One of the main reasons why I decided to develop a non-restrictive approach to candida cleansing is due to the horrible experience I had while doing a really strict candida cleanse. You can read about my experience with this cleanse in this Instagram post.
It took me a good few years to work through the food anxiety I had developed after doing that cleanse. Not only did I have a horrible relationship with food coming out of that cleanse, but I also found that after doing that strict cleanse, it made it 100 times harder to get back into ‘normal’ eating afterwards. I had worked so hard to eradicate my candida, I feared that any amount of fruit, starch, grains, or any other food with sugar would feed my candida and lead to another overgrowth.
When I was in school for nutrition, I had an overgrowth of candida and I was learning about how to get rid of it. During that time I knew that it was going to be the area of focus of my nutrition practice, but I always thought to myself.. I would never want someone to go through what I did. There must be another way to do this cleanse.. And guess what? There is!
I have learned through experience that we do not need to cut out all sources of carbohydrates (fruit, starches, grains, and vegetables that contain natural sugar) from the diet in order to successfully cleanse from candida. So now I think I may know what you're thinking… well how can that be? Don’t these foods feed candida? So the answer is yes and also no. So let’s lay out the facts first.
Diets or cleanses that are too restrictive can promote bingeing and an overall unhealthy relationship with certain foods, especially with non-candida friendly foods. When we learn that certain foods are ‘bad’ for candida, these food groups can instantaneously become the enemy, and we can become fearful of them. This can make the food reintroduction period an overwhelming experience, and it does not have to be this way!
I also don’t believe in strict candida cleanses because it can slow down the detoxification processes of the liver and bowels. When we cut out all sources of carbohydrates from the diet, we are often left with a diet that is heavy in animal protein and fat and low in fiber and antioxidants. When there is already a high toxic load within the body from an overgrowth of candida, a high fat, low carbohydrate diet often does not support detoxification pathways. In order to successfully rebalance candida levels, it requires obtaining optimal liver and gallbladder function as these organs both play key roles in the detoxification process. If you want to read more about liver and gallbladder function, as well as the role that fats play on the candida cleanse, check out this blog post on candida and fats.
Carbohydrates play such an important role in rebalancing our gut microbiome and keeping it healthy. As I mentioned above, when we cut out all sources of carbohydrates, we also reduce our consumption of fiber. This is problematic for numerous reasons.
Firstly, our body needs fiber in order to carry out detoxification. This is because fiber is a chelator (chelation means ‘to bind’), so fiber binds to toxins within the GI tract, ensuring that these toxins get removed via our stool, which is super important for ensuring the pathogens and mycotoxins get eliminated. We also need sufficient fiber to provide bulk for stool, so that we can have healthy bowel movements, and remove all those toxins! Fiber also feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Without sufficient fiber, healthy gut bacteria species die-off, the gut lining eats away at itself, and this can prohibit our ability to digest high fiber plant foods in the long run.. and if you think about it...how is our immune system supposed to fight off an infection if we have no army of healthy gut bacteria to help us out!?
Beans and legumes are one of the best foods for feeding healthy gut bacteria and strengthening the gut lining. These carbohydrate rich foods are often advised to be omitted from the diet when on a candida cleanse. I often receive questions asking why some of my candida friendly recipes include legumes like chickpeas.
The amount of legumes allowed on a Candida cleanse should really depend on the severity of the overgrowth, damage to the gut lining, and digest-ability. If there is a lot of damage to the gut lining or an extreme loss of healthy gut bacteria (often associated with poor immune function), oftentimes beans and legumes will be harder to break down, which poses the risk for undigested food bits to serve as food for the candida pathogens. If you can tolerate small amounts of these foods, I usually encourage to consume them in moderation on the cleanse. However, if you notice they contribute to gas, bloating, or other digestive issues, then more digestive and gut lining support may be needed for a few months before adding them back into your diet in larger amounts.
As a tip, I recommend soaking dried beans, legumes and grains before consuming them. This is because soaking breaks down the cell walls to reduce the amount of phytic acid and lectins which can be really hard on digestion and cause a lot of digestive upset if not prepared properly. I suggest soaking these foods for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight in clean filtered water. When soaking, use enough water to cover the food item by at least 2 inches. Upon soaking, rinse and drain with filtered water.
