What is the candida diet?

The candida diet is often cited by practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine as a way to treat a supposed overgrowth of a naturally occurring, fungus-like organism in the gut called candida albicans, also known as ‘yeast syndrome’.


Advocates of this theory claim that ‘yeast syndrome’ can cause a wide variety of symptoms such as fatigue, poor digestion, headaches and memory lapse.

Candida albicans lives in the guts of most people and is typically deemed to be a ‘commensal’ microbe – one of those that inhabit our bodies without causing us harm. However, on occasion candida may cause local infections, commonly referred to as thrush, which can be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications.

Thrush or candidiasis is the term given when the candida present in your system starts to become more prevalent in relation to the other organisms (your microflora) residing there. This can sometimes happen after long-term use of antibiotics, steroids and some birth control pills; or during pregnancy, if you are overweight, have an existing bacterial infection, or have a pre-existing health condition such as a compromised immune system, diabetes or psoriasis. Those with severely compromised immune systems are considered to be most at risk.

Visit our ‘All you need to know about diets’ page for recipes and more expert advice on weight loss, including low-GI and the Mediterranean diet’

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How does the candida diet work?

The candida diet is restrictive and as a result challenging: it eliminates all the foods thought to contribute to the growth of candida and is intended to be followed only for the period of time in which you are experiencing symptoms.

What foods to eat on the candida diet?

The diet promotes whole foods that are low in sugar as well as non-starchy vegetables, lean protein such as meat, beneficial fats from sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids and non-caffeinated drinks.

Examples include:

  • Low-sugar fruit including lemons, limes and berries
  • Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Gluten-free grains including millet, quinoa and buckwheat
  • Lean protein including chicken, salmon, turkey, eggs and sardines
  • Fats such as avocado, olives, unrefined coconut oil, flax oil, extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil
  • Certain dairy such as ghee, kefir and live yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds (free from moulds)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Herbal teas

What foods to avoid

The diet is restrictive and discourages the intake of high-sugar foods, additives, processed foods, certain meats, fats and oils as well as caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.

Examples of the food and drinks to exclude are:

  • High-sugar fruit such as bananas, dates, grapes and mango
  • Refined carbs such as white flour
  • Gluten grains including rye, wheat and barley
  • Processed meats
  • Refined oils and fats
  • Certain dairy such as cheese, milk and cream
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners
  • Nuts and seeds that are high in mould, such as peanuts
  • Caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks
  • Additives

Do candida diets work?

The candida diet is not a weight loss diet, but an eating plan that aims to address a specific issue (an overgrowth of candida). However, there is limited evidence to support the effectiveness of the 'candida diet' for this purpose, although anecdotal reports suggest people may feel better. Whether these improvements have more to do with cutting out refined and processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and sugars, rather than any specific impact on the levels of candida, is strongly debated.

One 2018 study that involved a candida diet combined with an anti-fungal medication reported those people who adopted the diet had significantly reduced numbers of candida yeasts in their stool, compared to those who didn’t.

Is a candida diet healthy? A nutritionist's view…

Candida is a yeast-like fungus that forms part of the normal microflora of the human mouth, gut and vagina – it’s something we all have and, for most of us, doesn’t cause a problem. There are numerous candida species with candida albicans being the most common. In a healthy person it causes no problems – however, because it is an opportunistic pathogen, if your immune defences are low or you have a pre-existing health condition, it may become problematic.

The candida diet is strict and needs careful planning. For those on a budget, or those who enjoy eating out or already follow a restrictive diet, it may pose difficulties. Eliminating such a wide variety of foods may leave you at risk of an unbalanced and nutritionally inadequate diet.

That said, the diet does focus on healthy whole foods that are low in sugar, are of a high quality with have minimal additives. The diet is also intended to be followed for a limited time and only while you are experiencing symptoms. Although there are some health benefits to the foods that are encouraged by the diet, apart from anecdotal reports, there remains no clear evidence that the candida diet has clinical benefits.

Who shouldn’t follow the candida diet?

Vulnerable groups should exercise caution before adopting such a restrictive diet, these include:

  • those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • diabetics
  • the elderly
  • the young (under 18 years of age)
  • those who are on prescribed medication
  • those who have a low body mass index (BMI less than 18.5)
  • those with emotional or psychological issues around food, including any history of eating disorders

If you have symptoms that are causing you concern, or you suspect you have a fungal infection, refer to your GP or health care practitioner.

If you are considering any form of diet, please consult your GP or a registered dietician first to ensure you can do so without risk to health.

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Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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