Once I acknowledged here on Fork and Beans of my diagnosis of a fungal infection called Candida overgrowth, I got an outpouring of questions about what exactly Candida is, how to get diagnosed for it and what I have been eating in order to combat the infection. I’m taking this month to answer all your questions, share some of the recipes I have been creating and enjoying, and filling you in on my experience with the diet for anyone even interested in hearing about it.
Let’s start with talking about what it is. Candida is a normally-occurring yeast-like fungus that thrives in the intestines of humans. The goal is not to get rid of candida, it only becomes a problem when there is an overgrowth of yeast. When that happens, the good bacteria in your gut becomes dominated by the bad, causing an array of horrible symptoms that are spurred on by poor diet (including processed foods, sugars, and alcohol), consumption of antibiotics in our food supply, and stress. An overgrowth begins to negatively effect our bodies through the following ways but not limited to:
- Foggy brain
- Skin irritations (acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis)
- Poor concentration
- Mood swings
- Abdominal pain
- Fluid retention
- Mucus in stools
- Vaginal itch/odor
- Jock itch
- White thrush on tongue
- Consistent sinus problems
- Strong cravings for sugar or high carb foods
- Food allergies
I have been feeling horribly for a good two years now and was diagnosed with a Candida overgrowth back in September through my naturopath doctor who ran several tests on me including blood and stool samples. My tests came back saying that I was malnourished and my liver levels were at a low, so right after my diagnosis I began a standard Candida diet where I eliminated all sugars, most fruits, processed foods, alcohol, and yeast from my diet and found relief to the majority of my issues.
I lost 10 lbs that first month (weight I could NOT lose for the life of me), my stomach was no longer bloated, the white coating on my tongue went away, my breath changed, I battle with cystic acne when it’s not balanced by birth control and once I went off the pill around the same time of the diet my face actually cleared up (!!), my bowel movements became normal, I wasn’t angry and high-stressed, in fact I felt very even in my mood, I wasn’t dropping anything/running into walls/or feeling clumsy like usual, and the amount of gas I had went significantly down. Matt even went on the diet and we witnessed his dermatitis significantly go down. His skin became less inflamed, less raw, and less dry–something that no doctor has been able to cause. Unbeknownst to us, we actually needed to be on the diet for longer than those 2 months so once I started to incorporate foods a bit too quickly back into my diet, our symptoms came back with a vengeance. Now we are preparing to go back onto the diet (this time for a longer length of time [4-6 months] in a more structured manner [a clear 2 phase plan]. I am ready to kick this thing to the past and I know that there are several of you who are in a similar situation so here are the ABCs of Candida that I have been learning and have found to be helpful:
Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar will become your new best friend. Though vinegar is off-limits while on the anti-candida diet, Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar happens to be a natural candida repellent and is encouraged to ingest daily. I get my dosage by drizzling it (along with avocado oil) on a side salad at dinner but you can also drink 1 teaspoon mixed with 1/2 cup filtered water.
Be Surrounded by Supportive People
Find the people in your life who have your best interest in mind and keep them close during this time. I’m serious. If you can even convince your loved ones to join you on this eating plan, that will make your life all the easier. If anything, you will need the support and encouragement from friends and loved ones so if anything, take note of those who seek to sabotage you and avoid them at all costs during this time.
I highly recommend purchasing Ricki Heller’s latest guidebook, Living Candida Free. Not only does it provide you with 100 recipes that are meatless AND tasty but it also lines out for you a 3 Phase program on how to go on a successful (and easy-to-follow) Candida cleanse for those who have a diagnosis. There is a lot of differing info out there so it is nice when you can trust the source and Ricki is someone I trust. You can read more here on my review of the book.
Ditch the Alcohol
As much as it might pain you, all alcohol needs to be avoided completely for the duration of the diet plan due to its ability to convert into sugar once it hits your system, thus aggravating candida. One glass can set you back completely if it’s added too soon to your diet. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
Every Body is Different
Be your body’s best champion and know what works best for it because what works for me might not work for you. Though the outline of the candida diet is the same for everybody, keep in mind that the execution will be a little different for you, especially the duration of time on it. Some will recover rather quickly and be back to feeling better in no time, others (like myself) will need a longer amount of time on the elimination phase. Also some will be okay with eating beans and grains at a faster rate initially while others (like myself) will not. It is not your place to judge anyone’s choices or actions while in recovery, in fact this is a great reminder to remember in general. You do not hold the key to everyone’s problems, only your own.
