Candida is the most common fungus in the human body. It’s often found in areas like the mouth, skin, digestive tract, toenails, rectum and vagina (1).
It’s generally harmless, but an overgrowth of this fungus can lead to infection (2).
The candida diet is a strict diet meant to alleviate the symptoms of candida infections. However, its effectiveness is unsupported by scientific evidence.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to the candida diet and a sample meal plan.
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What Is Candida?
There are more than 150 known candida species living in various parts of your body. These species aid digestion and nutrient absorption from food.
Possible symptoms of an infection include (3, 4, 5, 6):
- Bloating, constipation or diarrhea
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin issues such as eczema or rashes
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Irritability and mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Joint pain
Despite the large number of candida species in your body, only 15 can cause an infection. Candida albicans is the most common infection culprit, accounting for over half of all cases (7).
Risk Factors for Infection
There are several risk factors for candida infection, including (1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12):
- A diet high in refined carbs and sugar
- High alcohol consumption
- Elevated stress levels
- Imbalance in your microbiota
- Improper use of catheters
- Birth control pills or antibiotics
- A diabetes mellitus diagnosis
- A weak immune system
If you have any of these risk factors, try addressing them through a change in diet or lifestyle. Consider incorporating meditation or stress management into your schedule.
Over 150 different candida species live in your body. Of these, 15 can cause infection if they overgrow. Risk factors for candida infections include a weak immune system and use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
How It’s Claimed to Work
Though many studies have examined the risk factors for candida overgrowth, treatment plans are inconsistent and insufficiently studied (13).
The candida diet is claimed to be a possible treatment option.
This diet excludes sugar, gluten, alcohol, certain dairy products and harmful additives while encouraging low-sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables and gluten-free foods.
However, most of these dietary restrictions are not supported by scientific evidence, as explained below:
- The diet excludes gluten because of claims it may damage your intestinal lining. However, there is no evidence that gluten causes intestinal damage in people who do not have gluten intolerance (celiac disease) (14).
- Very high sugar intake may worsen candida infections in people with weakened immune systems. A high-carb diet may increase candida counts in some people, but evidence that it increases infection risk is lacking (15).
- The diet also excludes some dairy products. In theory, lactose (milk sugar) may stimulate candida growth by increasing acidity in your mouth, but this hasn’t been confirmed so far (16).
- Foods with artificial ingredients, high mold content, preservatives and pesticides are also excluded. However, no evidence has linked mold, preservatives or pesticides to an increased risk of candida infections.
Alcohol and caffeine are discouraged in order to support healthy lifestyle practices and prevent dietary cheating.
Overall, this diet is designed to reduce inflammation and incorporate wholesome foods that may benefit your gut and reduce the risk of candida over time.
Still, to date, no studies have confirmed the diet’s effectiveness.
The candida diet is supposed to reduce inflammation and ultimately cure candida infection by restricting certain food groups. However, there is currently no evidence that the diet works.
Getting Started — Candida Cleanse
Before beginning the candida diet, advocates recommend going on a candida cleanse. This is a short-term diet that proponents believe will alleviate stress on your digestive tract and release toxins from your body.
While no studies support the benefits of a candida cleanse, it might help get you into the mindset for the candida diet. So far, no human studies have proven the effectiveness or benefits of detox diets or cleanses (17).
There are many ways to do a cleanse, but two common ways are:
- Drinking only fluids, such as lemon water or bone broth.
- Eating mainly vegetables, such as salads and steamed vegetables, alongside a small amount of protein throughout the day.
Some people may experience negative symptoms while starting a cleanse, such as fatigue, headaches, mood swings or changes in sleep patterns.
Keep in mind that the candida cleanse should not last more than a few days.
After you complete the cleanse, you can start following the candida diet’s food guidelines.
There is no specific timetable for the candida diet. The diet’s proponents claim that people may experience relief in a matter of weeks, while others may require many months to see a positive effect.
It’s best to work with a healthcare provider when undertaking the candida diet to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
Before starting the candida diet, there are several things to consider:
- Start out slow: Instead of removing sugar, caffeine and gluten from your diet all at once, focus on removing one thing at a time to ease the process.
- It’s meant to be short-term: This diet is meant to be used short-term until your symptoms have improved. It’s not meant to replace a long-term diet plan.
The candida diet starts with a cleanse followed by strict adherence to the diet’s food list. It’s best to work with a healthcare provider when following this diet.
Foods to Eat
Focus on incorporating these foods while on the candida diet:
- Low-sugar fruits: Lemon, limes, berries (may be eaten in small amounts).
- Non-starchy vegetables: Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, celery, cucumber, eggplant, onion, spinach, zucchini, tomatoes and rutabaga (best if eaten raw or steamed).
- Gluten-free grains: Millet, quinoa, oat bran and buckwheat.
- High-quality protein: Chicken, eggs, salmon, turkey and sardines (organic, pasture-raised and wild-caught varieties are best).
- Healthy fats: Avocado, olives, unrefined coconut oil, flax oil, extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil.
- Certain dairy products: Butter, ghee, organic kefir or plain yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds low in mold: Almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut or flaxseed.
- Herbs and spices: Black pepper, salt, cinnamon, dill, garlic, ginger, oregano, rosemary, paprika, turmeric and thyme.
- Condiments: Apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos and sauerkraut.
- No-sugar sweeteners: Stevia, erythritol and xylitol.
- Non-caffeinated beverages: Herbal teas, chicory coffee, filtered water, homemade almond milk, coconut milk (look for one without additives) and water infused with lemon or lime.
