Experts discuss whether this eating plan can help restore a balance of good and bad bacteria.
There's been a wave of changed perspectives when it comes to dieting: More people are looking to improve their eating habits as a way to feel better and get healthier, instead of simply to lose weight or fit into a pair of jeans. (This is essentially the anti-diet trend, and we're super excited about it.)
Part of that nutrition equation is gut health—specifically looking to probiotic-rich foods for a calm, healthy digestive system. (If you still don't know why it matters, here's how your microbiome affects your health.) Enter: the anti-candida diet. This low-sugar diet is designed to eliminate candidiasis, an infection from candida (a type of yeast) overgrowth in the gut. Candidiasis can develop as a result of an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and can cause not only serious digestive problems, but inflammation, allergies, and mood swings. It's a "silent epidemic" that affects one in three people, says Ann Boroch, certified nutritional consultant and author of The Candida Cure. Sugar and refined carbs are two major culprits of excess yeast in the intestines, so the anti-candida diet calls for cutting out added sugar, alcohol, and even some fruits and veggies if they have a high glycemic index, a measure of how quickly a food is digested and broken down into glucose in the body. The goal is to wipe out the yeast and return your gut to a healthy balance of bacteria.
If you're wondering if this "candida" yeast in your gut is the same thing you've heard your ob-gyn describe when you come in because of a yeast infection, it is. In fact, candida is found in your mouth, intestines, vagina, and sometimes under the nails. Many people don't realize the possibility of yeast infections beyond the annoying vaginal ones. There's no stool test or blood test that can point out candida as the culprit of headaches, skin issues, gut issues, weight gain, and fatigue, says Boroch. The diet was a fad in the '80s that is returning and needs to stick, since fungus is the cause of so many symptoms, she says.
Sounds like a good idea in theory, but would you be able to give up all these foods? You'd have to give up coffee, wine, and cheese! The anti-candida diet website recommends a strict (although optional) detox phase for a few days, followed by anywhere from a few weeks to a few months on the plan which eliminates the yeast-growing foods while also adding in some foods that actually fight off yeast. You'll gradually reintroduce foods in an effort to find what triggers your digestive issues in hopes to prevent those and other uncomfortable symptoms in the future. Even though the diet may seem restrictive, you can still enjoy non-starchy vegetables (e.g., broccoli, eggplant, asparagus), as well as low-sugar fruits (like berries and grapefruit) and certain meats, nuts, and grains.
If your doctor does determine that you have a yeast overgrowth, the anti-candida diet is not your only option, as he or she can also prescribe antifungal medication. Though the anti-candida diet is becoming more respected, some medical experts caution that it's not a miracle solution to candida overgrowth.
It's a healthy diet in general, but if this is your weapon against candidiasis, the overgrowth will come right back as soon as you quit the plan, says naturopathic doctor Saul Marcus. "The idea that the diet by itself can kill off candida is a misconception," he adds, but together with medication, the diet can be helpful. The key is moderation. "It becomes very extreme," says Marcus. "People are told they can't have a piece of fruit, for example." (A reminder that you shouldn't follow just any diet advice you hear.)
Like other elimination diets, the anti-candida diet should be treated as a way to cut down on foods that have a negative effect on your body, not a single cure for a condition. So if giving up coffee and cheese for a month sounds like your own version of hell, talk to your doctor, discuss your options, and decide what's really necessary and what's just silly.