Friday, April 16, 2010

Candida Program: Step 2 -- The Diet

To really get a candida overgrowth back in control, you'll need to make a few dietary changes to jumpstart the process.  Cutting out sugar is essential, but it's not as hard as it sounds.  Sugar is a learned taste, just like salt, and after a few weeks your sugar cravings will be much less.

But first, a reminder.  A good candida program needs a three-pronged program for best results (see Step 1 -- Supplements and Probiotics, for more details).

1)  kill the candida with an anti-fungal agent (herbal supplements are best for the long run)
2)  stop feeding the candida yeast what they like to eat (sugars, starches, fermented food, and fungal food)
3)  replenish the gut flora with probiotics (good bacteria)

You’ll probably see a huge variety of opinions on what supposedly can and can’t be eaten on a candida diet (aside from no sugar).  I like to keep things simple and realistic to start with, especially if this is your first time going on this kind of program.  Later on as you learn more about yourself and your needs, you can fine-tune your diet.  The important thing is to get started.

The Goal -- Keeping Blood Sugar Stable. The end result is to kill as many candida as possible over time, and to keep new ones from populating our guts -- in otherwords, to keep the yeast under control.  Keeping blood sugar even and stable is essential to achieve this.  Paradoxically, after you start a candida diet, your blood sugar will automatically improve.  Many of my guidelines are centered around the goal of stable blood sugar.

When we eat sugar, or food that digests quickly to sugar (i.e., starches, processed and fluffy bread, white rice, corn, etc.) then our blood sugar is suddenly high. Insulin then has to spike to get the blood sugar down, which not only gives the candida a feast (while it’s high), it also leads to another host of problems, such as weight gain. And incidentally, when insulin spikes, all that extra blood sugar is.

There are many levels of doing this diet. The guidelines I give here are for someone just starting a candida diet and willing to make some real changes to start feeling better.  Think of your new diet as being your "medicine" and a journey into better health for yourself.

Food guidelines, in order of importance. If you are new to doing a candida diet, then the number one most important thing is to cut out sugar. If things don’t go perfectly on any given day, don’t worry about it, just resume where you left off and stay on the diet.  And remember:  if you're feeling overwhelmed or that you don't think you could possible do this diet, just start with the first and most important step -- cut out added sugar.  If you're currently eating a lot of sugar, then switch to 2 pieces of fruit daily for the first 30 days.  Then the second 30 days, you can cut out fruit, just for 30 days.  This is a roundabout approach -- it's best to cut out fruit entirely the first 30 days.  But also remember that you'll start feeling much better, much faster, if you use the guidelines below.

  • Stop eating any added sugar (white sugar, honey, fructose, maple syrup, agave, brown rice syrup, and all sweeteners except xylitol occasionally).  Absolutely no fruit juice, ever. 
  • Stop eating all fruit for 30 days.  Then add low-sugar fruits back in – granny smith apples, kiwi, and grapefruit – only one piece a day. Sorry, but this is the best way to get the diet going.  No dried fruit at all until you are stable and feeling better. 
  • Stop eating all fungal foods (mushrooms, peanuts, peanut butter, anything with yeast in it such as yeast breads, beer, or nutritional yeast)
  • Stop eating all fermented foods (e.g., vinegar, anything with vinegar in it like mayonaise, mustard, pickles, and sauerkraut, or anything just fermented).  Plain yogurt is the exception here -- it's fermented but contains helpful probiotics.  If you can tolerate it, it's okay.   
  • Limit anything white: white bread, white rice, white potatoes, white pasta.  Be sure to eat within a meal, the same as starches.
  • Limit starches: potatoes, corn, breads, chips of any kind, rice cakes. 
  • Eat whole grains as much as possible (e.g., brown rice, whole-grain breads). As time goes on, you may need to start limiting grains in general, especially wheat and other gluten-containing grains.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, check with me or your practitioner because it changes things.

Keep your blood sugar stable – eat 4-6 small meals (or large snacks) daily and don’t go more than 3-4 hours without eating. Don’t let yourself get hungry, this will make things harder on you in many ways.

Eat nothing by itself.  This is very important!  Whenever you eat anything, make sure you are eating plenty of protein, fiber, and fat together so that all of it digests more slowly. If you mess up (and we all do!), then be sure to not eat the sugary or starchy food by itself.  This keeps food from digesting to sugar too quickly and keeps blood sugar stable.

