What is the Candida Diet?

In This Article

Sugar Cubes and Jar
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Your body is teeming with microorganisms, including yeast. Most are harmless and some are even beneficial to your immune system—but it’s also possible to have too much of a good thing. 

More than 100 different types of yeast can live in and on your body. However, only about 15 are known to cause infections. Candida albicans, often just called Candida, is one of the most common causes of yeast infections (candidiasis) .

Many people wonder if they can treat or prevent any type of yeast infection by making changes to their diet. “Candida Diets,” have become popular in recent years, but there has not been enough medical and scientific research to prove they work .

Benefits

If you’re considering changing how to eat to avoid Candida, it's important to know that research is limited—not just in terms of diet, but the existence of certain yeast-related infections. It's been proposed that yeast overgrowth in the intestines may cause symptoms, but a lack of scientific evidence has made these claims controversial . 

While Candida infections of the mouth and throat (thrush), as well as the vagina (yeast infection), are common, many doctors do not feel there is enough evidence to support a diagnosis of "yeast syndrome" related to intestinal Candida overgrowth.

Doctors also cite an inability to specifically test for such a syndrome. For example, if you have digestive symptoms your doctor may ask you to provide a stool sample. When the sample is tested, Candida may be found. However, Candida can also be found in the stool samples of healthy people who do not have digestive symptoms. Even if a test detects Candida, it doesn't mean the test is specific enough to determine a person's symptoms are being caused by the yeast.

Alternative medicine practitioners and proponents of Candida diets attribute a range of symptoms to yeast overgrowth throughout the body, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Memory problems or "brain fog"
  • Depression, irritability, poor sleep
  • Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and nausea
  • Fungal infections of the skin and nails (athlete's foot, intertrigo)
  • Recurrent sinus infections, nasal congestion, and headaches
  • Frequent urinary tract infections and/or genital yeast infections

Keep in mind that these symptoms are vague, common, and could be caused by a number of different health, lifestyle, or dietary factors. If you have persistent symptoms, discuss them with your doctor. While they may not attribute them to yeast overgrowth, they can rule out other causes.

Claims have been made that symptoms can be cured and prevented through diet, but they are not well supported by evidence . However, thrush and vaginal yeast infections are fairly common, especially in people who have compromised immune systems. Some research has suggested that dietary changes may be of some benefit to people who are at an increased risk of infections .

If you get yeast infections often, you may find that following a specific diet improves your overall health, which in turn can make it easier to cope with your symptoms. Eating a well-balanced, nutritious, diet supports your immune system, which is key to preventing infections of any kind.

How It Works

It’s important to understand how common claims about the Candida diet, such as the theory of avoiding sugar and carbs, came about as well as why traditional medical professionals find the claims controversial.

Sugar

The most widely discussed aspect of the Candida diet is the strict avoidance of sugar. Although research has shown that having diabetes may increase your risk of yeast infections, the amount of sugar in your diet isn’t necessarily to blame .

First, because the studies exploring any association looked at the amount of sugar in a person's urine, not their blood. Additionally, yeast doesn’t usually get into the bloodstream and there’s no evidence that yeasts "feed" on sugar in the blood.

That being said, a person with diabetes can improve their overall health (which may mean fewer Candida infections and symptoms) by managing the condition, which can include reducing (or at least monitoring closely) their sugar intake.

However, for people who don’t have diabetes, research has not conclusively shown that cutting out sugar makes a difference to Candida growth. The few studies that have implied the link are several decades old and looked at vaginal yeast infections, but not yeast in the gut. 

More recent studies of yeast overgrowth in the intestines suggest the colonization creates a reservoir that can spread yeast to the vagina and lead to infection . More research is needed to back up this claim, as well as claims that diet can reduce or prevent yeast growth anywhere in the body. 

Carbs

Older studies in mice suggested high-sugar, refined carbohydrate diets could make yeast infections worse if a person’s immune system was weakened . However, research in healthy people seemed to suggest that even if eating more carbs and sugar lead to more Candida growth, that didn’t necessarily mean they developed yeast infections . 

The connection between carbohydrates and Candida may lie in how well the yeast binds to cells. Lab studies have indicated that carbohydrates in the form of sugar can make it easier for the yeast to bind to cells in the mouth .

Interestingly, the researchers found that other substances (such as sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol) appeared to make it harder for the yeast to bind to cells. Other sugars like lactose (found in milk) didn’t seem to affect how well the yeast could bind to cells one way or the other. 

Probiotics

A 2009 study suggested that certain strains of probiotics (lactobacilli) may help the antifungal medication used to treat vaginal yeast infections (fluconazole) work better . 

After 28 days of treatment with antifungal medication, 38% of the women who took the medication without any probiotics still had a Candida infection. In the group of women who took both the antifungal medication and a probiotic supplement, only 10% tested positive for Candida and/or had lingering symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection.

