It’s common knowledge that eating a diet consisting of ultra-processed foods isn’t exactly great for the body. But did you know that it can actually change the bacteria makeup of your gut? Considering everything that is connected to gut health—including digestion, weight gain or loss, energy levels and brain function—this is pretty major.
For individuals who are experiencing a gut imbalance due to an overgrowth of yeast, the candida diet may help restore balance to their bodies. There may be others who can benefit from this eating plan as well, like those who are experiencing an overgrowth of yeast due to other factors. Keep reading to learn more about the candida diet, including what it is, how to follow it and who can benefit straight from healthy eating experts.
What Is the Candida Diet and Who Can Benefit From It?
Lisa Richards, CNC, a nutritionist and the creator of the candida diet, explains that the candida diet is designed for anyone who is suffering from yeast overgrowth in the gut or elsewhere. “The key components of the diet are eating healthy, low-sugar foods, avoiding processed foods, and consuming fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut,” she says.
Registered dietitian Molly Devine, RD, says that an overgrowth of yeast can have a wide range of unwanted health effects. “Early-stage candida overgrowth can cause a host of unpleasant conditions such as digestive discomfort, skin irritations, brain fog, intense sugar cravings and weight gain,” she says.
Over time, Devine says the effects can be even more serious. “When candida yeast spreads, it causes candidiasis infection which can, in turn, cause a wide variety of serious gastrointestinal tract diseases such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and gastric ulcers,” she says.
Both experts say that there are several factors that can lead to an overgrowth of yeast in the body. Richards says that eating overly processed foods, chronic stress, hormonal birth control, chemical exposure and diabetes are the primary causes. “Usually, two or more of these triggers are to blame. For example, a diet full of inflammatory foods and sugars is more likely to cause a candida overgrowth when combined with a course of antibiotics,” she says.
What are signs that there’s too much yeast thriving in your body? Devine says that knowing for sure often requires a diagnosis from a doctor or registered dietitian who can determine this through one’s physical symptoms, medical history, eating and lifestyle habits, lab tests and possible stool tests. But both experts say that there are some tell-tale signs to be aware of. Digestive distress, poor immune health, oral thrush, brain fog and fatigue are all symptoms to watch out for.
Here’s where the candida diet comes in. Richards says that the goal of the eating plan is to bring balance back to the gut by eliminating added sugar from one’s diet. Sugar, she says, is the main source of fuel for pathogenic bacteria and yeast. “This will give your healthy bacterial species a chance to regenerate and bring your gut flora back into balance,” she says.
How To Follow the Candida Diet
Richards says that some people kick off the candida diet with a three- to seven-day cleanse, which consists of primarily eating vegetables and drinking lots of water. “It can be helpful but is an optional part of the diet, as many people find the dramatic change to be too stressful on their digestion and energy levels,” she says. “The ‘cleanse’ is really an elimination of all foods that contribute to survival and growth of candida while working to restore the ‘good’ gut bacteria and promote gut healing,” Devine adds.
Foods To Avoid on the Candida Diet
As you can likely guess, the cornerstone of following the candida diet is avoiding foods with added sugar. “[Yeast] thrives on glucose from sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods for survival and replication. By eliminating these foods from the diet for a short period of time and replacing them with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods that do not ‘feed’ the yeast, we can effectively starve off the candida and overtime restore proper gut bacteria balance to achieve optimal gut health,” Devine says. That means that all sugars and refined carbohydrates are off-limits. Starchy vegetables and fruit are also eaten only in moderation. Below is a list of specific foods to avoid while on the candida diet:
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- Foods high in sugar, like candy, cookies and cake
- Foods that contain gluten (including bread, cereals and crackers)
- Drinks high in sugar like energy drinks and fruit juice
- Drinks with caffeine, including coffee and tea (unless you find that these drinks do not irritate your gut, then they are okay)
- High-sugar fruits (such as mangoes, grapes and cherries)
- Dried fruits
- Foods or drinks with artificial sweeteners
- Refined vegetable oils
- Processed meat
- Shellfish, swordfish and tuna
- Cheese, milk and cream
- Condiments that are typically made with sugar or refined oils, including barbecue sauce, ketchup and soy sauce
Foods To Eat on the Candida Diet
What do you fill up on instead? Both experts say that whole foods, quality protein sources, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and vegetables are all the cornerstone foods of this eating plan. “Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi are also a great way to improve digestion and introduce some healthy bacteria to your gut,” Richards adds.
Here is a list of foods you can eat on the candida diet:
- Non-starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage)
- Low-sugar fruits (such as avocado, lemon and olives)
- Gluten-free grains (including millet, oat bran, quinoa and buckwheat)
- Wild salmon, anchovies and sardines
- Butter and ghee
- Kefir and yogurt
- Mold-free nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil and sesame oil
- Fermented foods
- Herbal teas and chicory coffee
For example, a typical day following the candida diet may consist of:
How long someone should follow the candida diet depends on one’s individual health needs. Richards says that for those who are prone to yeast overgrowth, this way of eating can benefit them indefinitely. Devine says others may choose to use it as a way to heal the gut by sticking with it for two to four weeks and then slowly reintroducing other foods over the span of one to two months. “Length of treatment and reintroduction needs vary by individual, so customization of any dietary protocol is always recommended,” she says, adding that it can be beneficial to work with a dietitian for this purpose.
In terms of any risks or side effects to be aware of, Devine says that it’s always a smart idea to talk to your healthcare provider or a dietitian before starting a new meal plan. “Certain medications may cause complications and insulin-dependent diabetics should not drastically reduce their carbohydrate consumption without consulting their medical provider,” she says.
She also says that for some, starting the diet can come with some discomfort. “As the candida is essentially starved of their main source of food from the elimination of most glucose in the diet, symptoms can get worse before they get better,” she says. When this happens, she says that someone may experience headaches, fatigue, digestive distress, joint pain, sweating and sometimes a fever. But she emphasizes that these symptoms tend to clear up within the first week of treatment. If not, you should stop following the diet and see a healthcare professional.
While everyone can benefit from minimizing added sugar and overly processed foods, those with yeast overgrowth may find the candida diet beneficial. If you’re interested in giving it a try, talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.
Regardless of whether you decide that this eating plan is for you or not, no one should go through life living with digestive distress, constant fatigue or brain fog. Considering how connected the gut is to these problems and beyond, tweaking your diet will likely make a huge difference in restoring balance to your body. The key is finding what works for you.