The Candida Diet: Beginner’s Guide and Meal Plan
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 that alleviates symptoms of candida infection.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to the candida diet and a sample meal plan.
There are more than 150 known candida species living in various parts of your body. These species aid digestion and nutrient absorption from food.
An overgrowth of candida can break down the wall of your gastrointestinal tract. This releases harmful toxins into your bloodstream, causing infection (3).
- 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
- Strong sugar cravings
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 (3).
Worldwide rates of candida infection remain high — having stayed constant for the past two decades (8).
Risk Factors for Infection
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.
Summary Over 150 different candida species live in your body. Of these, 15 can cause infection if they overgrow. Risk factors for candida infection include inadequate diet, high stress levels, a weak immune system and poor hand hygiene.
Though there is an overwhelming amount of data regarding the risk factors of candida overgrowth, treatment plans are inconsistent and insufficiently studied (15).
However, one possible treatment is the candida diet.
This diet excludes sugar, gluten, alcohol, certain dairy products and harmful additives while encouraging low-sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables and gluten-free foods. The science behind this regimen is as follows:
- Gluten is barred because research indicates that the gluten compound zonulin may damage the lining of your digestive tract (16).
- Sugar may feed candida growth, causing the infection to worsen (17).
- Since lactose malabsorption is common and can trigger symptoms, some dairy products are also banned (18).
- Foods containing artificial ingredients, high mold content, preservatives and pesticides can continue to feed bacterial overgrowth and lead to continuous inflammation. Therefore, they are also avoided (19, 20):
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 heal your gut. Over time, these practices could help kill off candida overgrowth.
On the other hand, failing to follow this diet could amplify your symptoms. When your body experiences excessive inflammation and disrupted gut bacteria, the symptoms of candida infection could worsen (21).
Summary The candida diet is designed to reduce inflammation and ultimately cure candida infection by restricting certain food groups, such as gluten, sugar, alcohol, certain dairy products and harmful additives.
Before beginning the candida diet, advocates recommend going on a candida cleanse. This is a short-term diet that is thought to alleviate stress on your digestive tract and release toxins from your body.
Doing a cleanse can also prepare your body and mindset for the candida diet. 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. Some people may experience relief in a matter of weeks, 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.
- Remove any possible risk factors: To reduce symptoms as fast as possible, it’s important to eliminate any risk factors that could prevent progress — such as alcohol, poor hygiene or sugary foods.
- 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.
Summary To start the candida diet, you should do a candida cleanse followed by strict adherence to the diet’s food list. It’s best to work with a healthcare provider when following this 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, walnuts, 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.
Summary Eat organic, low-sugar, high-quality produce, meats and fats to help reduce pesticide exposure and increase nutrient absorption.
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 sugar.
- Nuts and seeds higher in mold: Walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pecans and pistachios.
- Caffeine, alcohol and sugary beverages: Caffeinated teas, coffee, energy drinks, soda, fruit juice, beer, wine or spirits.
- Additives: Nitrates, dextrose or sulfates.
Summary Avoid high-sugar foods, additives, processed foods, certain meats, fats and oils — as well as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages — to support healing and relieve symptoms.
Other dietary changes may also subdue candida bacteria. These foods, beverages and supplements may kill off candida overgrowth:
- Pau d’arco tea: Pau d’arco is a tree native to the Amazon rainforest that some test-tube and mouse studies link to decreased infection due to its anti-inflammatory properties (26, 27, 28).
- Bone broth: This nutrient-dense beverage made from animal bones boasts vitamins and minerals, such as collagen, that some studies suggest can improve your immune and digestive systems (29, 30).
- Algae: As one of the highest food sources of chlorophyll, algae may support detoxification of carcinogens in your body (31).
- Probiotics: Taken as supplements, these healthy bacteria may help alleviate inflammation, kill off harmful organisms and reduce prevalence of candida and infection symptoms (32, 33, 34).
- Lavender oil: This essential oil may reduce progression and spread of candida (35).
Summary Pau d’arco tea, bone broth, algae, probiotics and lavender oil are additional substances that could potentially eradicate candida overgrowth due to their particular health benefits.
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
Summary Although this diet can be restrictive, there are still plenty of healthy, scrumptious options available.
Despite the lack of research on the candida diet, it may do more than simply relieve symptoms.
A diet such as this can be beneficial for anyone — even those without candida overgrowth.
Summary 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 study in 120 people on the candida diet observed improvement in stool symptoms in 70% of participants after three months (41).
An animal study found that the consumption of sugar increased candida growth in the digestive tract (42).
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 (43).
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.
Summary Major downsides of the candida diet include a lack of research and strict food rules. Therefore, it may not work for everyone.
The candida diet is designed to kill off candida overgrowth by eliminating sugar, gluten, alcohol and some dairy products.
It focuses on organic, low-sugar, high-quality produce, meats and fats.
Symptom relief can differ between people and may depend on your adherence to the diet, duration and symptom severity.
The first signs of improvement may include an increase in energy and focus, as well as a decrease in digestive distress.
While you may experience improved symptoms, studies on this diet are lacking and conflicting.
Nonetheless, if you have been diagnosed with a candida infection, it may be helpful to see if this diet works for you.