The Candida Diet: Can You Really Starve Away This Annoying Infection?

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist By Natalie Butler, RDN, LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Natalie Butler, RDN, L.D. is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Since 2007, she has advocated for personalized functional nutrition and nutrigenomics-based lifestyle changes through her private practice Nutrition By Natalie.
The Candida Diet: Can You Really Starve Away This Annoying Infection?

Image by mbg Creative / Contributor

While you may be familiar with the gut microbiome, did you know that the skin, nose, mouth, and vagina each have their own microbiome as well? And just like in the gut, an imbalance of these "bugs" can wreak havoc on your health.

This is exactly what is happening if you have "candida overgrowth." One of your body's microbiomes is out of balance due to excess candida. This can lead to rashes, fatigue, bloat, and more.

One natural treatment option for candida overgrowth is the candida diet. While there are no studies confirming the effectiveness of this eating pattern, many people believe you can starve away candida by restricting certain foods.

But first, what is candida?

Candida is a type or genus of yeast that is naturally present throughout the human body but is primarily located in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. Candida albicans and Candida auris are the two most well-known strains. Candidiasis, the imbalance or overgrowth of candida yeast, can lead to fungal infections and health problems. For example, candidiasis in the mouth is referred to as thrush, whereas candidiasis in the vagina is commonly known as a yeast infection. 

Risk factors for candida overgrowth include those with weakened immune systems such as adults in the ICU or infants in the NICU; those taking specific medications like antibiotics, corticosteroids, birth control, or anticancer drugs; and those with excessive moisture on susceptible areas of skin such as the fold under the breasts, the groin, diaper area, or hands that are constantly in gloves. Also, people with diabetes, those eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates and refined sugars and low in fiber, and anyone under chronic stress may alter the balance of their healthy gut flora, which may predispose them to candida overgrowth.

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What is a candida diet?

The idea behind a candida diet is to limit or completely exclude foods that may promote candida growth. Microorganisms eat what you eat, so you can encourage their proliferation or stifle their growth depending on what you feed them.

Restricting certain foods also helps limit the growth of other unhealthy bacteria, not just yeast, which may help restore the balance of whole-body flora.

While there are no published studies on the combination of diet recommendations that comprise the whole candida diet, there is evidence that suggests that some components of the diet may reduce candida growth and improve symptoms. The diet is sometimes preceded by a more restrictive cleanse period; however, there is no scientific evidence that a candida cleanse will improve candidiasis.

Foods to limit or avoid on a candida diet.

Here is a list of foods that are commonly discouraged when trying to manage candida overgrowth:

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1. Added sugar

Sucrose, the combination of glucose and fructose in sweetened foods, has been found to increase the risk for candida overgrowth in the oral cavity. Watch out for it in sweetened drinks, yogurt, desserts, baked goods, and more.

2. Refined and white carbohydrates

Glucose, the main carbohydrate found in white-flour-based goods like pasta, pastries, and baked goods; white rice; and bread, has been linked with a higher risk of candida adhesion to skin cells. In fact, a 2013 study found recent carbohydrate intake was associated with more candida growth in the GI tract. But some research has questioned the link between carbohydrates candida growth. One such study that did not show carbohydrates increased candida growth was done in healthy subjects, though not those already experiencing symptoms or those already diagnosed.

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3. Dairy

Galactose is a simple sugar found in dairy products and has been identified as a promoter of candida adhesion to human cells. Lactose-containing dairy products are the main source of galactose.

4. Alcohol

Fermentation, the process by which popular alcoholic beverages are created, is discouraged on the candida diet. This is because these products contain yeasts. One study found alcohol negatively affects gut flora, intestinal permeability, and inflammation. However, another study showed that alcohol intake did not affect the growth of candida in the mouth.

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5. Gluten

While the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, and barley has been shown to worsen intestinal barrier function and increase intestinal inflammation, it hasn't specifically been studied for the purpose of treating candida overgrowth. However, it might be best to limit gluten intake until your symptoms clear up.

Some proponents of the candida diet also recommend limiting/excluding root and starchy vegetables, legumes, caffeine, mushrooms, and high-mercury fish in addition to the list above to treat candida overgrowth. There is little to no evidence to suggest that limiting these additional foods will improve candidiasis. 

Foods to eat on a candida diet:

Embarking on a restrictive diet can feel overwhelming. Here are some foods you can still enjoy if you are trying a candida diet; some may even help kill candida:

  • Nonstarchy vegetables, including all colors of vegetables. Just skip starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, corn, beets, and winter squash.
  • Low-glycemic fruits like citrus and berries.
  • Healthy fats including avocado, nuts and seeds that are low in mold (think almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut, and flax), olive oil, and coconut oil. Coconut oil, in particular, has been shown to limit candida growth in the GI tract, more than beef fat or soybean oil.
  • High-quality animal proteins like meat, seafood, fish, poultry, and eggs.
  • Gluten-free whole grains like millet, quinoa, oat, amaranth, and buckwheat.
  • Herbs and spices.
  • Sugar alcohols including erythritol, xylitol, and stevia are all OK.
  • Low-lactose dairy, like hard cheese, yogurt, and kefir.

Not sure where to start? Check out these six recipes for the candida diet.

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Should you try a candida diet?

The candida diet can be an overall healthy diet due to the exclusion of added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol. However, there is currently no scientific evidence that this particular combination of diet recommendations will reduce or improve symptoms of candida overgrowth.

It is also important to note that a lack of balance and proper planning may result in decreased intake of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and overall nutrition, especially if followed long term.

Symptoms of candida overgrowth in the GI tract may be similar to SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO occurs when bacteria doesn't remain in the colon but rather travels up to the small intestine causing many painful symptoms. SIBO may require more aggressive treatment than the candida diet for proper management and resolution. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of SIBO or candida overgrowth. 

If you have an eating disorder or suffer from unintentional weight loss or malabsorptive conditions, do not try the candida diet without consent from your doctor.

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