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

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The microbiome is definitely having a moment. It seems like everyone is popping a probiotic and chugging kombucha to foster their "gut bugs," the trillions of different bacteria and fungi living in the GI tract. But did you know the gut isn't the only home of these friendly critters? 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.

So, what can you do to keep candida in check and restore balance? One natural treatment option to try is changing up your diet. Microorganisms eat what you eat, so you can encourage their proliferation or stifle their growth depending on what you feed them.

Intrigued? Read on to learn all about candida overgrowth and what the science says about using diet to starve away this annoying infection.

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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Signs and symptoms of candida overgrowth. 

Think you might have candida overgrowth? Here's what to watch out for: 

  • Fatigue and exhaustion: Untreated and chronic candida overgrowth in the GI tract may be a primary risk factor for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Tongue/mouth (thrush): white patchy areas on the tongue and inside the mouth. Redness and inflammation is commonly seen under the white patches. Corners of the mouth may also be cracked.
  • Digestive symptoms and disease: Esophagitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Crohn's disease: inflammation of the esophagus that may make swallowing and eating difficult and painful and may imitate symptoms of chest pain or heartburn. Symptoms of IBD and Crohn's often involve chronic diarrhea, bloating, gas, pain, and unintentional weight loss.
  • Skin (cutaneous candidiasis): patches of red, moist, and often oozing skin, sometimes mistaken for severe eczema.
  • Vagina (vaginal yeast infections): redness, itching, or pain that is present with intercourse and/or urination and may result in thickened curdled discharge.
  • Internal (deep/invasive candidiasis): a serious infection that can affect internal organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain, or bones and is most commonly seen in hospitalized or immune-compromised patients. Symptoms such as unexplained fever and even multiple organ failure may occur.

What is a candida diet?

The idea behind a candida diet is to limit or completely exclude foods that may promote candida growth. 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.

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

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Foods to limit or avoid:

  • Added sugar: Sucrose, the combination of glucose and fructose in sweetened foods, has been found to increase risk of candida overgrowth in the oral cavity. Watch out for it in sweetened drinks, yogurt, desserts, baked goods, and more.
  • 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.
  • Dairy: Galactose is a simple sugar found in dairy products that has been identified as a promoter of candida adhesion to human cells. Lactose-containing dairy products are the main source of galactose.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 choose:

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
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Should you try a candida diet?

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 candida diet can be an overall healthy diet due to the exclusion of added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol. However, 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.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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