In your search for the best diet for your health needs, you may have come across the candida diet. It’s touted as a solution to overgrowth of a fungus, or yeast, called candida.
Candida species are the most widespread fungi in humans. They can live within the body and on its surface, including the gut, mouth, throat, nails, and genitalia.
In normal amounts, candida is harmless and sometimes even helpful. But in excess, it can cause an infection called candidiasis, with uncomfortable symptoms like:
- Digestive problems (Gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramps, nausea)
- Oral thrush
- Skin infections (ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch)
- Nail fungus
- Vaginal yeast infections
So, how could a candida cleanse diet help? Read along to find out everything you need to know about the candida diet, including how it may work, what to eat and avoid, and what studies say about it.
What Is the Candida Diet?
On its official website, the candida diet is described as “a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet that promotes good gut health and eliminates the sugars that feed a Candida overgrowth.”
It was created by nutritionist Lisa Richards, who has spent the last 20-plus years researching and writing about the diet and candida overgrowth in general.
Richards enlisted the help of Dr. Eric Wood, a licensed naturopathic doctor, to develop the Ultimate Candida Diet program. This detailed, five-step treatment plan aims to beat candida overgrowth permanently using a combination of probiotic and antifungal foods and supplements.
How the Candida Diet Is Supposed to Work
Candida infection can occur when there is an imbalance between the good bacteria and bad microbes (fungi, parasites, bacteria, etc.) in your gut. This may be caused by antibiotics use, a weakened immune system, or a poor diet, among other things.
A diet high in sugar and refined carbs, specifically, is considered a major risk factor for candidiasis. These types of foods are thought to “feed” yeasts like candida. So, the candida diet seeks to remedy the problem by cutting off candida’s food/energy supply.
This, proponents argue, will reduce candida’s numbers as well as its symptoms of infection. However, these dietary benefits have not been proven through scientific research.
Foods to Eat
The list of foods to eat on a candida diet includes those that are low-sugar, gluten-free, and anti-inflammatory.
While sugar may feed the yeast, gluten damages the intestinal lining in both celiac and nonceliac individuals, per the diet’s supporters. (Celiac disease is a disorder where your immune system attacks the tissues of your small intestine when you eat gluten.)
Inflammatory foods, on the other hand, can trigger inflammation, which at chronic levels may lead to overgrowth of harmful gut microbes like candida.
To avoid these problems, dieters focus on eating foods such as:
- Non-starchy vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, celery, cucumber, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini.
- Low-sugar fruits: Avocado, berries, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, and honeydew.
- Gluten-free grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oat, quinoa, and teff.
- Fermented foods: Kimchi, kombucha, miso, natto, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
- Low-mold nuts and seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, flaxseed, macadamia nuts, and walnuts.
- High-quality protein: Organic, free-range chicken, turkey, and eggs; wild-caught, low-mercury fish (salmon, herring, haddock, sole, flounder, etc.).
- Healthy fats: Extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil.
- Low-sugar, non-caffeinated drinks: Chicory coffee, herbal teas, unflavored nut milks, and water.
- Herbs and spices: Cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger, oregano, and turmeric.
- Sweeteners: Erythritol, monk fruit extract, stevia, and xylitol.
Foods to Avoid
Just as important as the foods you eat are the ones you avoid when on the candida diet. Steer clear of the following:
- Starchy vegetables: Beans, beets, carrots, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, turnips, white potatoes, and winter squash.
- High-sugar fruits: Bananas, figs, grapes, kiwi, and mangoes.
- Glutenous grains: Barley, couscous, farina, rye, and wheat.
- Dairy: Cheese, cream, and milk.
- High-mold nuts: Cashews, peanuts, and pistachios.
- Processed and red meats: Bacon, beef, deli meats, hot dogs, lamb, pork, and sausage.
- Caffeinated drinks: Coffee (Coffea species), tea (Camellia sinensis), and cola.
- Alcoholic and high-sugar drinks: Beer, energy drinks, fruit juice, fizzy drinks, spirits, and wine.
- Refined oils and fat: Canola oil, palm oil, sunflower oil, and margarine.
- Condiments: Barbecue sauce, jam, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, steak sauce, etc.
Candida Diet Supplements
Another important element of the candida diet is the use of supplements to support the candida removal process. There are two categories of supplements: probiotics and antifungals.
