By Mara Santilli
Is the Candida Diet healthy?
All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)
However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.
In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life (with recipe suggestions!).
Next up, the Candida Diet.
Yeast infections are high on the list of “things no one wants,” right behind food allergies and just ahead of texts from your ex.
That’s why many women turn to a “candida diet” to reduce their risk of yeast infections, basically by reducing the types of food that yeast (or “candida”) feed on. Sounds logical, but is it legit?
The Anti-Candida Diet: What It Is
Candida is a usually harmless fungus, a type of yeast that lives in your body and even helps your gut with digestion.
But more definitely isn’t merrier. “Yeast can hang out and patiently wait for the environment to become more hospitable so they can multiply and thrive,” says Anna Cabeca, D.O., a triple board-certified Emory University physician.
That’s when it becomes a fungal infection called candidiasis. You can get this infection just about anywhere on your body, but the down-there version is more commonly called a yeast infection.
Okay, so how do I know I have a yeast infection?
For the few lucky women who haven’t had one yet (they’re super common), yeast infection symptoms include:
- Discomfort during urination or during sex
- Thick white discharge
- Vaginal itching or soreness
If you have a candida infection in your intestines, you may feel tired (zzz) and experience symptoms that often go along with inflammatory bowel conditions, like bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. If you suspect that you have a yeast infection anywhere in your body, visit a healthcare pro pronto.
Does diet play a role in yeast infections?
Well, diet, especially a poor one, can encourage yeast to overpopulate. “Processed carbs, sugar, and alcohol allow yeast to thrive,” Dr. Cabeca says. The cleaner your diet, the better balance of organisms, like yeast, you’ll have throughout your body, which is why the Candida Diet was developed. Lisa Richards, CNC and Eric Wood, ND created the Candida diet to basically starve candida and prevent them from spreading.
What You Eat
There are five different phases of the diet. It typically starts out with a cleanse, in which you only eat organic vegetables for close to a week. The first phase of the cleanse involves sipping on a warm vegetable broth, made of just organic kale, celery, garlic, onions, and salt, for about two days, explains Robin Barrie Kaiden, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer.
Then, you move on to the second phase, in which you eat only steamed organic fresh vegetables and drink a minimum of 72 ounces of water a day. “Once a day you can have a leafy green salad with coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, or lemon,” Kaiden says. But you need to eliminate all sugar, alcohol, starches (including starchy vegetables like carrots, beets, and potatoes), and fruit for three to five days of the cleanse.
The third phase is a push to eat more protein, Kaiden says, like organic animal proteins, plus gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and millet. Vegetables are important too, especially broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus.
The fourth stage introduces more probiotics and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir) to boost gut health. A probiotic supplement will be key in eliminating yeast, too—Kaiden recommends one per day with at least 50 billion units of probiotics. There are also foods with antifungal properties—like garlic, ginger, coconut oil, and cinnamon—that the diet encourages you to keep piling on your plate.
What You Don’t Eat
Here’s where it gets a little intense. The most basic restriction is around sugar. Yeast feeds on sugar, so any added sugar or foods that break down into sugar are off-limits. That includes most packaged foods, sweets, alcohol, all grains (even the gluten-free, healthy ones), starchy vegetables like squashes, high-sugar fruits like bananas, most dairy products, and legumes. Some experts even recommend ditching fermented foods and mushrooms until the candida is under control.
If this diet sounds restrictive and intense, that’s because it is. You drink only liquids for two days. You limit dairy, flour, grains, and even starchy vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes (some Nutritious Life favorites!). That’s a lot of sacrifice for a diet that hasn’t been proven to be effective.
To be fair, a recent study of people with chronic Candida overgrowth found that those who switched to a candida-fighting diet, in addition to taking antifungal medication (instead of only taking the drugs), were cured more quickly. And limiting sugar and processed foods is pretty much always a good thing.
But if you’re going to switch up your diet in the name of fighting yeast infections, please skip the cleanse phase. It’s extreme, and your body is very good at cleansing itself, thankyouverymuch. This modified meal plan, courtesy of Kaiden, is a bit more balanced:
|Breakfast: Omelet with sautéed spinach, onions, and garlic. Season with turmeric and salt and pepper to taste.
Lunch: Large salad made with kale, cabbage, roasted cauliflower, ¼ avocado, sauerkraut, and topped with organic grilled chicken. Dressing: olive oil, apple cider vinegar, tahini, salt and pepper to taste.
Snack: Bone broth vegetable soup or plain kefir yogurt topped with chia and flaxseeds.
Dinner: Baked wild salmon, grilled asparagus (cooked with sautéed garlic), and brown rice.
Pros and Cons
The most obvious benefit to the Anti-Candida Diet is cutting sugar. More evidence is showing how bad sugar is for your body, so anything that helps you eat less of it is a good thing. And we all know eating lots of vegetables and high-quality protein is a good idea.
But the evidence that any of this will help you rid your body of yeast (or that you even have a yeast problem to begin with) is still flimsy. That’s not to say it’s not true; the science to prove it just isn’t solid yet.
And the biggest con to eating this way is that the diet is extremely restrictive. It’s a very tough protocol to follow, which could make you miserable or even lead to you missing out on important nutrients. (Variety, remember, is one of the keys to getting all the nutrients you need!)
The Bottom Line
If you suspect candida is messing with your health, trying the Anti-Candida Diet for a brief stint won’t hurt. Cut the sugar, eat healthy anti-fungal foods like garlic and coconut oil, and see how you feel. If it helps, that may signal you’ve been eating too much sugar overall, and you can incorporate that knowledge into a less restricted, more manageable long-term diet plan filled with a variety of veggies, plant-based protein, and healthy grains.