecdotally? I feel great.

A Caution

In a few months when the pandemic is over (or I at least feel safe enough to venture back outside without killing my beloved mother-in-law), I will have another blood test for my endocrinologist to monitor these levels.

This is not a condition to treat or supplement by yourself. Even though I know a lot about this condition at this point (as you can tell from the various and sundry links–you can decide for yourself if you find them credible, though my English teacher background says they are), I am still not a doctor. Careful monitoring of Hashimoto’s is essential for optimal health, as well as finding a doctor who will actually successfully treat this condition.

This is your friendly reminder that blogs like this one provide food for thought, but they are NEVER a replacement for true medical advice.

If a doctor won’t take your symptoms seriously, or says it’s all in your head? Find another doctor. 🙂

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