The Ultimate Candida Overgrowth Diet Plan
To see how this often begins, let’s dig into a few more questions…
Have you ever downed a bag of junk food? Slammed a box of bagel or donuts? Ever taken acid blockers, antibiotics, birth control, or Ibuprofen? I think most of us would answer yes to at least one of these scenarios, especially those of us who are athletes.
Sadly, not only would most of us answer yes, but most of us would say that these are habits that we had for months and sometimes even years. While these may seem like harmless actions or just part of growing up, over time, the repeat of these actions can result in the dysbiosis, or imbalance of our gut bacteria. When our gut bacteria is thrown out of whack, the “good bugs” start to fade away and the “bad bugs” begin to overgrow and take over. The outcome? A sucker punch to the immune system, often leading to long-term side effects as a result of yeast, or candida overgrowth.
In today’s article, you will learn the ins and outs of Candidiasis, AKA Candida yeast overgrowth: the symptoms, complications, and of course, the best approach to a candida overgrowth diet plan in order to feel your best.
Candida? Isn’t that a Song?
Candida is a yeast-like fungus that lives within our body. If our immune system is functioning properly, we usually don’t even realize that yeast is existing inside us. In fact, when in check, candida can aid in nutrient digestion and absorption.
However, if our immune system has been suppressed for whatever reason-whether it be an infection, a medication, overtraining, lack of sleep, etc. the chances of candida wreaking havoc are high.
When our immune system is not functioning, as it should, candida can overgrow to the point of candidiasis, and spread to other parts of our body causing us to experience aggravating symptoms, most often in our gut.
Candida is extremely resistant and its ability to morph helps it to create biofilm in various parts of the body. Biofilm is a slimy, glue-like substance that encapsulations pathogens and helps the pathogens bind to a particular surface. Biofilm helps to make candida even more durable. This is why candida can easily survive in very tough environments such as our gut lining.
It is important to keep in mind that the existence of yeast is really not the issue but instead, the OVERGROWTH is what causes us to feel so poorly and symptomatic.
Interestingly, candida has been found to carry genetic code. Some scientists seem to think that this code is what allows rapid adaptation to the environmental and intense survival skills in the body.
Most commonly, candida is considered something that our immune system just tolerates and attempts to contain.
It can be a normal part of our microbiota.
The fungus is most commonly found on mucous membranes such as our mouth, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary tract, and respiratory tract. While candida loves to live in warm, dark, moist, environments, it is often found on human skin as well.
Candida can grow very quickly when the skin has been damaged such as a wound, or when two tissues touch each other (think armpit or genital area). Candida can also exist interdigitally (between fingers and toes).
Fun fact: one of the #1 classic signs of candida overgrowth is anal itching.
What Are the Top Causes of Candida Overgrowth?
While there are a number of compounding reasons someone may experience yeast overgrowth, here are the top 7 most common:
- Eating a diet filled with sugar and processed, refined carbohydrates (bread, crackers etc.) and desserts
- Frequently consuming alcohol or sugar-sweetened beverages
- Chronic Stress
- Diabetes (elevated glucose can continually feed yeast)
- Persistent use of medications such as antibiotics, steroids and hormone therapy such as the birth control pill
- Chronic illness, when the immune system has been compromised for an extended period of time
- A wound or surgery causing a breach in the skin or mucosal surfaces
Can I Actually See the Candida Overgrowth?
Typically the yeast lives deep in our gut or mucosal membranes and it is not visible to us. However, when candida overgrowth is localized, we are often able to see a thick white growth on certain parts of our body.
For example, Thrush (white coating on the tongue) is a form of candidiasis that can occur if an athlete has been taking immunosuppressive medications for an extended period of time.
Another common example is a vaginal yeast infection. This often occurs after antibiotic use. The antibiotic wipes out all of the bad bacteria in an attempt to crush the infection. This is all fine and dandy but unfortunately, during the process, a woman’s good bacteria is also demolished, thus making it an opportune time for candida to take the reins.
Candida also loves to make its way into the sinus cavity, often resulting in congestion, itching, or excess mucus formation.
That’s Not So Bad. Can it Get Worse?
For those of us who have unknowingly been living with candida for an extended period of time and the growth is continually fed (meds, poor diet, stress etc.), candida can invade our immune system on a systemic level.
This means that the yeast metabolites absorb into our bloodstream, thus allowing us to experience extremely annoying, chronic symptoms including but not limited to:
- Daily fatigue
- Brain fog
- INTENSE cravings for sugar (which the yeast thrives on)
- Neurological effects such as a depressed mood
- Gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Chemical sensitivities that were previously no longer an issue (smoke, perfumes, cleaning products etc.)
