What to Eat When You Have Candida

Dietary Recommendations for Better Management

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In This Article

Practitioners of alternative medicine often claim that you can treat or prevent candidiasis—the most common cause of yeast infections (vaginal candidiasis) and oral thrush (oral candidiasis)—with diet. Despite a lack of clinical evidence to back this suggestion, Candida diets have become incredibly popular in recent years, mostly among women with recurrent yeast infections.

Much of the controversy surrounding Candida diets involves the strict restriction of sugar and carbohydrates that are said to "feed" an acute Candida albicans infection.

Benefits

Your body is teeming with microorganisms, including fungi known as yeast. Most are harmless, and some are even beneficial to your immune system. But it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. 

More than 100 different types of yeast can live in and on your body of which 15 or so are known to cause infection.

Candida lives naturally in the human body but can overgrow whenever the immune system is weak, establishing dense colonies on the mucosal tissues of the mouth or vagina. When the immune system is compromised, it can invade distant organs, including the throat and lungs, or spread into the bloodstream, reaping serious harm.

It's important, then, to do what you can to manage Candida overgrowth if it occurs. But if you opt to do so by trying the Candida diet, know that there is currently little evidence to support its use.

Furthermore, the theory behind sugar and carbs fueling yeast growth does not address the underlying cause of candidiasis—namely, a depleted immune system and/or external forces that alter the balance of the natural flora of the mouth and vagina.

Despite claims that the Candida diet can "boost" the immune response, there has yet to be any evidence that diet alone can amplify the immune response to such an extent as to neutralize a Candida infection.

This doesn't mean that diet has no benefit to people with yeast infections or thrush. A healthy, balanced diet is central to a strong immune response in tandem with routine exercise, ample sleep, and the management of stress.

At the same time, you need to look at the factors that increase the risk of candidiasis, some of which are more easily controlled than others. These include:

  • Antibiotic use
  • Compromised immunity (such as with organ transplant recipients, people with HIV, or those undergoing cancer therapy)
  • Oral contraceptive or hormone therapy use
  • Oral or inhaled corticosteroid use
  • Pregnancy
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Wearing dentures

Many of these upset the natural balance of the vaginal or mouth flora, while others deplete immune cells needed to keep the yeast growth under control. As such, while diet may help maintain a strong immune system, it is unlikely to overcome the plethora of conditions that give rise to a Candida infection.

With that said, a number of smaller studies have suggested that dietary changes may be of benefit to people who are at an increased risk of candidiasis.

If you are prone to recurrent yeast infections or oral thrush, it is important to see a doctor to determine the underlying cause. Recurrent candidiasis can never be considered "normal" under any circumstance.

How It Works

The theory underpinning the Candida diet suggests that the complete avoidance of sugar and other foods will deprive yeast of the fuel that it needs to grow. It is a conceit that most of us can comprehend given the way that yeast is used in baking or the manufacturing of beer. Sugar "feeds" yeast cells, causing them to multiply at a vastly accelerated rate.

Alternative practitioners contend that the same principles can be applied in medicine, wherein the excess intake of sugar fosters Candida growth and the restriction of sugar suppresses it.

Sugar

The most widely discussed aspect of the Candida diet is the strict avoidance of sugar. This may be particularly relevant for women with diabetes, who are 63% more likely to get yeast infections than non-diabetic women, according to a 2014 study in the São Paulo Medical Journal.

Diabetes is a disease characterized by an abnormal increase in blood sugar (glucose). While yeast is not typically found in the bloodstream (with the exception of invasive candidiasis in people with advanced HIV), any rise in blood sugar can alter the glucose concentration in the mouth and vagina, helping yeast grow.

With that said, the occurrence of candidiasis in people with diabetes is driven not so much by the consumption of sugar but rather the inability to correct the dysfunction that gives rise to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). This includes the insufficient production of insulin and/or a resistance to the effects of insulin.

While the avoidance of sugar may reduce the risk of hyperglycemia in people with diabetes (and, in turn, the risk of candidiasis), the consumption of sugar won't inherently increase glucose levels in the mouth or vagina if the blood glucose levels are under control.

At present, there is little solid evidence that the restriction of sugar will either prevent or relieve Candida infections in people without diabetes.

Carbohydrates

Proponents of the Candida diet will often contend that carbohydrates contribute as much to candidiasis as sugar. The contention is based on the popular (and oversimplified) belief that "carbs are converted into sugar."

