Nutrition for Digestive Health
Candida overgrowth is getting to be a more and more prolific problem. Our diets are getting higher and higher in sugar – I am staggered how many people I see ordering a Venti, Caramel Frappuccino as their regular daily drink at Starbucks!! Even a soy chai latte (seemingly “healthy” right?!) contains a whopping 48 grams of sugar for a grande size at Starbucks.
The single most important factor in maintaining a healthy gut environment and preventing Candida overgrowth from a nutritional standpoint is minimizing the sugar in your diet. Yeast loves sugar – it feeds off it, literally. Think of the bread making process. Bakers yeast is what causes the bread to rise, but the yeast in the bread requires the sugar to fuel it.
Sugar feeds yeast directly. Simple sugars are the easiest fuel source for it – so minimize the simple sugars in your diet to deprive Candida of its food source and maintain digestive health.
What Type of Foods should be Avoided?
Any refined sugars or sweetened foods such as ice cream, chocolate, cakes, muffins, pastries, candies and sodas contain huge amounts of sugar. These are foods with high caloric and low nutrition value anyhow, so there are plenty of reasons to avoid them other than their sugar content.
All carbohydrates eventually break down into simple sugars in the digestive process, so it makes sense to minimize carbohydrates in general and focus instead on lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats and oils in the diet. Vegetable sources of carbohydrates are better as the plant starches do not get broken down all the way to sugars – rather they provide roughage for healthy bowel function. And of course, there needs to be some semblance of balance in life. But in general, most carbohydrates will set you up for yeast overgrowth.
There are also “healthy” foods that are high in sugar such as fruits. Fruit sugar, called fructose, is absorbed more slowly than sucrose, and so it’s impact is not as great on blood sugar. Fruit also has redeeming qualities such as vitamins, minerals and enzymes, but the bottom line for the candida is that fruit is still a sugar and still provides a food source for those yeasty-beasties! So for candida prevention I say one piece a day, two at the most. For those who are struggling with candida, zero to one is the hard line. And undiluted fruit juice is a no-no as it is an even more concentrated source of sugar. Some people can tolerate a little cranberry or grape juice, diluted with water, but a pure glass of orange or apple juice usually is a bad idea.
I also recommend people avoid foods that are high in mycotoxins such as peanuts, brazil nuts, bulk grains and breads. These mycotoxins are fungal residues found on foods and can be quite neurotoxic. Overripe fruits also contain mycotoxins that can be harmful. Yeast related foods such as vinegar, mushrooms and breads may need to be avoided in severe cases.
What Types of Food Should You Eat?
Eat Fermented Foods that Help to Colonize the Healthy Flora in the Gut
Fermented foods actually encourage the proliferation of good flora in the gut. The best defense against yeast is a good offense – and the fermented foods provide that offense. They contain beneficial bacteria, which help keep the gut clean, assist in the breakdown of other foods allowing maximum nutrient absorption, and via colonization of the gut wall, help protect against other infections such as parasites and E. coli.
Fermented foods include kefir, cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso. If you haven’t heard of these before, do not worry, as they are becoming more readily available through health food stores and co-ops.
People who eat plenty of fermented foods report greater energy, better concentration, fewer problems with yeast infections, more regular bowel movements, less gas and bloating and better immune function (less colds and flu’s).
The Difference Between Yoghurt and Kefir
Unfortunately yogurt lacks many of the benefits of kefir. While they are both cultured milk products, kefir has a number of significant advantages over yogurt –
The beneficial flora in yogurt are far lower than in kefir
Kefir contains several additional major strains of friendly bacteria that are not commonly found in yogurt
Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that provide food for the good flora in the gut, but kefir can actually colonize the gut wall more permanently (yogurt visits, kefir moves in)
Kefir also contains beneficial yeasts that move into the gut wall and destroy pathogenic yeast
Many commercial brands of yogurt, especially flavored ones, contain high levels of sugar which feed the yeast and therefore are counterproductive
Kefir has a smaller curd size than yogurt so is easier to digest
Eat High Fiber Foods
High fiber foods act as a broom to sweep the intestinal tract, keeping it clean and healthy. During any kind of treatment that stimulates detoxification or die-off of any kind of organism, it is important to make sure the bowels are functioning well and that route of elimination is open. Otherwise toxic by-products can build up and leave a person feeling very sluggish.
Good sources of fiber include psyllium husk, ground flax seeds, slippery elm bark, and fresh vegetables. I encourage people to incorporate a tablespoon of ground flax seeds into their morning smoothie, to add fiber and also provide anti-cancer properties through lignans.
Work on Healing the Gut Lining
Leaky gut is a situation in which the junctions between the cells in the intestinal wall become farther spaced apart. Subsequently, things that were not designed to, can escape the intestines and seep into the blood stream. Food molecules that are not completely digested – proteins, fats and carbohydrates are mostly what escapes. The immune system, not being trained to recognize these larger molecules, considers them “foreigners” and goes on attack. It is a protective mechanism, but one that can cause problems. Immune response, as you are learning already, creates inflammation. These reactions can lead to a variety of non-descript symptoms such as headaches, malaise, sinus issues, and joint pain.
Leaky gut is also associated with candida overgrowth, as the yeast try to make an escape from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. In a severely immunocompromised individual, this can lead to systemic candidiasis which can be a very serious issue. Anyone with systemic candida should be evaluating the factors that might be causing changes in their intestinal permeability. There are differing opinions as to whether candida causes leaky gut (as yeast become overgrown they burrow into the gut wall trying to evade immune activation and hence cause the gap junctions), or whether the leaky gut allows the yeast to escape. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Either way, the two go together, and to fully address a yeast issue, one must also repair damage to the intestinal lining and restore immune function there.
Therefore, to overcome yeast overgrowth –
Keep the diet low in sugars and carbohydrates
Incorporate fermented foods into your diet
Eat lots of dietary fiber