Eat a minimum of 60-80  grams of protein daily; 80 grams may be better for some. Get familiar with how much protein foods have in them. (Look for future posts on this.)  Plan your meals around the protein – have it on hand at all times for ready access….cooked meats, boiled eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, nuts, nut butters (not peanut), beans, whey protein, green pea or rice protein.

Don’t think of the amount of calories or fat you’re eating – this is not the time. In fact, eat plenty of good fats to feel satiated, more than you normally would, especially olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee (clarified butter).  Regular butter is okay too.

Eat foods low on the “glycemix index” – these foods that digest more slowly to sugar. Learn more about the "glycemic index" and what it entails.  (I'll post more on this later.) Basically, if you eat protein, fat, and fiber together then it lowers the glycemic index on anything you eat because it digests to sugar more slowly.

No alcohol at all.  Alcohol is a direct food source for candida.  If you absolutely need some, use the food rules above (i.e., eat nothing by itself).  Some can be added back in later, so don't worry if you're a wine drinker, it's not a life sentence.

Eat high-fiber foods.   Always choose a higer fiber food when possible.  Eating a lot of fiber will obviously help move things through the intestines faster and eliminate the dying yeast population.  High fiber has many other benefits too, so this is just a good habit to develop for a lifetime.  High-fiber foods include:  beans, flax meal, whole grains like oats, oat bran, and the like.

Drink 8-12 glasses of good water daily. Herbal and green tea counts toward this.

Take a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement every day. Extra B vitamins (such as stress B-100’s) and extra Vitamin C (2-3 grams per day) are highly recommended. Other vitamins/minerals may be needed as well, it depends on your situation.

Read all labels! It's surprising how many canned foods have added sugar, like beans and spaghetti sauce.

Eat almonds or nuts after a meal, to feel more satisfied.  If you still feel unsatisfied after a meal, try eating some almonds. It’s works like magic.  You could also try eating a slice of cheese or eating salad at the end of the meal.


As you read these lists of foods, please use your own personal guidelines of what you can or can't eat, for example, if you're on a dairy-free or gluten-free diet or have any food allergies, then you'll obviously take that into account.
  • All meats, excluding processed meat (bacon, sausage, and ham -- all have sugar)
  • All vegetables -- there are so many to choose from! Eat a good variety of them, two different ones at a meal is great.  Use a starchier one, like carrots or squash, together with a less starchy one (celery, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) to feel more satiated.   
  • All nuts and seeds (except peanuts): almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, filberts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax, chia, etc. 
  • All grains, especially whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, 100% whole grain wheat 
  • Breads without yeast (e.g., whole-grain bagels, flat breads, pita bread)
  • Beans, legumes, green peas – don’t go overboard, these are starchy. 
  • All fats -- olive oil, ghee, butter, coconut butter, grapeseed oil are some of the best.
  • Plain yogurt.  It has sugar, but has a lot of good bacteria for your gut. 
  • All dairy.  Cheese and cottage cheese are fermented, and milk and plain yogurt have sugar, but some do okay with these on a candida diet (mozarella is least fermented). 
  • Fruits for first 30 days:  lemons, limes, tomatoes, avocados
  • Fruits for second 60 days and beyond, 1 serving per day:  granny smith apples, kiwi, grapefruit, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries (no strawberries for awhile)
  • Salad dressing:  fresh lemon or lime juice (no bottled) and olive oil are your best bet, and delicious.  
  • Coffee, green tea, black tea, herbal teas
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Good water…no tap water unless it's a great source.
  • Think of it as an adventure. The essence of a good candida diet is to focus on protein and vegetables. So unless you currently eat that way (I didn’t!), then embarking on a candida diet can be a bit of an adventure. You may find yourself eating in some new ways and even forming a new way of eating that is much more healthful for the long run. And how bad can that be?
  • But old habits are hard to break, so be very patient with yourself. The goal is not perfection. Be open to trying new foods and new combinations. For example, if you always have a baked potato with your meat, or white rice with your dinner, then you’ll have lots of opportunities to try things differently, right?  Like having chicken breast with asparagus and sliced tomatoes.  Or a turkey burger with broccoli and sweet potato.  (I'll post more soon on sample menus.) 
What happens when you don’t follow the guidelines (i.e., “cheating”): None of us should expect perfection when first embarking on this diet. For some of us, it’s very difficult, depending on how we’ve been eating. We’re all just human, and we all have different needs, wants, desires – and eating habits. So, we do the best we can. There will be cheating, I guarantee it.  So find ways to comfort yourself and not criticize or get down on yourself when it happens.  Okay?  Just work through it, and stay on the diet.  And know that your cravings for sugary things will get less and less every week.