While the results were promising, the researchers were not entirely sure why, or how, it worked. Similar studies are also needed to investigate the effectiveness of other strains of probiotics as well as other types of antifungal medications. 

The potential benefit of probiotics has been looked at by other researchers, however. A small study of women with HIV/AIDS suggested probiotic yogurt could help reduce yeast infections of the mouth and vagina in people with compromised immunity, but more research is needed to confirm the findings.

Yeast

People often wonder if they need to avoid foods that contain yeast if they want to prevent yeast infections, but the types of yeast involved are not the same. 

Yeast-containing foods like bread and beer often have Saccharomyces cerevisiae in them; a completely different kind of yeast than Candida albicans. While it’s not impossible, it’s generally very rare for S.cerevisiae to cause infections.

Furthermore, some research has indicated that S. cerevisiae may actually inhibit Candida growth. If that's the case, it could actually be helpful to include certain types of yeast in your diet.

Gluten and Wheat

There is no evidence that wheat and gluten-containing foods contribute to yeast overgrowth or cause more frequent infections. Unless you have Celiac disease, it is not necessary or advised that you eat a gluten-free diet.

Candida diets suggest you avoid processed meat, packaged foods, preservatives or pesticides, dairy products, and certain nuts that are prone to mold exposure (such as peanuts).

You may choose to limit these foods as part of your overall dietary preferences and needs, but there is no evidence that eating these foods will cause yeast infections or that avoiding them will prevent Candida overgrowth. 

Duration

Purported Candida diets or “cleanses” are very restrictive. It would be difficult to adhere to them for a long time and maintain adequate nutrition. People who have tried a Candida diet tend to report it takes about a month to notice any change—if not longer. 

You may decide to undertake a Candida diet as part of an elimination diet. This process can be helpful if you suspect something in your diet is affecting your symptoms but you aren't sure which food is the culprit. An elimination diet can also help you determine if you need to avoid a certain food entirely or if you can tolerate it in limited amounts.

Some of the general recommendations for a Candida diet represent balanced and healthy choices, such as limiting sugar and avoiding processed food. However, keep in mind that while following these guidelines can benefit your overall health, there is little research to support the claim that sticking to a Candida diet will treat or prevent yeast overgrowth.

What to Eat

The recommendations for a Candida diet are quite strict and require you to completely eliminate several food groups. There is little research to support claims that cutting these foods out of your diet will prevent Candida. However, you may choose to experiment with reducing your intake to see if it affects your symptoms. 

Compliant

  • Non-starchy vegetables (artichokes, broccoli, kale, tomatoes)

  • Low-sugar fruit (lemon, lime)

  • Berries (in moderation as tolerated)

  • Avocado

  • Olives

  • Eggs

  • Lean cuts of chicken or turkey

  • Salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies 

  • Ghee, kefir, probiotic yogurt 

  • Gluten-free grains (teff, quinoa, oat bran)

  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, flax, pumpkin, sunflower) 

  • Almond butter 

  • Bone broth 

  • Herbal tea, chicory root coffee

  • Apple cider vinegar

  • Seaweed, algae 

  • Herbs and spices (basil, cloves, oregano, dill, garlic, ginger, cayenne)

  • Stevia, monk fruit, xylitol, erythritol 

  • Coconut, flax, olive, and sesame oil 

  • Some fermented foods (kefir, kombucha)

Non-Compliant

  • Sugar (agave, aspartame, cane sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses)

  • Gluten (barley, rye, spelt, wheat)

  • Packaged snack foods 

  • Yogurt with sugar and/toppings (granola, candy, etc) 

  • Frozen meals and snacks

  • Muffins, bagels, croissants, biscuits 

  • Ice cream, custard, pudding, gelatin (unless sugar free)

  • High-sugar fruits and fruit juice (banana, mango, apple)

  • Dried fruit (dates, apricots, prunes, raisins) 

  • Peanuts, cashews, pistachios (and butters)

  • Processed meat (lunchmeat, hot dogs, sausage, bacon)

  • Red meat, organ meat

  • Tuna, swordfish, mackerel 

  • Shellfish 

  • Full-fat milk, cheese, cream, and other dairy products 

  • Pre-made/bottled salad dressings, dips, and condiments (white vinegar, mayo, horseradish, soy sauce, barbecue sauce

  • Canola oil, margarine, sunflower or soybean oil, “butter” sprays

  • Fruit juice, energy drinks, soft drinks 

  • Caffeinated coffee/tea or other beverages

  • Alcohol 

Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit that is high in sugar is not allowed on the Candida diet. Juices made from these fruits, or those that are sweetened, are also avoided. Low-sugar fruit like limes and lemons are approved, as are small portions of berries. 

