Candida and me

We interrupt this food-fest Vegan Mofo to bring you some information about my experiences with candida. And how to help candida and stay vegan. Nbc_the_more_you_knowOne could argue that we all have candida, and yes, most of us do. Candida albicans naturally occurs in the digestive tract and in other areas of the body. However is it out of balance in your body? How much does it rule your life? What are your symptoms?

A few years back when my health issues were getting bad, there were signs of candida overgrowth: intense sweets and alcohol cravings, fatigue, joint pains, some digestive issues. I quit eating regular sugar and drinking alcohol and felt better. I ate more veggies and cut back on processed foods significantly. I felt better to an extent.

I also found fermented foods. Fermented foods promote the good bacteria in your guts, which help stop the candida from flourishing. I had ton of good bacteria growing in my kitchen: sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, apple cider vinegar and raw pickles. I feel that the fermented foods in my diet helped balance out the sweets I downed.  I would think nothing of eating a half a watermelon, a few bananas, other fruit, dates, and something with agave all in a day. Looking back, it was a lot of sweetness.

A few years later, horrible heartburn took over. All the sudden one night I was woken up with chest pain and acid mouth, and was sitting up until the wee hours in horrible pain. I had nights like this before, but this went on and on, night after night. I finally got on some omeprazole (nothing natural was working) and it simmered down a bit but there were lots of foods that triggered the heartburn, including fermented foods.

Shortly after I was prescribed antibiotics for lyme disease. With no fermented foods, then antibiotics 3 days a week, then not enough probitoics (I’ve since learned) is a recipe for candida overgrowth. Oh and fruit. I was eating a lot of it. What can I say I love fruit.

I went through a lot of gastroenterological testing, even candida testing but no one had any ideas at that point. Other than my lyme doctor, who suggested the candida tests were not sensitive enough. He prescribed some diflucan (antifungal) but did not advocate for any changes in my diet other than avoiding wheat and dairy, which I already had been doing for years.

candidaI would take the diflucan then drink a big fruit smoothie. Oh the pain would be awful. My theory is that I was feeding the candida with the fruit and then killing it with the diflucan (antifungal) then feed it again. I was not better.

I finally buckled down and did my own research, including reaching out to some friends who have had candida struggles. Turns out there’s more than one approach to a candida diet, even among omnivore options. I needed to ask vegan friends since the typical candida diet is meat and veggies. I knew they had healed without compromising their ethics.

Through Ricki Heller’s site I found out about the Whole Approach Diet. It was more broad than a meat and veggies diet so it seemed feasible for a vegan. Already being gluten-free helped.

I went to the strict phase 1 on the Whole Approach. Until that point I had hated stevia and had never gone a day without fruit in my life. I was a banana addict. It was hard. I cried, I had huge emotional waves. I had depression. I missed berries. I hated stevia.

My diet parameters were one serving of grains a day, only the allowed veggies, no processed foods, and certainly no fruit. Although this plan allowed nuts and beans and after awhile, some berries.

carrot cake chia pudding

Carrot cake chia pudding

My typical diet on “phase 1” was: chia pudding made with homemade almond milk. I added stevia tea and sometimes shredded carrots and spices to make it like carrot cake. Green juice with only green veggies and no carrots, beets, or apple to sweeten it. Salad with homemade flax crackers. Dinner of 1 serving of a whole grain, usually quinoa, beans, and plenty of veggies. I white-knuckled it through dessert hour drinking pau d’archo tea.

I was getting better. My gut symptoms were resolving. It helped me keep going. After a month, I allowed myself some berries. I had missed them a lot being a big fruit fan. I was able to tolerate a few tablespoons at a time. It helped me tolerate my chia pudding in the morning a bit more. I found some brands of stevia I tolerated and made chocolate with them. I found some xylitol candies that helped me get through my post-dinner sugar urge.

Still for months I had issues. I couldn’t tolerate white rice or rice crackers even. If I had more than a few cherries it was to much sugar. Watermelon was off limits. Any small bites of anything with cane sugar had my stomach in knots. Sometimes it would come right away, sometimes the next day.

Finally, more symptoms emerged, more specifically stabbing pain under my right rib. I ended up hospitalized and eventually having my gallbladder out. My heartburn much improved (a lot of it was due to my gallbladder), I started adding some more carbs and fruit in because I had to lower my fat intake. My candida story is not over. Sometimes I overdo the dark chocolate or have too big of a nibble of a gluten-free vegan cookie with sugar. I do find that a bit of coconut sugar is ok but stevia and xylitol are preferred to avoid blood sugar spikes. And now I can tolerate pickles, vinegar, kombucha and other fermented foods. I am still on antibiotics for lyme, but also on plenty of probiotics. No more pharmaceutical antifungals are needed.

I want you to know if you have candida that you don’t have to stop being vegan. You can eat low carb for awhile and be vegan. Think beans, nuts and seeds, coconut and veggies. With candida, I have found it’s best to treat with a three-pronged approach: starve it, kill it, replace with good bacteria. Starve it with the diet. There’s no point in killing in to just refeed it again. You start strict and reintroduce as you are able.  Killing it can be with a prescription antifungal but also with things like grapefruit seed extract, caprylic acid, coconut oil, pau d’archo tea (it tastes pretty good actually), olive leaf extract, oregano oil and there’s even more other herbs and supplements. Replace the candida with good bacteria means taking a strong good quality probiotic. And fermented foods as allowed by your body and your doctor.

Good luck and I hope I can provide some recipe ideas here for you. Feel free to ask me any questions.

Candida resources:

Whole Approach

Ricki Heller’s site

The Body Ecology Diet (easy to adapt to vegan)

Real Sustenance (WARNING: not a vegan blog but a lot of baked good recipes with no eggs or dairy and grain-free and gluten-free options)

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