Fruit in Limitation
Despite the fact that fruit is filled with delicious, natural-occurring sugars it still needs to be avoided as much as possible, especially the first couple of weeks while on the first phase of the diet. If you want a piece of fruit, stick to a very small serving and grab for fruits that are lowest in sugar like blueberries, kiwis, coconut, or even tart green apples.
Get Up and Move!
You will find it helpful to be active during this diet as it stimulates your brain and body. Really, I don’t need to convince you here about the benefits of exercise–just do it but be mindful of how your body is feeling and don’t overexert yourself in the first phase. Go for a nice walk and call it a day.
Herbal Teas Instead of Coffee
Make the switch to herbal tea or at least greatly reduce the amount of coffee you drink down to one cup a day and then sip on tea for the remainder of the day. Some of my favorite teas are Peppermint (great for digestion), Roasted Dandelion Root, and Nettle Leaf (perfect for those who like black tea) and I particularly love the Traditional Medicinals tea brand.
Inventory Your Symptoms
Pay attention to your symptoms and monitor their improvements as you are on the diet. Keep a food diary and note if certain additions of foods cause certain symptoms to come back and adjust accordingly. Do this slowly, giving your body enough time to react to new foods and seeing how it shows up in your system. For me, when I added wine back into my diet too quickly, I found the day after having one glass that I was super clumsy, unable to properly grab items with my hands and my temperament went from serene to very angry–something I had not experienced in the two months prior to.
Just Remember It’s Not About Perfection
Perfection isn’t the goal here, recovery is, and though you need to be on top of your eating game, it’s okay when you “fall off the wagon” (and by “It’s okay” I mean this isn’t a race about who recovers faster nor is there a time frame on when you should feel better). The nature of growth is never in a straight line. There is a lot of “2 steps forward, 2 steps back” type of growing so never beat yourself up when you step back; learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
Keep It Simple
The diet itself can seem very overwhelming initially but just remember to keep it as simple as possible. For breakfast, I will eat eggs, veggies, and even a slice of Paleo bread on occasion; for lunch, I go for leftovers from the night before or a big salad; and for dinner, I try to have a very small portion of protein, a good-sized serving of vegetables, and I always serve my dinner with a side salad drizzled with raw apple cider vinegar and avocado oil. It’s a basic and simple structure for my meals without feeling overwhelmed.
Lemon Water First Thing in the Morning
Lemon is great for digestion, alkaline for the body, and should be paired with lukewarm water. Usually those who are battling candida tend to have problems with digestion in some form so introducing lemon water first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything else is a great habit to form.
Make Veggies the Spotlight
In every meal, make vegetables the star, avoiding high-starchy veggies initially for the first few weeks like carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Vegetables are high in fiber, full of good-for-you vitamins, and are filling.
Natural Candida Repellents
There are a good number of foods that actually are natural candida repellents. Find ways to incorporate them into your daily diet, even after the restrictive phase is over:
- coconut oil
- clove oil
- raw apple cider vinegar
- cruciferous vegetables
Organic and Antibiotic-Free Foods
Do your best (remember perfection is not the goal) to buy organic fruits and vegetables and hormone/antibiotic-free eggs and meat (if you are a carnivore). Consuming too many foods with antibiotics in them is part of the issue for Candida overgrowth so do what you can with what you have. Yes, they are more expensive to purchase but you will be saving money on not buying processed foods so it’s a win-win.
Pay Attention to Your Cravings
The foods you crave the most while you are on the most restrictive part of the diet are usually the foods you should pay the most attention to, as it can be an indication of a food that the yeast overgrowth actually craves. For me I had insane cravings for corn, mainly in tortilla chip form. Corn, potatoes and alcohol, oh the Holy Trinity of severe body damage once incorporated back into my diet.