Probiotics feature live bacteria and/or yeasts that work to restore a healthy balance of good bacteria to your digestive tract. Three of the most popular types include:
- Lactobacillus (bacteria)
- Bifidobacterium (bacteria)
- Saccharomyces boulardii (yeast)
These can come as pills, capsules, powders, or liquids, and can be purchased from big-chain grocers, health food stores, vitamin and supplement stores, or online vendors.
You will want a supplement that contains at least 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of bacteria or fungal cells. Also, be careful to purchase from a trusted, reputable brand, as dietary supplements are not subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or testing.
As the name suggests, antifungals are supplements that kill or block the growth of fungal cells. The candida diet recommends various natural antifungals, including:
- Aloe vera
- Caprylic acid
- Clove essential oil
- Garlic extract
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Oregano oil
- Pau d’arco
Again, stick to trustworthy brands, preferably those certified by a third-party organization such as the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
How Long the Candida Diet Lasts
Followers are encouraged to perform a “candida cleanse” before the start of the diet, to help clear their intestines of excess candida in preparation for it. This may involve eating mostly fresh, steamed vegetables and salads for a three- to seven-day period.
Some even opt to do a full liquid diet cleanse, though the diet’s backers say this is not necessary.
It may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for dieters to see relief of symptoms. According to Richards and Wood, the length of treatment is dependent on four factors:
- The severity of candida overgrowth
- How seriously followers take the diet
- How aggressively followers use probiotic and antifungal supplements
Since the candida diet can be very restrictive, however, it is not recommended for the long term. The human body benefits from a varied, balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, as they are its main source of energy.
What Science Says about the Candida Diet
So, does the candida diet actually work from a scientific standpoint? Well, there are certainly beneficial aspects of the diet:
- Whole-foods based: Fresh, whole, minimally processed foods are linked to reduced rates of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Added-sugar-free: Diets high in added sugar are associated with a higher risk of diabetes and obesity as well as death due to cardiovascular disease.
- Plant-based: Plant-based diets tend to be high in dietary fiber, which promotes good gut health by feeding friendly bacteria and improving digestion.
Unfortunately, the diet’s benefits for candida infection in particular are uncertain. In fact, research suggests some of the diet’s restrictions may be harmful to gut health.
While the candida diet encourages certain plant-based foods, it restricts many others, including legumes and specific grains, fruits, and vegetables. Studies have shown that by eliminating whole categories of plants from our diet, we limit the biodiversity of microbes in our gut.
This includes the numbers of good bacteria. And we know that these healthy bacteria can help to keep candida growth under control.
The diet’s exclusion of gluten for those without celiac disease is similarly controversial. To date, proof that gluten damages the intestinal linings of nonceliacs does not exist. Avoiding gluten may also lead to adverse health effects such as nutritional deficiencies.
Furthermore, there’s a lack of consensus in the medical community on what constitutes candida overgrowth in the gut, exactly what the symptoms are, and how to treat it. Currently, there isn’t a standardized test you can take to confirm diagnosis, and there is no agreed upon “normal” range for intestinal candida counts.
In addition, very few studies have tested the effectiveness of the candida diet in humans.
A 1984 study examined 100 women to better understand the effects of sugar intake on candida vulvovaginitis (vaginal yeast infection). Findings showed that cutting down on high intakes of natural and artificial sugars plus dairy “dramatically” decreased incidence and severity of yeast infections.
Yet some gynecological experts are skeptical of the results and methods of this research. A shortage of supporting studies in the years since is also concerning for many.
Another study of 120 people with intestinal candida overgrowth, published in 2018, found those who modified their diet alongside conventional antifungal treatment saw a significant decrease in their fecal candida counts. This was in comparison to treatment with no dietary changes.
Still other studies have found that a high-sugar diet had limited effect on candida growth in healthy individuals.
So, it seems the candida diet may not be effective for everyone.
Final Thoughts on the Candida Diet
The candida diet is a low-sugar, gluten-free, and anti-inflammatory diet that aims to reduce or eliminate candida overgrowth and symptoms.
Anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness abounds online, but there is relatively little scientific evidence to support it.
If you suspect you have candida overgrowth, it’s important to discuss your options with your doctor, who will determine if dietary changes are the solution to your condition.
If candida overgrowth is not a problem for you, it’s probably best to stick to less restrictive whole-foods, plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean diet.
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