- Recurring visible infections (very common to see white cloud-like formations on nails)
- Extreme itching in odd places such as ears, tip of nose, bottom of feet and hands, anal region
This Totally Sounds Like Me
Have you noticed that you are more sensitive to the outside world or maybe even more sensitive to certain foods? Maybe your mood or bowel habits have changed for the worse.
Could you eat whatever the heck you wanted as a young athlete and now when you try to eat foods you once ate daily such as dairy and wheat you suddenly feel terrible? It is certainly possible that candida overgrowth is to blame.
Yeast overgrowth has the ability to increase intestinal permeability, thereby promoting sensitization. Remember, the vast majority of our immune system resides in the gut. When our gut lining is no longer as strong as it once was after yeast started to chew away at it so to speak, our body may start to attack food, scents, and chemicals that were once “safe”.
In fact, researchers have discovered a potential link to yeast overgrowth and the triggering of Celiac disease. Certain strains of candida are believed to contain a protein similar to gluten known as gliadin. The body then starts to form antibodies in order to attack gliadin. The belief is that this can trigger neuropsychiatric symptoms (ADD, anxiety, depression, mood changes), similar to that of gluten intolerance and possibly even Celiac disease.
Systemic candidiasis has also been found to correlate with other autoimmune conditions such as dermatitis, peptic ulcers, esophagitis, arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
What Foods Feed into Candidiasis?
When it comes to fueling candida overgrowth, sugar in the form of sucrose, maltose, and glucose are the main culprits. Oddly enough, lactose is not. This is perhaps why some athletes with yeast overgrowth report feeling well on fermented dairy products such as kefir.
When we ingest a lot of these foods, not only do we feed into the overgrowth of candida, but we feed candida’s ability to create more biofilm. Biofilm can be defined as a protective covering over a microorganism colony. This covering helps the species grow. Certain fungi, candida albicans (the most common form of candida) in particular, can contribute to the formation of biofilm.
The biofilm matrix has shown to have anti-fungal resistance to many common pharmaceutical agents such as Nystatin and Fluconazole. This is perhaps why an athlete will be treated for yeast overgrowth and feel better for a short period of time but then when retested to see if candida is still present, the initial yeast markers are higher than they were initially. The protective biofilm likely has something to do with the issue.
What are the Best Diagnostic Tests for Candida Overgrowth?
Your healthcare provider may choose to run the following tests:
- Comprehensive fecal analysis
- Urinary Organic Acids tests where the practitioner will be looking for the marker known as D-Arabinitol/Arabinose
- Blood: 1-3 Beta-D-Glucan may be a marker for yeast (not very much research on this but some practitioners have taken this route)
While it is speculative and somewhat unproven, some practitioners may choose to test for candida hypersensitivity by reviewing candida antibodies: IgE, IgM, and IgA in the blood.
Nutrition Strategies for Candida Overgrowth
If candida overgrowth is something you have suspected for a long time, chances are that you have researched viable solutions on your own. You have also probably come to find there are 50+ versions of the “Best Diet To Treat Candida Overgrowth”. Needless to say, there is a major lack of consensus. The main reason for this lack of consistency is that there are very few well-designed studies and very few if any clinical trials over the last 10 years which may provide greater guidance on interventions and treatment. Many individuals who are teaching and promoting the anti-candida diet are basing this off of personal or anecdotal experience. While this can be extremely useful, it’s always best to have evidence-based information and we hope to have more answers soon.
To make matters more complicated, you might also be in a situation where your doctor does not recognize or know how to assess for candida overgrowth. Truth be told, many traditionally trained physicians do not believe candidiasis is a problem and lack understanding of evaluation and treatment. Since the symptoms of yeast overgrowth are different for each person and tend to overlap with various other disease states, you may not even be 100% sure if yeast is to blame in the first place.
While a symptom questionnaire is a great start, it is ultimately best to find a functional medicine practitioner who understands how to treat and test for candidiasis. Once you have established that candida overgrowth is, in fact, the problem, it would be in your best interest to begin making dietary changes.
Here are the main principles of a solid anti-candida nutrition protocol:
Step #1: Decrease carbohydrate intake in order to starve the yeast.
Step #2: Avoid eating forms of mold and dietary yeast (Bye-bye blue cheese!).
Step #3: Kill off the yeast with an herbal or pharmaceutical based protocol designed by your healthcare practitioner.
The Best Foods to Eat When Following a Candida Overgrowth Diet Plan
- Lean protein (chicken, fish, eggs, turkey, venison, beef etc.)
- Fats and oils (nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, grass-fed butter)
- Non-starchy veggies (leafy greens, celery, onion, carrots, all cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, alfalfa sprouts, watercress, etc.)
