The word “diet” can represent different things in different contexts, but most people think of a diet as eating less food or more healthy food as a means of promoting weight loss. Yet some diets are designed with other goals in mind; in the case of the Candida diet, weight loss is at best a secondary or tertiary concern. Instead, the Candida diet focuses on foods that are thought to be beneficial for gut health and effective at curbing a particular category of fungal infection.
What is Candida?
To understand the diet and why some people are proponents, it’s first helpful to understand the meaning of the terms. Candida is a genus of yeasts, single-celled microorganisms that are part of the fungus kingdom. The genus of Candida is quite large, with hundreds of known species. Even though many of these are harmless to humans, species in the Candida genus are nevertheless the most common fungi involved in fungal infections around the world.
By far the most abundant species is Candida albicans, and it is, perhaps surprisingly, almost universally present in humans and some other mammals. Candida albicans can be found on the skin in small amounts, but it is also typically found in significant quantities in the mucous membranes of the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and the female reproductive system. Candida is considered an “opportunistic” species because it can be more or less dormant and then suddenly take advantage of changing body conditions.
Candida Overgrowth Concerns
Under normal circumstances, Candida resides in the body and has no notable effect on its function. Sometimes, though, when the immune system is compromised or there’s some kind of disruption in the mucous membranes, the Candida yeast begins to grow and multiply faster than normal. Even though the fungus was already present in the body, a Candida overgrowth starts to be considered an infection. Overall, such an infection is referred to as candidiasis, but it is also sometimes called thrush or a yeast infection when it occurs in the mouth or the vagina.
When the overgrowth is in the mucous membranes of the mouth (oral thrush), throat, or esophagus, a variety of symptoms start to emerge. In addition to inflammation that can make it painful to swallow, white patches are often visible in the mouth and throat. Many people also report persistent dryness in the mouth. With a vaginal yeast infection, patients tend to experience itchiness in the area and a white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Patients also sometimes have pain in urination and intercourse.
Doctors aren’t certain about the central cause of Candida overgrowth, but they believe that having a weakened immune system (for any reason) is one of the major risk factors. This means that any disease that negatively affects the immune system can raise the risk for an overgrowth. HIV/AIDS, diabetes, some kinds of cancer treatment, overuse of steroids or antibiotics, and stress are all examples of factors that increase the risk. In vaginal candidiasis specifically, pregnancy, intercourse, and some types of contraceptives can also increase the risk of overgrowth.
How Does the Candida Diet Claim to Help?
In the vast majority of Candida infections (or any kind of fungal infection), the standard medical practice is to treat it with antifungal medications either intravenously or in pill form. Depending on the nature of the infection, it can take from a few days to a couple weeks for the medication to get it under control. Rather than completely eliminating the fungus, though, the goal is to return Candida growth to normal levels. There are also some topical applications that are used for oral or skin infections.
Advocates of the anti-Candida diet believe that high consumption of food components like carbohydrates (especially simple sugars), gluten, and yeast are the underlying cause of the overgrowth in the gut microbiome. They additionally blame yeast overgrowth for other common symptoms like fatigue, poor memory, and brain fog. Because of this, they propose adopting a diet that eschews gluten, sugar, alcohol, and certain types of dairy in favor of lean proteins, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, probiotics, and other necessary supplements. The idea is that reducing these triggering foods will stave off overgrowth and remove yeast and yeast byproducts from the body.
Though the dietary constraints are a main feature of the diet, it is actually designed to start with a “cleanse;” a cleanse is essentially a detoxification process promoted by practitioners of alternative medicine. The Candida cleanse can last for days or weeks, and it typically involves consuming only liquids or a very limited diet. After the cleanse, you switch to a new diet with some of the following foods to avoid or emphasize:
Foods You Can Eat
- non-starchy veggies like asparagus, broccoli, or spinach
- gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and oat bran
- low-sugar fruits like berries or limes
- lean protein like chicken, salmon, turkey, and eggs
- healthy fats like olive oil or coconut oil
- fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, or yogurt
- nuts and seeds like flaxseed and almonds
- herbs like oregano, rosemary, or thyme
Foods to Avoid
- fruits high in sugar like bananas, grapes, and mangos
- any grains with gluten
- deli meats
- refined oils like canola or sunflower
- most dairy products
- sugar or artificial sweeteners like stevia
- nuts with a higher mold content like peanuts and pistachios
Is the Candida Diet Supported by Science?
More research needs to be done on the underlying causes of candidiasis, but currently there is very little scientific evidence to support the fundamentals of the diet. More specifically, there is no scientific consensus supporting the idea that gluten and sugar are substantial drivers of Candida overgrowth. Moreover, there also isn’t much evidence to support the notion that dietary changes can have any impact on what appears to be a problem of immune function.
The bottom line: there is currently no scientific support for the idea of the Candida diet as a remedy for and overgrowth of Candida. One notable exception is people with celiac disease; avoiding gluten is an important part of treatment. Yet even though the diet probably isn’t effective at its stated goal, there’s nothing intrinsically unhealthy about it. In fact, reducing one’s consumption of sugar, refined oils, and other additives is something any nutritionist would recommend for both overall health and weight loss goals.
Dieting Isn’t the Only Answer
While weight loss isn’t the main goal of the Candida diet, there is some evidence to suggest weight loss could be a possible outcome. For most people, though, diets rarely work, even if they should work on paper. The unfortunate truth is that obesity in the United States continues to rise in spite of the fact that there are now seemingly endless options for how to lose weight. This is why at True You Weight Loss, we are proud to offer an alternative to perpetual yo-yo dieting. With endoscopic procedures like ESG or a gastric balloon, you can realize long-term, sustainable weight loss without the risks and recovery time of bariatric surgery. If you’re ready for a new approach to your weight loss journey, please contact us today to request a consultation. Our team will be glad to answer any questions and help you determine the right solution for you.