In addition, probiotic supplements may help alleviate inflammation, kill off harmful organisms and reduce the prevalence of candida and infection symptoms (18, 19, 20).
The candida diet promotes the consumption of whole and low-sugar foods, non-starchy vegetables, healthy protein, non-caffeinated beverages and gluten-free grains.
Foods to Avoid
The candida diet is a strict diet that eliminates sugar, gluten, alcohol and some dairy products. Candida diet proponents believe these foods promote candida overgrowth.
Avoiding these foods has not been proven to be effective against candida infections. However, studies suggest excessive sugar intake may worsen infections in mice with a weakened immune system (21).
The list of foods to avoid on the candida diet include:
- High-sugar fruits: Bananas, dates, raisins, grapes and mango.
- Grains that contain gluten: Wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
- Certain meats: Deli meats and farm-raised fish.
- Refined oils and fats: Canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil or margarine.
- Condiments: Ketchup, soy sauce, white vinegar, BBQ sauce, horseradish or mayonnaise.
- Certain dairy products: Cheese, milk and cream.
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, agave, cane sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses and table sugar.
- Nuts and seeds higher in mold: Peanuts, cashews, pecans and pistachios.
- Caffeine, alcohol and sugary beverages: Caffeinated teas, coffee, energy drinks, soda, fruit juice, beer, wine or spirits.
- Additives: Nitrates or sulfates.
The candida diet discourages the intake of high-sugar foods, additives, processed foods, certain meats, fats and oils, as well as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Sample Meal Plan
This sample menu provides foods that are acceptable on the candida diet. Adjust this menu based on your own preferences.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and avocado on the side
- Lunch: Turkey atop a salad of greens, avocado slices, cabbage, broccoli and an olive oil dressing
- Dinner: Stir-fry of quinoa, chicken breast, steamed vegetables and coconut aminos
- Breakfast: Yogurt parfait made with plain yogurt, 1/4 cup (25 grams) of berries, cinnamon and almonds
- Lunch: Thai red curry chicken (try this recipe)
- Dinner: Salmon cakes served with steamed broccoli and a cup of bone broth
- Breakfast: Turkey-and-sage breakfast sausages (like these) with a side of Brussels sprouts
- Lunch: Lemon-roasted chicken served over salad greens
- Dinner: Hamburger patty (no bun), topped with avocado and served with steamed vegetables and sauerkraut
- Breakfast: Vegetable omelet made with eggs, shallots, spinach and tomatoes
- Lunch: Leftover turkey-and-sage breakfast sausages with a side of sautéed cabbage
- Dinner: Coconut curry chicken over quinoa and steamed vegetables
- Breakfast: Omelet made with red peppers, onions, kale and fried eggs
- Lunch: Turkey meatballs with a kale salad and millet topped with ghee
- Dinner: Wild-caught salmon seasoned with lemon and dill, plus a side of asparagus
- Breakfast: Buckwheat breakfast muffins (try this recipe) with chicory coffee
- Lunch: Leftover coconut curry chicken over quinoa and steamed vegetables
- Dinner: Zucchini noodles topped with chicken, raw garlic, pesto and olive oil
- Breakfast: Smoothie made from plain kefir, a handful of berries, almond butter, coconut and cinnamon
- Lunch: Chef salad of hard boiled eggs, turkey, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and an olive-oil-based dressing
- Dinner: Chicken fajita bowl made with chicken, peppers, onions, cilantro, avocado and salad greens
Although this diet can be restrictive, there are still plenty of healthy, scrumptious options available.
Despite the lack of evidence supporting the candida diet’s effectiveness, it has many potential benefits due to its focus on healthy foods.
The diet consists of whole foods that can also be beneficial for weight loss, heart health, gut function and reduced inflammation in your body (22, 23, 24).
The diet also focuses on removing sugary foods, which have been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome (25, 26).
A diet such as this can be beneficial for anyone — even those without candida overgrowth.
The candida diet is an anti-inflammatory and nutrient-rich diet that may offer numerous health benefits beyond reduced candida overgrowth.
One major pitfall of the candida diet is that there is little human research into its effectiveness — and available research is controversial.
One 3-month study in 120 people with intestinal candida overgrowth showed that dietary changes had significantly reduced the numbers of candida yeasts in stool, compared to those who didn’t change their diet (27).
A study in mice with a weak immune system found that the consumption of sugar increased candida growth in the digestive tract (28).
On the other hand, one small study examined the growth of candida before, during and after a high-sugar diet in healthy people. Researchers discovered that a high-sugar diet had a limited effect on the growth of candida (29).
Another negative is the diet’s strictness. Sugar, gluten, most fruits, starchy vegetables, some meats, nuts, seeds, alcohol and caffeine are banned on this diet. Therefore, it requires more work to adjust to this eating style.
The candida diet may also pose difficulties if you’re on a budget or don’t enjoy cooking and meal planning.
Fortunately, this diet has a limited scope. It’s intended to be followed only while you are experiencing symptoms of candida infection.
Major downsides of the candida diet include a lack of research and strict food rules. Therefore, it may not work for everyone.
The Bottom Line
Proponents of the candida diet claim that it kills off candida overgrowth by eliminating sugar, gluten, alcohol and some dairy products.
It focuses on organic, low-sugar, high-quality produce, meats and fats.
There is currently no strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of the candida diet. While the diet is healthy overall, many of its recommendations are not based on science.
Nonetheless, if you have been diagnosed with a candida infection, it may be helpful to see if this diet works for you.