While it is true that carbohydrates are broken down into smaller sugar molecules, called monosaccharides, the body's response to these molecules can vary. Different foods have different glycemic index (GI) values, meaning that some foods cause blood sugar to rise significantly while others don't.

Moreover, the sugar molecules don't simply migrate to the mouth or vagina or the more you eat. Some will be burned for immediate energy, some will be stored for future energy, and others will be excreted from the body to keep the blood sugar levels from rising too high.

In short, if you have normal insulin levels and normal insulin tolerance, you won't experience abnormally high sugar in either your blood or mucosal tissues.

This doesn't mean that eating too many carbs (especially simple carbs like refined sugar) is a good thing. The excessive intake of sugar and high-GI foods increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and contributes to obesity.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugar should represent less than 10% of your daily calorie intake. For a daily 2,000-calorie diet, that translates to less than 4 tablespoons per day from all food sources.

At present, there is little to no evidence that the restriction of carbohydrates or the use of low-carb diets has any impact on the incidence or severity of Candida infection.

Probiotics

The use of probiotics in treating yeast infections is controversial. Although probiotics work by increasing bacteria beneficial to the vagina and gastrointestinal tract, their ability to prevent or treat candidiasis is subject to debate. While many studies suggest that a daily probiotic can "slightly improve" imbalances that lead to yeast infections, others do not.

A 2009 study in Letters of Applied Microbiology suggested that certain Lactobacillus probiotic strains enhance the effect of antifungal drugs (like fluconazole) used to treat yeast infections. However, there was no evidence that the strains could achieve the same effect on their own.

A 2017 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that probiotics may improve short-term cure and relapse rates in women with yeast infections, but conceded that the quality of current research is "low to very low."

Gluten

Some Candida diet plans advocate the restriction of wheat, a recommendation construed by some to mean that a gluten-free diet may help prevent yeast infections.

At present, there is no evidence that wheat and gluten-containing foods contribute to yeast overgrowth or increase the risk of candidiasis. Unless you have celiac disease, it is not necessary or advisable to eat a gluten-free diet.

With that said, there is evidence, albeit weak, that Candida albicans can trigger celiac disease symptoms, as it is similar in structure to the immune cells involved in the disease.

Candida diets typically recommend the avoidance of processed meat, packaged foods, preservatives, and certain nuts prone to mold exposure (e.g., cashews and peanuts). While many of these changes are beneficial, there is little evidence to suggest that they can actively "fight" yeast infections or thrush.

Yeast

People often wonder if they need to avoid yeast-containing food if they want to prevent yeast infections. The simple truth is that microorganisms used in food are not the same that cause candidiasis. 

Yeast-containing foods like bread and beer are typically made with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an entirely different form of yeast. With few exceptions, it is extremely rare for S.cerevisiae to cause yeast infections. In fact, the opposite may be true.

According to a 2017 study in the journal Virulence, S. cerevisiae is able to inhibit Candida growth and clear Candida infections in mice. If the same occurs in humans, it may support the use of brewer's yeast as a dietary aid in women.

Duration

Candida diets (which some call "cleanses") are very restrictive. Given the nature of these restrictions, it would be difficult to adhere to the diet for a long period of time and maintain adequate nutrition.

Your body ultimately needs the right amount of sugar and carbohydrates to function. Cutting back drastically can lead to hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by fatigue, headache, jitteriness, weakness, loss of concentration, and anxiety.

Proponents of the Candida diet claim that it takes around a month to notice any changes, if not longer. Some people may experience no changes at all.

A Candida diet should only be used during the onset of a yeast infection or when you are at an increased risk of candidiasis (such as when taking antibiotics). It is not intended for long-term use.

What to Eat

The guidelines of the Candida diet are strict and require you to completely eliminate several food groups. If you decide to embark on the diet, you should do so under the supervision of a health professional.

Compliant

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

  • Low-sugar fruit (lemons, limes)

  • Berries (in moderation, as tolerated)

  • Avocado

  • Olives

  • Eggs

  • Lean cuts of chicken or turkey

  • Salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies 

  • Ghee, kefir, and probiotic yogurt 

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

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

  • Almond butter 

  • Bone broth 

  • Herbal tea or chicory root coffee

  • Apple cider vinegar

  • Seaweed and algae 

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

  • Stevia, monk fruit, xylitol, and 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 or toppings

  • Frozen meals and snacks

  • Muffins, bagels, croissants, and biscuits 

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

  • High-sugar fruits and fruit juices

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

  • Peanuts, cashews, pistachios, and nut butters

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

  • Red meat and organ meat

  • Tuna and swordfish

  • Shellfish 

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

  • Bottled salad dressings, dips, and condiments

  • Canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, margarine, or "butter" sprays

  • Fruit juice, energy drinks, and soft drinks 

  • Caffeinated coffee, tea, or sodas

  • Alcohol 

Fruits and vegetables: Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits that are high in sugar are excluded on the Candida diet. Juices made from these fruits, or those that are sweetened, should also be avoided. Low-sugar fruits like limes and lemons are OK, 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, should be avoided. 

