Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet being an important source of energy for our body. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose by our digestive system and glucose is used to provide energy to our cells to work. Any extra sugar is stored in the liver and muscles and used when we run low on energy, like when we are fasting or starving. Because carbohydrates are a source of glucose which is also one of the favourite foods of candida, you need to know about carbohydrates, which carbohydrates to include in your daily meals and how to get your energy without helping candida.
What does candida use carbohydrates for?
Like us, candida uses carbohydrates as source of glucose which it then converts to energy. Apart from using them as a source of energy and growth, candida utilizes carbohydrates for:
1. Protection against our immune system: It sabotages our immune system in many ways and becomes more infective in presence of glucose as described in a review from 1990 by Hostetter from USA.
2. Change from harmless to disease causing form: Hudson and colleagues from New Zealand showed in 2004 that candida uses glucose to change from harmless oval form to pathogenic filamentous form.
3. Biofilm formation: Pereira and colleagues from Spain showed in 2015 that high levels of glucose switch on the genes for biofilm formation in Candida. Biofilms make candida more resistant to treatment and our immune system.
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Unlike us humans, candida can also use glucose when there is lack of oxygen to get its energy – a condition that is provided by our gut. This is called fermentation in the gut. When there is not much oxygen, candida can still process glucose through an alternative pathway – the alcohol fermentation pathway where it converts glucose to alcohol.
A few cases have been reported in the scientific literature where people who have not had any alcohol had all the symptoms of being drunk. If yeasts and other bacteria (like clostridium) that grow in absence of oxygen start producing some amounts of alcohol, it can become a problem for us causing dizziness, brain fog and other issues related with alcohol.
Types of carbohydrates and their usefulness to us vs. usefulness to candida
Based on their chemical structures, carbohydrates are basically of two types:
a. Simple: Sugars in foods like fruits, vegetables, milk. Also includes added sugars like those in cakes, cookies.
b. Complex: These are of two types –
- Those that can be digested: These are starches which are broken by our body into sugars. Starches are found in vegetables like potatoes, beans, peas and corn and in breads cereals and grains
- Those that cannot be digested: These carbohydrates, the dietary fibres, pass through our body without being broken down into sugar. Despite not being used for energy, these are important because they help get rid of excess fats in intestines (preventing heart disease), help push food through the intestines (preventing constipation). Fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole grain foods are rich in fibre.
Based on the way they are utilised by our body, carbs are also classified according to their glycemic index (GI) – the ease with which they get converted to glucose. White bread has been set to have a glycemic index of 100 and is used as a reference food. The table (adapted from a 2002 review article by Augustin and colleagues from Italy, Canada and France) shows GIs of some common foods as compared to white bread. Red=very high, Orange=high, Dark green=Low, Light green=very low
|Carbohydrate source||Glycemic index|
(as compared to white bread)
High glycemic index carbs: These are the carbohydrates that are easily and quickly converted into glucose. These raise our blood glucose levels and result in high insulin demand. Sugar for example has a GI of 92 when compared to white bread. This means that white bread is faster at releasing sugar as compared to even sugar! Problem with such carbs: a) sudden rise in blood glucose which is great for candida, b) sudden large rises in insulin may lead to our cells becoming resistant to insulin – this means they refuse to take up any sugar at insulin’s command. This makes us glucose intolerant which means a constantly high level of blood glucose – which again is beneficial to candida.
Low glycemic index carbs: These carbohydrates release glucose slowly and hence there is not a sudden increase in our blood sugar when we eat such carbs. The body can therefore produce low levels of insulin to use up this glucose. Low levels of insulin that reduce quickly after doing what they need to do prevents our cells from becoming insulin resistant. So there is not much glucose circulating in our blood constantly and this is great because candida does not have too much sugar to feast on and multiply!
There are a couple of things to be aware of when looking at GIs of different foods:
- There GI may change depending on how the food is processed. For example, raw carrot has a GI of 20. As soon as they are boiled, their GI increases to 50! Pasta cooked al dente (firm to bite) has lower GI than pasta cooked until it is totally soft. Grains that are made to “explode” like popcorn, puffed rice are high in GI.
- Quantity of food: Having a huge portion of a low GI food will still result in higher blood glucose. So, if you have twice the amount of low GI food, you can expect to have twice the amount of blood glucose.
- How ripe is the fruit: The GI value of a fruit goes up as it ripens. New potatoes have lower GI than old potatoes.
- Including soluble fibre (like that found in apples and vegetables) and having several smaller meals can reduce the rate of glucose absorption and insulin levels. So, if you do take a meal with some high GI food, remember to include some fibre in your diet and keep the meal small.
All this means that it will be better to have lower GI carbohydrates than higher if you have candida issues – however you can still have high GI foods to some extent if you follow certain rules as described above.
Additionally, a research study from 1988 by Woelver and colleagues from Canada showed that low GI foods eaten at dinner improve our body’s response to breakfast – our blood sugar does not spike like it normally does when we breakfast. This is called as the second-meal effect. Because the low GI dinner releases glucose slowly and continuously while you are asleep, your breakfast is no surprise to your body and so there is no glucose spike! To let your body heal from havoc caused by candida and to limit its growth, you could use this second-meal effect to your advantage and avoid morning spikes of glucose and insulin.
Are there some good carbs I can eat during the diet?
Whole wheat grain and flours, organic fresh and frozen vegetables, sea vegetables like nori, kombu, wakame, beans and pulses, chickpea and its flour, natural unsweetened yogurt can be eaten when on candida diet. You may also have brown or wild rice, buckwheat pasta, flatbread (chapatti) made from chickpea flour.
How much carbs can I have per day if any?
Basically, your carb intake should not be less than the recommendations for a healthy person – however, you need to replace the carbs that breakdown easily to carbs that breakdown slowly and gradually. Do not take any added simple sugars – this you should avoid like plague. Avoid fruit juices for the first 2-3 weeks on the diet. Dried fruits are not recommended. Avoid refined foods like white flour – white flour bread, pasta, etc. It is better that you have good quality (organic or home grown in an organic manner) carbs in smaller quantity than bad quality in large quantity.
Can I have carbs craving on the diet?
Carbohydrate craving is possibly caused in some people because eating carbs raises insulin and rising insulin reduces sugar in the blood. Some people recommend severely reducing carbs in the diet to reduce insulin response and cravings while others suggest taking carbs which have low glycemic index. However, there is not much research done on this and each person may have a different response. So what is important is to cut down your carb intake slowly and never cut down all carbs (as your body needs them) – but definitely cut down on the worse offenders (things that contain added sugar). As you cut down your sugar intake and start taking good sources of carbohydrates, your cravings will reduce.
Are refined carbohydrates okay?
No, refined carbohydrates are not the best things even when you do not have any issue with candida. When you do have candida, you should put in extra efforts to remove them from your diet. The problem with refined carbs is that they get digested easily and raise your blood sugar real quick. This is great for candida. You can read more about how glucose worsens your candida condition here.
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Do carbohydrates feed candida?
Anything that feeds us will feed candida – but one cannot stop living to stop candida. What we want to do is to use our nutrition for our own cells instead of giving it to candida. Simple and high GI carbs break down to glucose very easily. The faster the carbs breakdown, the longer will be the blood glucose circulating in your blood and candida can use this glucose to its advantage to grow and also to sabotage our immune system and cause other issues in the body as described in this article.