My favorite way to deal with sugar cravings (if I need to "cheat" and treat myself occasionally) is to be “pre-emptive” about it. If you feel a strong craving for a day or two for something, then don’t wait for it to overtake you during an impulsive moment. What I do is acknowledge the craving (for me, it’s often a certain chocolate chip muffin at a downtown coffee shop) and if the craving continues, then I decide I’m going to go have one – very deliberately and with much enjoyment. Then I do! And I’m done with it. I’ve enjoyed it and I don’t feel guilty because I planned it. Then I just stay on the diet. So when this happens, have a plan to deal with it, have your sweet treat or glass of wine, don’t criticize yourself, and just get back on the diet once you’ve had your sweet treat. Just try not to gorge yourself all day just because you allowed one sweet treat. I’ve tried that before too and don’t recommend it.


Eat almonds after a meal. One of the best tips I can suggest for staying on this diet is….almonds. After you finish a meal and are craving something a little more, eat a handful of almonds, 10-12. You’ll feel satisfied and can go onto other things. And if you’re starving before a meal, eat some then too, or walnuts. This works really well.

Don’t keep sweet treats or snacks around the house. This just doesn’t work. If you live with others, then you’ll have to figure out how to handle this. The fact is, no one needs to eat a bunch of sweets, but if those you live with are not your children, then you may not have control over the situation. However, you do have control over yourself, so you’ll need to come up with a plan for mealtimes and snacktimes. The more you’re pro-active about restructuring your environment, the more successful you’ll be.

Remind yourself how much better you’ll feel, if you don’t feed the candida currently thriving in your body. If I’m tempted to eat something sugary, or even some peanut butter (which I love), I ask myself: would I rather eat this, or feel better? It’s my choice.

Keep lots of protein foods and vegetables around. Keep plenty of food cooked, especially meats/proteins for snacks or meals. I always make sure I know ahead of time what my next meal’s protein is, and take meat out of the freezer or whatever needs to be done so it’s ready to go. Also, keeping a bowl of boiled eggs in the fridge works too. Just keep good food around so you don’t get hungry, and can make some good choices if the need suddenly arises (it will!).

Good food can still be fast food. Since I cook most of my food these days, eat out less and less, and eat very few grains…I’m often creating ways to make “fast food” that is still good. For example, I”ll take a pound of ground turkey, throw it all whole into some heated olive oil with a few sliced onions, salt, break into big chunks, throw in some spices like curry or cumin or sage or garam masala, and it’s done pronto in about 5 minutes. If I’m really desperate not to cook, I’ll eat a carrot and piece of celery, or whatever I’ve got handy. And that’s dinner! I’ve recently create a beef stew in 10 minutes by using ground beef and shredded vegetables….really delicious. So many things are possible even if we're out of our normal comfort zone.

A moderate approach.  My guidelines are a mixture of some standard thinking and what has worked for me for the past 8 years (on and off candida diets), what has worked for people I’ve helped, and advice from experts on candida. Everyone is unique, however, be it our symptoms or how we react to certain foods whether dairy, grains, or beef for example. That's why it's important to monitor your symptoms as you go along, especially if you suddenly get more symptoms or some kind of reaction after eating a certain thing (e.g., gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, foggy head). If you get a reaction, it could be either because you just ate something to feed the yeast, or your system is beginning to fine-tune and notice things it doesn't like (e.g., wheat/gluten).

Even though my guidelines are somewhat moderate, if you have a severe illness such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or a severe fatigue issue (as examples), then I would recommend a much more severe and strict approach to a candida diet.  I see no reason to muck about in moderation when an illness can be so radically improved.  That being said, if you only have some lesser or minor health issues, then going on a severe candida diet would also help your issues faster.  The only reason I don't recommend a strict approach for lesser issues is that the motivation for better health is often not present -- until issues are severe.

You'll be making choices. When you start a candida diet, you'll be making choices about what you will, and won't eat. For example, if you're having dinner at a restaurant and really want the mushrooms, you'll have to decide. And if your companion is having wine and a dessert, you'll have to decide what you'll do in that situation. Maybe you'll compromise, and allow yourself the mushrooms but avoid the wine and sugary dessert.  Sometimes a compromise is in order.  Just remember -- these are your choices, no one else can make them for you. Just as it's your choice to make some dietary changes to improve your health.  So give yourself a big hug for having the courage to go down a new path. 

If you have any questions on this program, please contact me at:

Adele Sonora
Nutrition and Health Educator
B.S Nutrition Science

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