For vegetables, stick to non-starchy options like broccoli, kale, and tomatoes. Produce that is likely to be exposed to mold, such as mushrooms, is also not allowed. 

Dairy: Full-fat dairy is limited on the Candida diet with the exception of probiotic yogurt, ghee, and real butter (in moderation). All sugary yogurts or milk products, such as ice cream are avoided. Roquefort and any aged, moldy or blue cheeses, or processed cheese such as cheese slices, Velveeta, Cheese Whiz, cream cheese, cheese dipping snacks are not allowed.

Grains: Many Candida diets recommended avoiding wheat and gluten, but there is insufficient evidence that avoiding these allergens is beneficial if you do not have Celiac disease. You may choose to experiment with reducing certain types of grains, such as bread, pasta, and crackers made with wheat, barley, and rye. 

Likewise, Candida diets often advise avoiding products made with yeast, such as baked goods, beer, and products that contain nutritional yeast, though the evidence for this is also lacking.

The diet also eliminates any canned, bottled, packaged, boxed, or other processed foods that contain yeast, refined sugar, refined flour, chemicals, preservatives, additives and/or food coloring.

Protein: Lean protein such as skinless poultry and eggs are allowed on the Candida diet. Bone broth is also encouraged. Low-mold nuts and seeds and their butter (almond, flax) are allowed, but peanuts, cashews, and their butter are not, as they are thought to be more mold-prone. 

The diet also restricts red meat and organ meat, processed meat such as lunch meat or hotdogs, and certain types of fish and shellfish (tuna, swordfish). 

Desserts: The primary foods to avoid on the Candida diet are those that contain sugar, so very few dessert options are allowed. Avoid any food made with refined sugar include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, maple sugar, molasses, date sugar, turbinado, raw sugar, rice syrup, or sorghum.

Check the nutrition labels for other names for sugar such as sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, glycogen, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, galactose, monosaccharides, polysaccharides.

The Candida diet does permit sugar substitutes like stevia, monk fruit, xylitol, and erythritol. Herbs and spices like cinnamon and ginger can also be used to add flavor and sweetness.

Beverages: No alcohol is not allowed on the Candida diet. Fermented drinks like cider and root beer are generally not allowed, nor is any type of soda (regular or diet) or energy drinks. Fruit juices, smoothies, milkshakes, milk-based coffee drinks, and other sweetened hot beverages like hot chocolate are not allowed. 

Caffeinated coffee and tea may be approved in small amounts, though without any dairy creamer or sugar. Herbal teas and chicory root coffee are popular Candida diet beverage options, as they don't contain caffeine or sugar, but offer health benefits like fiber and antioxidants.

Recommended Timing 

There’s no set schedule for meals on the Candida diet, so you can adapt it to your needs. Since the diet is very restrictive, you may find that you have a harder time getting adequate calories at meals. You may want to consider adding several small snacks throughout the day.

Some people feel best eating frequent small meals rather than three larger ones. If you have diabetes, for example, you may find this routine works well to help manage your blood sugar. It can also help reduce digestive symptoms from diabetic gastroparesis, which can make you feel full after only eating a little bit of food. 

Cooking Tips

If you’re avoiding processed, packaged, and pre-made food, you’ll likely be focusing more on fresh food and looking for Candida diet-friendly recipes. There are several easy swaps and substitutes for gluten, dairy, eggs, and sugar you can try when cooking and baking.

For example, if you want to cut back on wheat, look for pasta noodles made from corn or beans, and use almond flour in place of regular flour for pancakes. You can make a carb-free meal by pairing lean cuts of poultry with a side of cauliflower “rice” or use lettuce to wrap a turkey burger instead of a bun.

If you’re looking for ways to sweeten up a meal without using sugar and you’d prefer to avoid artificial sugar substitutes, try monk fruit. The naturally sweet melon works for just about any dish—from a cup of tea to oatmeal to sauces. 

While some recommendations for Candida diets suggest avoiding fermented foods, this often refers to mass-produced products that use a lot of sugar and/or alcohol. If you’re interested in the many benefits of fermented foods like pickles, yogurt, and kombucha, you might consider learning to safely ferment food at home. 

Modifications

If you have other health concerns or dietary needs the typical Candida diet recommendations may not work for you, or you may need to adjust them.

For example, yeast infections can occur during pregnancy, but this may not be the right time to restrict your diet. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, limiting or eliminating food groups may make it more difficult for you to meet your body’s increased energy needs. 

If you are pregnant or nursing, talk to your doctor before you make changes to your diet. They will help you decide the best way to treat your symptoms and prevent yeast overgrowth. It may be helpful to start by consulting an alternative health practitioner for more information about the Candida diet.

