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Can the candida diet cure fatigue, bloating and brain fog? Experts weigh in

Dietitians weigh in on this trendy diet that’s designed to make your gut healthier.
Generally, a diet that’s high in fiber and fermented foods can help keep your gut healthy.
Generally, a diet that’s high in fiber and fermented foods can help keep your gut healthy.Gabriela Tulian / Getty Images

The candida diet should really be called the anti-candida diet or the candida overgrowth diet. That’s because this low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet is designed to rein in the overgrowth of candida albicans, a type of yeast that lives in your gut microbiome and in other parts of your body. Normal amounts of it aren’t a cause for concern, but too much could trigger problems.

Advocates of the diet say that candida overgrowth can cause symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, brain fog, low mood, indigestion, diarrhea and gas.

How does the candida diet work?

The candida cleanse diet aims to eliminate the foods that feed candida so you can get levels back to normal. High-sugar foods, sugar substitutes, processed food, junk food, foods that contain gluten, refined vegetable oils, processed meats, dairy products like milk and cheese, caffeine and alcohol are believed to lead to candida overgrowth, so they are on the candida diet food list to avoid.

What does the research say about the candida diet?

“There’s not a lot of human evidence that proves any of these techniques work,” Bonnie Taub-Dix, a New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table," told TODAY.

Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian based in New York City and the coauthor of “Sugar Shock,” agreed. “When you’re saying something is scientifically backed, you’re generally looking for lots of different evidence that points in the same direction,” she said. “There’s a lot written about the candida diet anecdotally and online. And we’re learning a lot about our microbiome, but I don’t know that we’re at a place where we can be prescriptive about this diet.”

Generally, a diet that’s high in fiber and fermented foods can help keep your gut healthy. And foods like leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies and fish can help decrease inflammation. You also want a wide variety of different types of plants in your diet to keep your microbiome healthy — you don’t want to limit your plant diversity the way this diet does. And coffee and tea — discouraged on this diet — can help keep your microbiome healthy.

 Is the candida diet a good choice for you?

The candida diet meal plan could be an acceptable choice for some people. “If your diet has a lot of sugar and a lot of alcohol, these changes could be good. Eating a lot of vegetables and not eating a lot of foods that are highly processed is generally good advice,” Taub-Dix said.

But for many people, it could be overly restrictive. For example, cutting out gluten can help if you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. But if you don’t, you’re eliminating many nutritious and satisfying foods like whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread. And if you enjoy alcohol judiciously — a glass of wine with dinner, for example — you’re not likely to see benefits from cutting it out. Taub-Dix also doesn’t see any reason to cut out potassium-rich bananas just because they are high in natural sugar.

Cassetty pointed out that a lot of things could cause vague symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and low mood. You could experience these symptoms because you’re stressed out, tired and eating poorly — not because you have a candida overgrowth. In that case, you might feel better if you try the candida diet, but that’s simply because you’re eating more whole, plant-based foods in place of less-healthy foods.

“I never recommend restrictive diets when you’re trying to solve a health problem,” Cassetty said. “I always recommend starting with your doctor — see what they say about candida. It could be something else that’s going on that you need a different type of treatment to address.”

Restrictive diets can also trigger disordered eating behaviors, so the candida diet might not be right for you if this has been an issue for you in the past.

What do you eat on the candida diet?

According to the book “The Candida Diet” by Lisa Richards, an anti-candida diet is low-sugar, gluten-free and anti-inflammatory. The food list includes non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits like blueberries, gluten-free grains like quinoa, limited dairy, proteins like chicken and fish and fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.

In a typical day, you might eat foods like:

In a typical day, you might eat foods like:

The candida diet is similar to:

  • Whole 30, where you eat certain whole foods for 30 days then gradually add in the foods you’ve eliminated.
  • Paleo diet, which can allow some unrefined sugar, Paleo-compliant treats and alcohol.
  • Keto diet, which allows dairy but limits fruit.
  • Atkins diet, which limits but doesn’t eliminate grains, legumes and sugar.

Is the candida diet effective long term?

Most people use the candida diet plan for a fixed period, then gradually reintroduce starchier veggies, sweeter fruits, red meat, more nuts, coffee and tea. It’s hard to say whether it’s effective in the long term since there’s not a lot of research to support it.

Talk with your doctor before starting the candida diet or any other diet — your doctor or a registered dietitian can recommend the best eating plan for you, based on your health needs.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include links to the food lists and recipes from “The Candida Diet” by Lisa Richards.