It’s been said that the average North American eats about 150 pounds of sugar each year. That’s right: the weight of one whole person! Even if your own consumption is way below that, sugars in foods can wreak havoc with our metabolism, immunity, mood, and more. Besides the usual culprits like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and arthritis, one of the growing concerns among those of us with a weakness for the sweet stuff is candida, an overgrowth of yeast in the body that can cause myriad symptoms. And according to some experts, problems with candida are currently reaching epidemic proportions.
Don’t worry—not everyone who happens to love sweets automatically falls prey to this condition. So how do you know if you have candida overgrowth? And if you do have it, what can you do about it?
First of all, it’s important to note that candida can exist in the body without causing candidiasis (systemic candida overgrowth). In fact, candida albicans, a fungal organism that occurs naturally on our skin and in our digestive tracts, normally exists in everyone. Most often, it cohabits peacefully with other “friendly” bacteria, digestive enzymes or microbes in the gut. In a healthy person, internal balance is maintained and there is no problem. But when something upsets the balance (such as long-term antibiotic use, birth control pills, stress, or overeating sugary foods), candida, a highly opportunistic organism, swoops in and takes over. Fairly quickly, the candida crowds out the “good guys” and you have a health crisis on your hands (or in your digestive tract).
Even though most conventional doctors still don’t recognize the syndrome, it’s being seen more and more by alternative healthcare practitioners.
Some of the major symptoms of candida overgrowth:
- cystitis (urinary tract infections)
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- chronic fatigue
- fuzzy thinking
- food (especially sugar) cravings
- memory problems
- skin rashes
- sinus problems
- repeated fungal infections (such as vaginal yeast infections or athlete’s foot)
So what can you do about it? The first step is to follow a strict anti-candida diet, which cuts out ALL sugars (everything from refined white sugar to maple syrup to fresh fruits). The diet “starves” the yeast of their primary food, sugar, and gets their numbers back under control so your own immune system can take over to restore balance. In addition, an anti-candida diet eliminates all foods that might encourage yeast to grow, such as vinegar, alcohol, moldy cheeses, mushrooms or nuts that harbor molds; and eliminates refined foods, which convert easily to sugar. Finally, it bans glutinous grains and common allergens such as dairy products and citrus fruits.
Most people follow a strict diet for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months, then slowly re-introduce some of the foods that have been removed. Once balance is restored, probiotics (such as acidophilus) are recommended to help repopulate the “good” bacteria.
If the diet sounds tough, it is—but it’s tougher to live with chronic candida (trust me, I know; I’ve been there). Living without refined sugar may seem hard, but once you’ve established a new dietary routine, the wealth of whole, delicious foods becomes its own reward.
Curious about what you can eat on a candida diet? Here are a few examples:
NOTE: I am not a doctor and this article is offered purely for informational purposes. Please do not diagnose or treat candida yourself; always consult a qualified healthcare practitioner if you suspect you have candida overgrowth.