This awesome quiz provides as a tool (though does not take place of a doctor’s diagnosis) to monitor how severe your candida might be, as well as monitor your progress along the diet. I highly recommend it.
Rest and Relax
Part of the cause and continuation of a candida overgrowth is stress so now is the time to learn to take it easy. Make sure you are getting enough sleep for your body and that you are not overexerting yourself. You might also find it very beneficial if you begin a meditation routine.
Stevia is the New Sugar
Since sugar in all forms (this includes honey, molasses, brown sugar, sucrose–you name it) must be avoided during the diet, stevia provides as a great substitute. I personally am not a fan however desperate times call for desperate measures.
Take Snacks with You Wherever You Go
I make sure that my purse is well-stocked with goodies whenever I step out of the house. From a green apple, to nuts like almonds or cashews, cut up veggies, or even a green juice, I know that being hungry causes me to make poor choices so avoiding that as much as possible is key.
Undo Bad Habits
It’s our bad habits that got us here in the first place and now is the time to deal with them. Whether it’s eating too fast, making poor food choices, stressing out, or even grabbing for a chocolate bar or can of beer instead of dealing with our emotions, now is the time to go within and figure out the big WHY. If we don’t deal with the underlying issues, we will perpetually be in the same circumstance over and over again.
Vitamins, Supplements, Anti-Fungals, Oh My!
The following is my daily regime from vitamins, supplements, and even the anti-fungal that I use to battle my candida overgrowth prescribed by my naturopath doctor. This serves a guide to help you and is not limited to:
This is the anti-fungal that I use and have had great results with it: Thorne Research Formula SF722. I take 5 pills, 3 times a day until the bottle runs out (take a little over two weeks to complete). You can go longer with the dosage, which is what I will be doing the second time around, especially around the time you begin to incorporate news foods into your diet in case of an outbreak.
I also ingest oil of oregano caps from Gaia to pair with the anti-fungal pills (one cap, 3 times a day), which as we discussed earlier, oregano is a natural candida repellent and helps with the lowering of bad bacteria in order to replace it with the good bacteria.
Ultra Flora Spectrum is a high quality probiotic with over 1o billion live bacteria to do the job right. I take one capsule every day after I eat breakfast.
Triphala is one of my most prized supplements to take. Due to my terrible-at-times digestion, this stuff helps keep my colon moving. I usually take two caps at night so it does the dirty work for me by the morning. This isn’t candida-specific but it’s part of my daily regime.
Thorne Research has a great multivitamin for women called Nutri Fem. I take three pills every morning after I eat breakfast and get all of my needed nutrients aside from food.
For the days that I am feeling bloated or gassy, depending on what I have ingested, these Activated Charcoal pills do the trick! Usually I get relief within 15 minutes of taking 1 cap. Note that the charcoal will absorb anything else you take with it so it’s best to spread out ingesting this apart from other medications.
Watch Fed Up
Need more good inspiration (as if your health being on the rocks isn’t enough) on reasons why you should initially ditch sugar? The documentary Fed Up just might do the trick. It is a great movie and overview as to why it’s important to eat fresh, whole foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible. It also explores the harmful effects that sugar can cause on our bodies when over-consumed (notice I said over-consumed–I am not advocating avoiding sugar completely).
Xplore New Recipes
Variety is key with this diet. Switch up what you eat as often as you can and try adding new foods into the rotation. Go on Pinterest, create a secret board for the diet, and collect new recipe ideas to try. I have a board for every meal as well as a snack category.
You WILL Make It!
The best part of all of this is knowing that this way of eating is NOT forever. You do not have to avoid fruit (or other goodies) for the rest of your life so remind yourself of that when things get rough (because they will).
Zip Up Those Bad Thoughts
It all begins in your head so whatever you choose to think and dwell on, your reality will become. Overcoming your health and weight issues (you WILL be losing weight on this) might seem impossible, eating better foods might seem unimaginable, and getting through these several months might seem never-ending but you CAN do this as long as you keep that brain clear of negative thoughts.
If you or someone you know is going through something similar you don’t want to miss the remainder of the month. I’m going to be talking about my particular diet plan, my personal experience of it, and I will be sharing tasty candida-friendly recipes.