If you have diabetes, you’re likely already used to paying attention to the sugar content of the food you eat. If you want to try managing Candida infections with diet, it may not be safe for you to reduce your sugar intake as strictly as the diet typically calls for, as you may be at risk for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

If you have Candida overgrowth and diabetes, talk to your regular doctor or endocrinologist about which dietary changes could be a safe option for you.

On the other hand, if you have Celiac disease, are lactose intolerant, or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may already be adhering to many Candida diet recommendations. 

If you are considering restricting your diet in another way, keep in mind that it may be more difficult for you to get adequate nutrition. You may need supplements to boost your daily calorie and vitamin intake.

Considerations

Making changes to your diet can influence everything from grocery shopping and food prep, but you’ll also want to think about how it might affect other elements of your daily life. Food is often part of your social life, at work or school, as well as at home with family and friends. Before you get started with a new diet, consider how other areas of your life might make it more challenging to adjust, as well as which parts can be sources of support. 

General Nutrition 

Any diet that is heavily restrictive is not likely to provide you with adequate energy and nutrition. While the Candida diet does suggest cutting out foods that don't provide much nutrition, such as sugar and alcohol, it also recommends eliminating certain types of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and animal protein. In moderation, these foods are part of a healthy balanced diet and offer key nutrients you may not be able to get as easily from other sources. 

You may need supplemental vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiency if you choose to follow the Candida diet.

If you have a medical condition that makes you prone to yeast infections, such as having a compromised immune system, you may also be more likely to have nutritional deficiencies. In this case, ensuring you are properly nourished is of even greater importance to your overall health and wellbeing. 

Safety

As with its effectiveness, the safety of Candida diets has not been adequately studied. In general, diets that are very restrictive are not recommended for long term use and may not be safe for certain people to use even in the short term. 

If you have a chronic illness, a history of disordered eating, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are receiving certain kinds of medical treatment (including taking prescription drugs and/or herbal supplements) the Candida diet may not be a healthy option for you.

Symptoms of yeast overgrowth or frequent yeast infections that don’t get better with medical treatment can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Talk to your doctor before you try managing your symptoms on your own—including by making changes to your diet. 

Flexibility

Dining out can be difficult if you’re on a restrictive diet of any kind. It would be especially tricky to find a Candida diet-friendly meal on the typical fast-food drive-thru’s carb-heavy and high-sugar menu.

Any diet that advises you to avoid specific foods or food groups can make going to a restaurant challenging, as you may not know all the details about what is in the food you've ordered or how it's been prepared.

While it may not always be available or complete, you can as your server for additional information about the menu, such as nutrition info and ingredients lists.

You can also ask about swaps and substitutions, as well as if any alternative cooking methods are available (such as having meat grilled instead of fried). 

Side Effects

If you’re following a strict diet, the most common side effects are usually related to nutritional deficiencies. If you’re not getting enough of a certain nutrient, you may have specific symptoms of vitamin deficiency. For example, if you are not getting enough iron in your diet you may develop anemia, which can make you feel tired or short of breath.

Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms affecting your nervous system such as tingling, numbness, and trouble remembering things. Skin rashes, vision changes, and brittle hair and nails can be a sign you’re low in zinc, niacin, and vitamin A. 

It’s important to address nutritional deficiencies if you want to prevent infections of any kind. Malnourishment reduces immunity, which gives the yeast that naturally lives on and in your body the chance to overgrow and cause symptoms. 

With a limited selection of produce and grains, restricted diets may also fail to provide enough fiber to prevent constipation.

Candida Diet vs. Other Diets

Paleo Diet

Popular Candida diets are generally a more strict version of the Paleo diet. If you want to try making adjustments to your diet to see if it helps with yeast overgrowth, you may “ease in” to a Candida diet by trying to eat Paleo first. 

The Paleo diet includes a wider variety of protein sources than the Candida diet, including most meat and fish, but limits refined sugar, grains, and processed food. Artificial sweeteners are also not typically allowed on the Paleo diet. These recommendations are viewed more as guidelines than rules, giving you the flexibility to adjust them to suit your needs. 

You might consider trying other plant-based diets that focus on whole foods and limit those that are processed. Many of these eating plans are less restrictive than the Candida diet and offer more health benefits. 

Generally speaking, there also tends to be more research about the effectiveness and safety of these diets. Some, such as a low-FODMAP diet, are sometimes recommended for people with digestive symptoms and conditions. 

Other diets you might want to explore include:

A Word From Verywell

The science behind the "Candida diet" is lacking, but if you have frequent yeast infections or certain health conditions that make you prone to Candida overgrowth, being more aware of the foods you eat may help. While there's insufficient evidence to support a restrictive Candida diet to treat infections or prevent them entirely, you may find limiting your intake of certain foods helps you manage symptoms. However, because the effectiveness and safety of the Candida diet have not been adequately studied, it's important that you discuss any dietary changes with your doctor, especially if you have diabetes, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are being treated for another medical condition.

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