- Small amounts of low-glycemic fruit such as berries, cherries, kiwi, green apple, and pomegranate
- Herbs and spices (The best anti-fungal options include: garlic, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, sage, clove, tea tree oil)
- Garlic, garlic, more garlic!
- Unsweetened beverages such as herbal teas and sparkling water
The Worst Foods to Eat When Following a Candida Overgrowth Diet Plan
Category #1: Carbohydrate-rich foods
- Added sugars (even if natural such as honey or pure maple syrup)
- Fruit juice
- Dried Fruit
- Refined grains and grain products such as pasta, bread, crackers, cookies (often times it is best to avoid all grains, even those that are not refined such as brown rice, millet, amaranth etc.)
- Starchy veggies such as potatoes, yams, and parsnips
- Corn and products made of corn (cornbread, polenta, tortilla chips etc.)
- Depending on your activity level and amount of candida present, your healthcare provider may also recommend that you remove fresh fruit for 2-4 weeks
What do all of these categories have in common? They are simple carbohydrates. A simple carbohydrate does not contain very much fiber. As a result, our body is able to break these foods down very quickly and easily to the simplest form of sugar known as glucose. Glucose is premium fuel for yeast.
Category # 2: Yeast-containing foods
It is important to note that yeast containing foods do not feed yeast, but instead, contribute to cross-reactivity. In other words, you may notice that your nagging symptoms worsen after consumption of yeast-containing foods.
- Nutritional yeast
- Brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast
- Yeast leavened breads or baked treats
- Alcohol (especially beer!)
- B complex vitamins that are yeast-based (ask your pharmacist)
- Vinegar (excludes raw Apple Cider Vinegar)
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kvass
- Aged/fermented soy such as tempeh, soy sauce, natto and miso
Are you already starting to notice that a few foods on this list differ from what you have read elsewhere? Just remember that every athlete’s immune system is as unique as a thumbprint. This is why I tell my athletes to listen to your body.
For example, if your symptoms seem to subside after eating fermented foods, include this category! If your symptoms are exacerbated by fermented foods, do yourself a favor and remove them for the time being.
Category # 3: Moldy foods/foods at high risk for mold contamination
- Peanuts/peanut butter
- Aged/moldy cheese
- Cured/smoked/processed meats
- While many candida overgrowth diet plans include mushrooms on this list, the research actually suggests otherwise. Again, listen to your body.
- If you are highly sensitive, you may notice that you react to the chemical sweetener aspartame or certain amino acid supplements. This is because both of these products contain free amino acids, which can act as a substrate for yeast.
Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth “Die Off”
One thing I can say after years of clinical experience is that candida “die-off” is a very real issue and it is NOT an enjoyable experience.
When you begin to change your diet in a way that will starve yeast, and especially after you begin a supplement protocol to demolish the yeast, you may notice a major increase in unpleasant symptoms. This is referred to as the “die-off” phase and occurs as a result of the release of toxic-byproducts of yeast.
Symptoms of the toxic release will be different for each person. However, the most common symptoms of candida “die-off” include:
- Joint/muscle pain or stiffness
- Increased gas and bloating
- A significant change in bowel habits
While this is not the most rejuvenating process, it is necessary and typically only lasts a few days to a few weeks.
Best Tips for Success on the Candida Overgrowth Diet
- Eating until you are 80% full. This allows for your gut to have the appropriate room necessary for digestion which decreases your chances of feeding yeast.
- Ensure that 50% of the food on your plate is always a variety of non-starchy veggies
- Eat beans/legumes with caution. You may have noticed that they are not on any of the lists above. This is because there is conflicting evidence and each individual tends to react quite differently. If you feel bloated, gassy, fatigued etc. after legumes, I would not include them in your elimination protocol. If you do not seem to experience symptoms, go ahead and keep them in the plan.
- Including high-quality fat will keep you full, add great flavor, and best of all, will not stimulate candida growth (Coconut oil has the best anti-fungal properties!)
- Eat fresh food when possible and do not allow cooked food to sit in the fridge for more than a day. This promotes microbial growth, which may cause you to experience a reaction. Instead, freeze leftovers immediately after cooking and reheat at a later date.
- Eat every 3-4 hours and do not be afraid to eat larger portions of acceptable foods.
How Long Do I Have to Follow the Anti-Candida Plan?
Your healthcare provider will decide upon the length of your elimination protocol. However, it is safe to say that most effective protocols last between 4-12 weeks.
I know what you’re thinking now. Can I ever eat my favorite foods again?! The answer to this question is typically yes. Your healthcare provider will walk you through a reintroduction protocol when deemed appropriate and you will begin to reintroduce one new food at a time, approximately every 3-5 days. The order of food reintroduction will be decided upon by your healthcare provider.