Lastly, a diet with absolutely no natural sugar or carbohydrates can promote fast, unhealthy weight loss. For many women it is extremely unsustainable because they become malnourished, weak, and energy depleted. If these foods are cut out long term (think 6 months to a year), this can eventually lead to blood sugar imbalances, which can fuel hormone imbalances. Well balanced blood sugar is also important for a healthy microbiome, an imbalance here can create an internal environment that favours candida’s growth. The three areas that I have seen take the biggest hit from an extremely low carb/sugar diet are the thyroid, the adrenal glands, and women’s hormones.
Due to total restriction of carbohydrates (which is what many candida diets online say to do), some women may lose their ability to menstruate and no longer have a period, or their cycles become very irregular. Many women come to me after having done a strict candida cleanse with another practitioner. They explain to me that they experienced results initially, but go on to explain that the diet was not sustainable, their symptoms came back, but this time with a vengeance. Oftentimes, they may also have an entirely different set of symptoms, and it is usually because that diet did not support their hormones or their root cause was overlooked. Think of it this way… candida overgrowth is a constant stressor on the body. The pathogens penetrate the gut lining, creating an immune system response, which leads to chronic inflammation. This can put the adrenal glands into overdrive, as they have to consistently secrete cortisol (our stress hormone) to keep up with this level of inflammation. If we pair this with an extremely low carbohydrate diet, which drains the adrenal glands even further, we are not supporting the immune system, thyroid, or adrenals, and we are definitely not giving our body the fuel it needs to fight an infection. When the adrenals get depleted, other hormonal systems can get affected too which can lead to many other symptoms.
Women’s bodies in particular are very sensitive to drastic dietary changes as such with total carb restriction and/or an extremely low carb diet. Let’s not forget that there is a difference here though between cutting out unhealthy refined and processed carbs compared to cutting out healthy carbs like fruit, vegetables, beans/legumes, quinoa, oats, etc. Cutting out all sources of healthy carbohydrates is where problems can arise. Not eating enough calories from carbohydrate sources disrupts the HPA axis and creates an internal stressor to the body leading to even more cortisol to be produced.
Much like our HPA axis which is involved in regulating our stress response and stress hormone release, there is something called the HPG axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis). This system is responsible for making sure that the essential sex hormones are being released in order to prepare for pregnancy or not (resulting in a period). This HPG axis is also very sensitive to malnutrition. When there is severe food restriction the body will think it is in survival/starvation mode and will slow down its production of sex hormones as a protective mechanism. The body will think that there is not enough food for it to sustain a healthy pregnancy so it will slow down the production of those hormones that are essential for pregnancy to happen. As a result, periods may become irregular or some women may lose their ability to ovulate altogether. This is a major reason why I don’t believe restricting all forms of carbohydrates is a healthy approach to candida cleansing.
Extremely low carb diets can also negatively affect thyroid gland function. Some of the major functions of the thyroid gland are to regulate metabolism, nervous system function, body temperature, ovulation, and pregnancy. The thyroid secretes thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Carbohydrates (glucose) are needed in order to convert thyroid hormone into its active form to carry out its functions. With insufficient glucose from diet, this leads to less active thyroid hormone being circulated in the blood leading to a slow down in digestive function. This slow down in digestion can lend the opportunity for bacterial and fungal overgrowths to occur.
Another key role of the thyroid is regulating glucose absorption. With an under functioning thyroid, the ability to manage blood sugar can become impaired quite easily and as previously mentioned, this will lead to blood sugar imbalances which can create an internal environment that favours candida’s growth.
Candida is a very smart organism, it has the ability to survive and adapt to its environment in order to thrive. When it has gotten to a point where it has become pathogenic and overgrown, it easily becomes threatened by the use of anti-fungals or a lack of glucose from a highly restrictive diet. When this happens, the candida organism can migrate to other parts of the body such as the capillary beds where there is blood and further glucose for it to feed on. This is one of the ways that candida can turn into a systemic infection. Unfortunately, once candida has become systemic, the body will have a harder time in its ability to get rid of the infection.
As you can see, there are so many reasons why a non-restrictive approach to candida cleansing can be more beneficial in your candida cleansing journey. I hope that the above information was helpful. If you have any questions regarding any of the information I shared above, please send me a message on Instagram so we can chat further.
If you've been following a strict candida cleanse and not seeing results please don't hesitate to reach out, I am always here to support you on your candida journey. If you are interested in working together you can sign up for my Multi Phase Candida Program here.