Nutrition

What does it mean to live candida-free?

Author: Canadian Living

Nutrition

What does it mean to live candida-free?

Ricki Heller is a holistic nutritionist who spent her young life as a sugar addict. As an adult, she experienced a number of health problems that led to visit after visit with doctors and, eventually, a diagnosis of an overgrowth of candida, a type of yeast. Since then, Heller has followed an anti-candida diet; now, she's written a book (with recipes) with functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama: Living Candida-Free (HarperCollins, $23) that provides strategies to help others. We talked to Heller about candida overgrowth and how to reverse it.

What is candida overgrowth?
"Alternative practitioners recognize a situation in the body where there's an imbalance of the candida yeast organism, usually starting in the digestive tract," says Heller. While it's normal to have a certain amount of yeast living in the digestive tract, along with other kinds of microflora, it can grow out of control, causing a number of unpleasant symptoms. The symptoms are variable and wide-ranging, and some of them tend to overlap with other hard-to-diagnose conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome.

How do you know if you have it?
Interestingly, candida overgrowth isn't something many doctors recognize or look for, but naturopaths and other alternative-medicine practitioners spend a lot of time dealing with the problem, says Heller. Your naturopath may order a blood, stool or urine test to determine candida levels, but there are challenges with diagnosing the problem because some amount of candida is normal. That's why many practitioners rely on questionnaires or assessment tools that evaluate symptoms.

There are a number of symptoms of excess candida, including digestive issues (such as bloating or diarrhea), a foggy mind, rashes in folds of the skin and recurrent fungal infections and yeast infections. While vaginal yeast infections come to mind for many people when they think of candida or yeast, Heller says even someone who's never had a yeast infection could have a candida imbalance. Her book includes an assessment tool that queries everything from headaches and tummy troubles to cravings and energy levels to determine your likelihood of having an overgrowth.

Why do people experience candida overgrowth?
The cause is likely a bit different for everyone, but there are a few key factors that impact our digestive-tract flora, says Heller. "So much of the food we eat is processed and unnatural," she says. "We've also become a culture that takes a lot of drugs, including antibiotics. That's a major means of upsetting your intestinal flora; it creates the prime situation for candida to grow." Another important consideration is stress, which can impact your intestinal flora, and that could lead to yeast growing out of control. "Most of us are now exposed to many more of the predisposing factors than ever before," says Heller.

How do you get rid of it?
Heller's diet, and others like it, attempt to starve the candida of the things that have been causing it to multiply. "By starving it, you're bringing it down to a manageable level to return to that equilibrium in the intestinal tract," she says.

Anyone who's baked a loaf of bread knows that yeast needs sugar to survive, and that's the first thing anti-candida diets restrict, along with yeast itself. Even most fruits are off the table due to their natural sugars, at least while the body is getting back on track. And since refined flours, processed foods and simple carbs (like white rice) are quickly turned into sugars in the body, those are also off-limits. Other things to cut out include mouldy foods (such as blue cheese), alcohol and chemically fermented foods (like shelf-stable pickles).

What can you eat?
Heller promotes eating fresh veggies, sprouts, gluten-free grains, legumes and naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, which can help repopulate healthy intestinal flora. Her book is full of recipes for all kinds of dishes, including desserts. Instead of sugar, Heller uses natural sweeteners, such as stevia and xylitol, which don't encourage the growth of candida.

A healthy gut is integral to a healthy body. Learn how to get your gut in great shape

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What does it mean to live candida-free?

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