Should I Add a Probiotic to Assist My Candida Overgrowth Diet Plan?
Work with your healthcare provider to find the right probiotic for you. Also, be sure to take your probiotic with food unless the manufacturer states otherwise. Your gastric pH is lower in an empty stomach and this can degrade the probiotics.
Probiotics can be extremely beneficial when tackling yeast overgrowth for the following reasons:
- Probiotics produce various acids (lactic/acetic/formic) that can help fight yeast.
- The Bifidobacterium species, in particular, inhibits biofilm production.
- Probiotics help to restore our microbial balance that was thrown off by yeast overgrowth.
OK, This is a lot of Information. Can You Just Give Me an Example of a Meal Plan to Support Candida Overgrowth?
I hear you, this is a ton of information and it can be really tricky to put all the pieces together.
Just remember, a solid anti-candida diet plan consists of lean protein, quality plant-based fat such as nuts, seeds, and oils, non- starchy veggies, low glycemic fruit, herbs, and spices.
Here is a 3-day anti-candida meal plan to get you started:
2-3 egg omelet with veggies + side of fresh berries
OK to add fresh salsa on top of omelet for flavor
1-2 almond flour tortilla sandwiches: Grilled chicken breast with lettuce, mustard, and other veggies of choice, wrapped in a Siete brand Almond or Coconut Four Tortilla
1 cup of sliced peppers dipped in guacamole
Sliced green apple dipped in almond butter
Take your favorite chili recipe and make it without the beans
Pair with a side of roasted broccoli
If you just can’t resist a little bread for dipping, check out this candida friendly bread recipe from The Candida Diet.com https://www.thecandidadiet.com/coconut-bread/
Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie:
Blend the following ingredients in a blender and enjoy!
1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
1 cup frozen raspberries
2 teaspoons (or more) of raw cacao powder
2 scoops of Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
Your choice of 1 TBSP coconut oil or ½ frozen avocado for your fat
Grilled chicken salad over a bed of arugula, pumpkin seeds, cucumber, carrots and any other of your favorite veggies. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper for dressing.
Not a fan of animal protein bars?
Try roasting carrots in a pan with coconut oil and then sprinkle with cinnamon. You will be pleasantly surprised
Too much effort?
Try a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds!
Asparagus roasted in avocado oil and garlic cloves
Prepare this dish the night before you hope to consume it.
In a blender, dump 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 TBSP unsweetened almond butter + 1 scoop of collagen peptides + 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Blend until completely smooth and creamy then pour into a bowl.
Dump ¼ cup chia seeds into a bowl (add more if you like a more cakey vs. soupy texture). Let sit overnight.
Give a little stir in the morning and enjoy cold.
Taco Bowl or Asian Bowl
Mix your favorite seasoned ground beef, chicken or turkey
Add sautéed peppers and onions
Option to add guacamole and salsa
Pour over a bed of cooked cauliflower “rice”
Grilled chicken, beef, pork or shrimp
Add your favorite veggies such as onions, red peppers, carrots, cabbage. Sautee in sesame seed oil.
Option to add organic edamame
Use Coconut Aminos as the sauce
Pour over a bed of cooked cauliflower “rice”
Blend 1 cup frozen strawberries with ½ cup full-fat canned coconut milk. Grab a spoon and enjoy immediately!
Chicken or turkey meatballs with Rao’s Marinara Sauce (tastes amazing and does not contain added sugar!)
Poured over spaghetti squash
Pair with a side of your favorite green veggies
You Can Feel Great Again
In summary, candida overgrowth is far more common than you could ever imagine. The tricky part about this situation is that yeast is often not addressed or recognized by conventionally trained physicians. Yeast overgrowth is something more commonly validated and treated by Integrative and Functional Medicine practitioners.
If you’re interested in continuing to figure out why you may be fatigued or have undesirable GI symptoms, I encourage you to check out our post Why the Standard American Diet Causes Fatigue and 7 Best Tips to Fight Fatigue Symptoms in Athletes. We have valuable information that can assist you in helping reverse your symptoms and feel great again.
The good news, however, is that the limited research that is available shows that combining diet therapy with an herbal or pharmaceutical protocol has produced a full resolution of symptoms in most individuals.
Have you ever experienced candida overgrowth? How did you overcome this funky fungus? Please share your comments below!
- Cunningham 2013
- Chandra et al, 2001; Singh, et al, 2015
- Cunningham 2013 – testing is speculative and unproven.
- University of Maryland Medical Center 2015 (best anti-fungal foods)