Candida Diet Beginner's Guide, Food List, and 7-Day Meal Plan
Updated: 3 days ago
Yeast overgrowth can cause a host of far-ranging problems, from physical to cognitive and mental, some experts say. For that reason, some recommend a candida diet — a low-sugar, low-carb diet — to eradicate excess yeast and bring the gut back into balance. Yet this approach is not without its detractors. Importantly, many experts say the diet is largely unproven and any benefit is likely the result of a general improvement in eating habits.
The Definition of Candida Candida is a genus of yeasts that normally lives inside the body and on the skin. There are hundreds of these yeasts, but many species can cause fungal infections if their numbers grow out of control or if they enter the bloodstream or other organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1) This type of infection is called candidiasis. MORE ON HOW TO PREVENT YEAST INFECTIONS What Causes Yeast Infections?What Is Candida Albicans? It’s the most common species of yeast that causes candidiasis infection. The overgrowth can result in conditions like oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections. (2,3) What Is Candida Overgrowth? Candida overgrowth is a term that means that the yeast is present in such excessive amounts, it becomes pathogenic, says Ali Miller, RD, CDE, a functional medicine dietitian in Houston and author of The Anti-Anxiety Diet. Candida overgrowth can cause the conditions mentioned (thrush, vaginal yeast infection), but some experts like Miller recognize candida overgrowth (or imbalance of yeast in the body) as the source of a number of health symptoms that can be overcome with dietary changes.
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What Are the Main Symptoms of a Candida Infection? If you have a yeast infection, you may notice itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva, burning while you pee or during sex, redness in the area, or a cottage cheese–like discharge, according to the Mayo Clinic. (3) Oral thrush, which can occur in adults and kids, appears like a white coating on your tongue or cheeks, as well as redness and soreness in your mouth. (2) An invasive candidiasis (fungal infection of the blood or organs) can cause a fever or chills, and it can be life-threatening. There’s another category, which may be referred to as candida overgrowth, and some healthcare practitioners say that it may be responsible for more chronic and seemingly unrelated problems. “Symptoms of candidiasis can be widespread, from bloating and distention to bowel irregularities, chronic fatigue, cystic acne and other skin rashes, and brain fog,” says Miller. Risk Factors for a Candida Infection If you’re talking about a vaginal yeast infection specifically, risk factors include taking antibiotics, having uncontrolled diabetes, being immunocompromised, and having increased estrogen levels (such as in pregnancy), per the Mayo Clinic. (3) In terms of candida overgrowth in general, antibiotic use is by far one of the most common causes, says Miller. “Antibiotics are sterilizing to the microbiome,” or the collection of bacteria in the gut, she says. Along with killing off “bad” bacteria, the good go too, and that can throw off the balance of yeast in your body as well. Miller also mentions that medicines like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or cortisone-type drugs (like prednisone) can impact the gut microbiome in unhealthy ways. Lifestyle factors like high stress or high alcohol intake may also make you more susceptible to an overgrowth of yeast.
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How Advocates Say the Candida Diet Works The candida diet, generally speaking, removes all sources of flour, sugar, and yeast from your diet and encourages lean proteins, nonstarchy vegetables, and healthy fats, as well as several supplements to encourage the process. Doing so staves off yeast overgrowth, says Miller. “It’s also important to use compounds [through food and supplements] that support the die-off of yeast and the removal of this yeast and its by-products out of the body,” she says. But it’s important to note that many experts disagree with the idea that this diet is necessary in the first place. “Research in this area is pretty sparse, and even though it often gets blamed for a lot of things, we don’t really know what causes candida overgrowth and whether [the candida diet] even works,” says Abbey Sharp, RD, a blogger and YouTuber at Abbey’s Kitchen, who is based in the Toronto area. “Currently, no research has been able to definitively support the use of a low-sugar diet to treat candida overgrowth,” she adds. Sharp points to a review published in the journal Genetics that she notes showed that certain carbohydrates or sugars may promote yeast growth. (4) But, she says, “no evidence has found that yeast is interfering with our gut and that changing diet will make a difference.” Another limitation is that the research that is available is largely in vitro (test tube) experiments, which can’t replace human studies. The way things behave in a test tube does not necessarily translate to how they behave in the human body.
Getting Started With a Candida Cleanse: How Proponents Say It Works and Precautions to Take You’ll want to check with your doctor before trying any type of cleanse — or strict diet, for that matter. This one is essentially a temporary, carb-restricted diet. “Think of it as a thorough reset to your microbiome,” says Miller. She generally recommends six weeks of a candida cleanse, and suggests eating 60 grams of total carbs per day, maximum. “Avoid flour-based foods, grains, and sweeteners, and limit fruit and starchy vegetables to two total [servings] per day,” says Miller. The diet emphasizes lean protein, healthy fats, and leafy, cruciferous vegetables. Not only is this diet designed to weaken yeast overgrowth, but it may also help to regulate blood sugar since it limits foods that spike blood sugar in the body. “That’s the environment yeast thrives in,” says Miller. The diet is not radical and is safe for most people, except for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, says Miller. “Also, if you have diabetes and are on an oral hypoglycemic drug or using insulin, you will likely need to reduce medication when shifting to a low-carbohydrate diet,” she says. Talk to your healthcare provider. One thing you may notice is that you may feel worse before you feel better: nausea, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and fatigue may appear within the first two weeks of the cleanse. It will not last for the entirety of the six-week cleanse. “I see it as a positive. It’s a sign that the body is eradicating or removing something that was causing dysfunction,” says Miller. However, keep in mind that what may actually be happening is what’s called the “keto flu,” which can occur as the body switches from a state of burning carbohydrates for fuel to fat. “When we reach a state of ketosis, we often experience a few weeks of keto flu symptoms, like foggy head, heachaches, and fatigue. Limiting carbs on a low sugar candida diet has the potential to trigger ketosis and the associated symptoms,” says Sharp. It’s also important to note that there’s a lack of scientific evidence that cleansing the body in general is necessary or helpful.
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Foods to Eat on the Candida Diet On a candida cleanse, here are the foods Miller advises eating:
Pasture-raised poultry, including chicken
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
Leafy greens (kale, dandelion, lettuces)
Nonstarchy vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, onions, shallots)
Spices (turmeric, cumin)
Some kinds of fruit, including tomatoes and berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries (limited)
Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and Macadamia nuts
Seeds (chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds)
Herbs (cilantro, basil, oregano)