Why I Don't Believe in Strict Candida Cleanses

One of the main reasons why I decided to develop a non-restrictive approach to candida cleansing is due to the horrible experience I had while doing a really strict candida cleanse. You can read about my experience with this cleanse in this Instagram post.

It took me a good few years to work through the food anxiety I had developed after doing that cleanse. Not only did I have a horrible relationship with food coming out of that cleanse, but I also found that after doing that strict cleanse, it made it 100 times harder to get back into ‘normal’ eating afterwards. I had worked so hard to eradicate my candida, I feared that any amount of fruit, starch, grains, or any other food with sugar would feed my candida and lead to another overgrowth.

I want you to know that living with an overgrowth of candida is a trauma in and of itself. Candida stole many years of my life. I lived with the chronic digestive issues associated with it for nearly 7 or 8 years. Feel free to read more about my candida journey here.

My candida journey included trauma therapy. I did lots of cognitive behavioural therapy, which helped me work through all of the negative, irrational thoughts I had developed towards food and my body from that cleanse. Eventually, I got stronger, and food didn’t scare me anymore. But the biggest takeaway was that I finally believed that I was candida free.

When I was in school for nutrition, I had an overgrowth of candida and I was learning about how to get rid of it. During that time I knew that it was going to be the area of focus of my nutrition practice, but I always thought to myself..

I would never want someone to go through what I did. There must be another way to do this cleanse..

And guess what? There is!

I have learned through experience that we do not need to cut out all sources of carbohydrates (fruit, starches, grains, and vegetables that contain natural sugar) from the diet in order to successfully cleanse from candida. So now I think I may know what you're thinking… well how can that be? Don’t these foods feed candida? So the answer is yes and also no. So let’s lay out the facts first.

Diets or cleanses that are too restrictive can promote bingeing and an overall unhealthy relationship with certain foods, especially with non-candida friendly foods. When we learn that certain foods are ‘bad’ for candida, these food groups can instantaneously become the enemy, and we can become fearful of them. This can make the food reintroduction period an overwhelming experience, and it does not have to be this way!

Secondly, a diet with absolutely no natural sugar or carbohydrates can promote fast, unhealthy weight loss. For many women it is extremely unsustainable because they become weak and energy depleted. If these foods are cut out long term (think 6 months to a year), this can eventually lead to blood sugar imbalances, which can fuel hormone imbalances. The two organs that I have seen take the biggest hit are the thyroid and the adrenal glands.

Another key thing to note here is that imbalanced blood sugar feeds candida, which is another reason why so many women don’t see results from removing all carbohydrates from their diet on the cleanse.

So many women come to me after having done a strict candida cleanse with another practitioner. They explain to me that they experienced results initially, but go on to explain that the diet was not sustainable, their symptoms came back, but this time with a vengeance. Oftentimes, they may also have an entirely different set of symptoms, and it is usually because that diet did not support their hormones or their root cause was overlooked. Think of it this way… candida overgrowth is a constant stressor on the body. The pathogens penetrate the gut lining, creating an immune system response, which leads to chronic inflammation. This can put the adrenal glands into overdrive, as they have to consistently secrete cortisol (our stress hormone) to keep up with this level of inflammation. If we pair this with a low carbohydrate diet, which drains the adrenal glands even further, we are not supporting the immune system, thyroid, or adrenals, and we are definitely not giving our body the fuel it needs to fight an infection. When the adrenals get depleted, other hormonal systems can get affected too which can lead to many other symptoms. If you want to learn more about the connections between candida and how it affects other body systems, I cover these topics in depth in my Candida Guide eBook.

I also don’t believe in providing strict candida cleanses because it can slow down the detoxification processes of the liver and bowels. When we cut out all sources of carbohydrates from the diet, we are often left with a diet that is heavy in animal protein and fat and low in fiber and antioxidants. When there is already a high toxic load within the body from an overgrowth of candida, a high fat, low carbohydrate diet often does not support detoxification pathways. I see many women in my practice who have been unable to get rid of their candida overgrowth because their liver and gallbladder function is sluggish. If you want to read more about liver and gallbladder function, as well as the role that fats play on the candida cleanse, check out this blog post on candida and fats.

Lastly, I don’t believe in strict candida cleansing because carbohydrates play such an important role in rebalancing our gut microbiome and keeping it healthy. As I mentioned above, when we cut out all sources of carbohydrates, we also reduce our consumption of fiber. This is problematic for numerous reasons.

A delicious, fiber rich snack to support your cleanse.
Candida Friendly Blueberry Flax Muffins

Firstly, our body needs fiber in order to carry out detoxification. This is because fiber is a chelator (chelation means ‘to bind’), so fiber binds to toxins within the GI tract, ensuring that these toxins get removed via our stool, which is super important for ensuring the pathogens and mycotoxins get eliminated. We also need sufficient fiber to provide bulk for stool, so that we can have healthy bowel movements, and remove all those toxins! Fiber also feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Without sufficient fiber, healthy gut bacteria species die-off, the gut lining eats away at itself, and this can prohibit our ability to digest high fiber plant foods in the long run.. and if you think about it...how is our immune system supposed to fight off an infection if we have no army of healthy gut bacteria to help us out!?

Certain carbohydrate rich foods such as beans and legumes are often advised to be omitted from the diet when on a candida cleanse. I often receive questions asking why some of my candida friendly recipes include legumes like chickpeas.

The amount of legumes allowed on a Candida cleanse should really depend on the severity of the overgrowth, damage to the gut lining, and digest-ability. If there is a lot of damage to the gut lining or an extreme loss of healthy gut bacteria (often associated with poor immune function), oftentimes beans and legumes will be harder to break down, which poses the risk for undigested food bits to serve as food for the candida pathogens.

Beans and legumes are one of the best foods for feeding healthy gut bacteria and strengthening the gut lining. If you can tolerate small amounts of these foods, I usually encourage to consume them in moderation on the cleanse. However, if you notice they contribute to gas, bloating, or other digestive issues, then more digestive and gut lining support may be needed for a few months before adding them back into your diet in larger amounts.

As you can see, my approach for candida cleansing is all about moderation, balance, and digest-ability. I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all candida cleanse. I believe that diets are meant to be modified to suit are own body's specific set of dietary needs.