Dairy: Full-fat dairy is limited on the Candida diet with the exception of probiotic yogurt, ghee, and real butter (in moderation). All sugary milk or yogurt products, such as ice cream or frozen yogurt, are banned. Moldy blue cheeses, processed cheese, cream cheese, and cheese dipping snacks are also not allowed.

Grains: Many Candida diets recommended the avoidance of wheat and gluten, but there is insufficient evidence that this can help. Likewise, some Candida diets advise the restriction of food made with yeast, though the evidence for this is also lacking.

If you decide to cut gluten from your diet, it is generally best to do so if you experience gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity rather than as a means to control Candida.

Protein: Lean protein, such as eggs and skinless poultry, are allowed on the Candida diet, as are bone broth and certain fatty fish. Low-mold nuts and seeds are also approved.

The Candida diet also excludes red, organ, and processed meats. Shellfish and large fish (like tuna and swordfish) are also excluded as they are more likely to have been exposed to heavy metals like mercury.

Beverages: Alcohol is banned on the Candida diet. Fermented drinks like cider and root beer are also to be avoided. The same applies to sodas or energy drinks, whether they are sugar-free or not. Fruit juices, smoothies, milkshakes, milk-based coffee drinks, and other sweetened beverages (like hot chocolate) are also on the banned list. 

Caffeinated coffee and tea are allowed in small amounts if they don't contain sugar, dairy, or non-dairy creamer. Herbal teas and chicory root coffee are acceptable beverages, as long as they are caffeine- and sugar-free.

Desserts: The primary foods to avoid on the Candida diet are those containing sugar, so very few dessert options are compliant. Avoid any food made with refined sugar, including table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, maple sugar, molasses, date sugar, raw sugar, rice syrup, or sorghum. This not only includes cakes and cookies but many breads.

Check nutrition labels for other names for sugar, such as sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, glucose, dextrose, galactose, barley malt, dextrin, turbinado, monosaccharide, and polysaccharide.

The Candida diet does allow for sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk fruit, xylitol, and erythritol. Herbs and spices like cinnamon and ginger can be used to add flavor and a certain sweetness.

Recommended Timing 

There’s no set schedule for meals on the Candida diet, so you can adapt it to your needs. Because the diet is so restrictive, you should have plenty of small snacks on hand to nibble throughout the day if ever you feel weak or lightheaded.

Some people on the Candida diet prefer to eat frequent, smaller meals rather than three large ones. It may be the ideal choice for people with diabetes in that it helps stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent hypoglycemia. It can also prevent symptoms like diabetic gastroparesis, which can make you feel full after only eating a few bites. 

Cooking Tips

When preparing for the Candida diet, take the time to find substitutes for the foods you enjoy. Doing so can help you feel less deprived and keep you on the diet longer.

There are several easy swaps to consider:

  • You can make a carb-free meal by pairing lean cuts of poultry with a side of cauliflower "rice" or by using lettuce to wrap a turkey burger instead of a bun.
  • If you’re looking for ways to sweeten a meal naturally without sugar, try monk fruit. The naturally sweet melon works for just about any dish, including teas, oatmeal, and sauces.
  • In place of mayonnaise-based dressings, make a tasty yogurt dressing with plain non-fat yogurt, lemon juice, poppy seeds, dried mustard, and a touch of stevia.

Modifications

There are times when the Candida diet may not be safe without significant modifications, it at all.

If you are being treated for diabetes, for example, it may not be safe to reduce your sugar intake as strictly as the diet demands. Doing so can lead to a potentially serious hypoglycemic event.

While yeast infections are common during pregnancy, embarking on any restricted diet during pregnancy is potentially harmful to you and your baby and should be avoided. If anything, you will need to increase your nutritional intake during pregnancy to meet your body’s increased energy needs and promote healthy fetal development.

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 of the diet recommendations. Just be sure that the additional changes don't leave you nutritionally deprived and lacking the protein and carbohydrates need to function normally.

