What is wrong with the popular Candida Diet? And what is a safer, healthier solution to eliminate candida overgrowth?
You are in the right place and asking the right questions, because I have some answers for you!
Sugar is healthy? What about Candida?
Those were the common questions I received on my popular post Sugar: Your Body Needs It. “But I have candida issues,” folks commented and emailed me, “I can’t eat raw honey, fruits and maple syrup.” The popular Candida Diet takes many forms, such as the diet outlined in The Body Ecology book or The Candida Diet website. These anti-candida protocols all eliminate natural sugars like honey and fruit as well as starchy vegetables like winter squash and carrots.
I’m here to tell you that you can and should eat natural sugars, even if you have candida issues. It sounds like a scary concept. Believe me, I was also hesitant to start incorporating healthy sugars back into my diet after my short and extraordinarily unpleasant stint on The Candida Diet. I am grateful that I escaped harmful candida myths, because now I’m healing my body and addressing the root cause of my candida overgrowth.
So, without further ado, here are the three problems I have with The Candida Diet:
1. The Candida Diet doesn’t address the root cause
First, candida overgrowth results from poor digestion and a leaky gut… not simply the consumption of sugar (although a high sugar, refined food diet can lead to the leaky gut down the road). Candida diets, which allow the consumption of gluten free grains, will not correct a leaky gut and therefore will not permanently address candida overgrowth. In most cases, it requires a grain free diet to heal and seal the gut lining. Why?
Undigested food particles cause injury to the small intestine. This damages the villi and microvilli. Microvilli contain cells that produce the enzyme disaccharidase which breaks down disaccharides. But when the microvilli are damaged, disaccharidase production slows or halts. This leads to impaired digestion of disaccharides, bacterial overgrowth (and candida overgrowth), and an increase in gut-damaging bacterial by-products. It also allows undigested food particles to escape from the intestines into the bloodstream, causing food allergies or sensitivities. The cycle worsens over time (Source and source).
Removing disaccharides (which are found in things like grains, potatoes and table sugar) from the diet and supporting digestion with probiotics allows the microvilli to heal and the gut lining to seal. I recommend the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, called the GAPS diet, as an effective alternative to the candida diet… with some tweaks, as I discuss below.
2. Sugar-free may equal systemic candida overgrowth
Second, eliminating natural sugars (like fruit and honey) from the diet when one has candida overgrowth can actually exacerbate the candida issue and cause systemic candida overgrowth:
Starved candida needs sugar and so will travel upwards through the intestines in search of it. If no sugar is found, candida will project invasive filaments into the intestinal wall, pass into the bloodstream, and – if not quickly destroyed by white blood cells – become systemic. (Source: I Didn’t Quit Sugar)
3. The Candida Diet impairs metabolism and hormone function
A sugar free diet will elevate stress hormones, which exhausts the adrenals, reduces thyroid hormones, and taxes the body. The first few months of a sugar free or intensely low carb diet will bring weight loss and a burst of energy due to the surging stress hormones. After the “honeymoon period” however, the toll of the stress hormones will impair the thyroid. The suppressed thyroid function will, in turn, slow the metabolism and cause the weight gain and fatigue.
I believe the GAPS diet is an extraordinary healing tool, but I have found that I reap even greater healing benefits by utilizing metabolic principles with the GAPS diet. This means favoring “warming” foods: foods that boost metabolism and support healthy hormones. These include saturated fats, healthy sugars, and generous amounts of sea salt. Candida abhors a fast metabolism – the better your metabolism, the more effectively your cells will be able to use fuel for your own health.
Yes, I know the idea that fat, sugar and salt speeds the metabolism is unorthodox and strange. But it’s true! Caloric and sugar reduction only slows metabolism – a fact recognized by doctors and health practitioners. For details on using salt and sugar to speed up your metabolism, read my post about Metabolic Hydration here.
What do I do now?
We are all bioindividuals, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to a healing diet. I can, however, give you a few places to start. I believe a grain free diet such as the Autoimmune Paleo diet or the GAPS diet is very effective in sealing a leaky gut and addressing the root issue of candida. Next, I use metabolic principles (as I described in my sugar post and hydration post) to allow my slow and stressed out metabolism to heal.
A third resource I use to kick candida overgrowth is my raw goat milk yogurt. Interestingly, raw goat milk yogurt has anti-candida properties (source) and the probiotics help bring gut flora into a healthy balance. I also drink 1/2 to 1 tsp. of raw apple cider vinegar in a 1/2 cup of warm water 3 times per day, which can aid in suppressing candida growth.
Candida overgrowth often requires a tailored approach with natural anti-fungals and lifestyle changes, as well as dietary changes. For more information, you can check out 20 Frequently Asked Candida Overgrowth Questions, which Candida expert Dr. Bakker shared here recently.