Considerations

Making changes to your diet can influence everything from grocery shopping and food prep to the dynamics of your social, work, and home life. Before embarking on any diet, consider how you intend to address these challenges so that you can achieve your goals safely and with a high quality of life.

General Nutrition 

Any diet that is heavily restrictive is not likely to provide you adequate energy or nutrition. While the Candida diet cuts out many of the foods that you don't need, like alcohol and processed meats, it also excludes many foods that are nutritious, such as animal proteins, nuts, and whole grains.

Though you can usually find reasonable substitutes for these foods, you can end up compromising your health if you don't take the time to prepare. This is especially true of people with recurrent Candida infections, many of whom have nutritional deficiencies to begin with.

To ensure optimal nutrition, work with a dietitian or nutritionist to establish your daily needs and how you intend to meet them. This may involve nutritional supplements to bolster your vitamin and mineral intake.

Safety

The safety of the Candida diet has not been established. This includes how long you can follow the diet without causing harm. Your age, weight, health, pregnancy status, and chronic medical conditions all play a role in how well you may tolerate the diet and how long you can adhere to it safely.

To protect your health, meet with a doctor or dietitian to discuss how appropriate the Candida diet is for you as an individual and whether there are other options better suited to your needs.

In addition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, the Candida diet should not be used in children, people with chronic hypoglycemia (including dumping syndrome), or those who are immunocompromised.

Flexibility

Dining out can be difficult if you’re on a restrictive diet of any sort. Even health food restaurants with an extensive gluten-free menu will not be able to sidestep every restriction, including agave, barley, cashews, dried fruit, and dairy.

This doesn't mean that you have to turn down dinner invitations. Here are a few ways to keep on track with the Candida diet when dining out with family or friends:

  • Check the restaurant menu online to see what you can and cannot eat. Many even offer a breakdown of calories, carbs, sugar, sodium, fiber, and saturated fat.
  • Call the restaurant in advance and advise them of your dietary needs. Some may offer suggestions or be willing to make substitutions if you give them plenty of warning.
  • If people are celebrating with alcohol, ask the bartender for some soda water in a champagne glass with a strawberry or other fruit so your diet-friendly drink is a little more festive.
  • If others are enjoying dessert, place an order for a cup of an unusual herbal tea. It will be exotic enough to befit a special occasion and won't leave you sitting there with nothing in front of you.

Side Effects

If you're following a strict Candida diet, you can expect to feel a loss of energy, tiredness, and fatigue, especially if you're accustomed to eating sugar, carbs, and caffeine. There are often few ways to sidestep these effects other than to pace yourself, get plenty of rest, and do light exercise (which can lift your mood and energy levels).

The bigger concern, of course, is nutritional deficiencies. If you're not getting enough iron, for example, you may develop anemia, which can make you feel tired or short of breath.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can affect your nervous system, causing numbness, tingling sensations, and the loss of concentration. Skin rashes, vision changes, and brittle hair or nails can be a sign that you’re low in zinc, niacin, or vitamin A

With a limited selection of produce and grains, the Candida diet may fail to provide enough dietary fiber to prevent constipation. Increased fluids, exercise, and a fiber supplement can go a long way to improving bowel movements.

If embarking on the Candida diet, it is important to address nutritional deficiencies early before they become a problem. Malnourishment reduces your overall immune response, increasing rather than decreasing the risk of candidiasis. 

Candida Diet vs. Other Diets

If the Candida diet is too strict or something you cannot tolerate for health reasons, there are other diets to consider that may be less taxing. (With that said, there is also no guarantee that any of these alternatives can resolve or prevent candidiasis.)

Paleo Diet

The Candida diet is essentially a stricter version of the Paleo diet. Starting with this option instead may be a good way to ease into the Candida diet's rigorous demands.

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

You might also consider plant-based diets that focus on whole foods and limit those that are processed. Many of these eating plans are less restrictive (and more nutritious), providing you a reasonable gateway to the Candida diet.

Other diets to consider include:

A Word From Verywell

Eating too much sugar, salt, fat, refined flour, and alcohol not only affects your immune system but your heart, liver, and kidney health as well. Limiting your consumption to the recommended dietary intake (RDI) prescribed by the Department of Human Health and Human Services may not entirely erase your risk of yeast infections or thrush. But keeping your immune system strong with a balanced diet, routine exercise, and reduced stress can't help but have an impact.

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Article Sources

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