Nourish - Candida Overgrowth: The Importance of Fermented and Cultured Foods on the Anti Candida Diet (Part Three)
Welcome to part three of the Candida Overgrowth blog series. Today it’s all about fermented and cultured foods and why they’re so important.
As covered in part one of this blog series, candida is an organism that lives naturally within the human body and is normally found in low levels.
The troubles arise when there is an imbalance caused by an overproduction of this yeast which can cause many problems. This includes the infamous fungal infection known as Candida.
It’s commonly thought by many that we should just send in the antibiotics or prescribed antifungals to wipe out the overgrowth of ‘bad bacteria’ (Candida) and all our problems will go away. However, this is simply not the case.
Killing the bacteria kills both the good and the bad, and without the good, you’re heading for further imbalance, and what do you know? Another visit from the overgrowing candida.
Take yeast infections in women for example.
There are five known vaginal bacteria that colonize the vagina and keep Candida and yeast infections under control. Many of them (such as Lactobacillus) produce lactic acid, which lowers the pH, creating a hostile environment for pathogens.
When things such as antibiotics kill these good bacteria, there becomes a void of empty space and suddenly, the candida has room to spread out and grow and an overgrowth of yeast can result, leading to, you guessed it, a yeast infection.
So what do we do about it?
Eat fermented and cultured foods!
Well, here’s where fermented and cultured foods come in.
Instead of solely talking about killing and eradicating bacteria, let’s talk about building and nurturing our microbiome.
If we build up the good yeasts and bacteria in our guts, they will do the hard work for us!
We covered dietary changes for helping overcome overgrowth of candida in part two of the Candida Overgrowth blog series. Yet there wasn’t enough space to really delve into the real juicy bits about why consuming fermented and cultured foods are an absolute must on the diet. Let’s dive into that now!
Fermented and cultured foods are essential when it comes to improving the health of our gut and reducing fungal growth.
When we eat them, these beneficial bacteria reproduce and establish themselves in our gut – creating a happy and healthy microbiome.
Having lots of good bacteria in our bodies helps to keep Candida in check. Moreover, it stops it from spreading out and growing into places it doesn’t belong.
What is Culturing?
Culturing commonly means there has been some kind of microbial starter used to initiate fermentation. Typical microbial starters include SCOBYs (such as kombucha and kefir cultures), whey and powdered starter cultures.
A scoby aka symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast tend to feed off sugar and produce a cultured beverage that contains beneficial yeast and bacteria.
Water kefir is an example of culturing, as is milk kefir and kombucha. Water kefir is made using small crystal-like scoby grains that feed off of sugar water. Kombucha is made using a disc-shaped scoby that feeds off of sugar and caffeine.
They also grow and reproduce, so if you know someone who makes either, ask for some scobys 😊 We’ll cover these a little more further into this post.
What is Wild Fermentation?
The air is filled with microbes, as is our food.
Wild fermentation occurs when microbes naturally found in the air and on these foods are used to initiate the fermentation process.
Sauerkraut is an example of wild fermentation since it utilizes the naturally occurring bacteria on the cabbage, Lactobacillus, to break down and ferment in an anaerobic environment aka without oxygen.
Anaerobic conditions are very important because if simply left out exposed to oxygen, the cabbage would become mouldy. The anaerobic environment plus the salt used in the fermentation process keeps the bad bacteria away and allows the beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus) to turn into lactic acid. This results in the sour-tasting fermented cabbage that we call sauerkraut.
Sourdough is another example since the initial process of creating a sourdough starter utilizes wild yeasts found in the air and on the flour used.
What is Lacto-Fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation, aka Lactic acid fermentation, is a variant of wild fermentation and often used interchangeably. Bare with me here!
The term lacto-fermentation refers to the specific bacteria, Lactobacillus. Since Lactobacillus is present on anything grown in the earth, this also makes our previously mentioned sauerkraut another example of lacto-fermentation, as well as being a wild fermentation. The naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria found on the cabbage feeds on the natural sugars in the cabbage and produces lactic acid as a by-product.
As Lactobacillus is naturally present on our veggies, lacto-fermented foods can include carrots, garlic, cauliflower, pickles, onions, red peppers etc.
With the addition of a little salt and an anaerobic environment, these foods will naturally ferment and become laden with beneficial bacteria. Plus they’re incredibly tasty!
How to Add Fermented and Cultured Foods into the Diet
Re-establishing a healthy gut microbiome by eating plenty of fermented and cultured foods can be a very powerful defence against not only candida overgrowth but any unwanted pathogen or bug. A happy gut microbiome is key to a healthy and happy immune system.
There are many delicious fermented and cultured foods that can help to repopulate and balance our gut microbiome, so let’s get to them!
Sauerkraut is a type of fermented cabbage that is incredibly versatile, both in how you make it and how you can eat it.
Since the cabbage comes ‘pre-loaded’ with the bacteria it needs to ferment itself, it’s even easier to make than yoghurt and kefir. You don’t even need a starter culture. You just need cabbage and salt.
For more info on why fermented foods are so good for you plus a recipe on how to make your own sauerkraut, check out my previous blog here.
If you’re not up for making it, pop into one of our Nourish stores and head to the fridge. You’ll find delicious unheated, unpasteurised sauerkraut waiting for you there!
Eat it as a side dish, add to salads, mix into bowls, add to sandwiches or toast. Add it to your meals (just make sure it’s not hot as this will kill the bacteria) or eat it alone.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean food made by fermenting cabbage with vegetables such as radish and combining it with herbs and spices such as chilli, garlic, ginger and red pepper.
You can enjoy kimchi alone as a digestive stimulant before a meal, or in a meal. It’s great with rice, mixed into soup or as a side dish.
And here’s a fun fact about fermented cabbage.
Raw cabbage contains roughly 30 mg of vitamin C per cup, but when you ferment it into sauerkraut or kimchi, its vitamin C and antioxidant levels skyrocket. Levels of antioxidants improve drastically and the vitamin C in sauerkraut can range anywhere from 57 to 695 mg!
Why does this happen? Because fermentation increases the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals in plant-based foods. It even makes folate, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 more absorbable. Plus it helps the synthesis of vitamin K2 and amino acids.
Fermenting foods help to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients within the food, which is especially important if you’ve been having gut issues and problems absorbing your nutrients.
Fun fact number 2: people who eat lacto-fermented vegetables have been shown to absorb more iron than people who eat the same veggies, but in their fresh state. This is because the fermentation process changes iron into its more absorbable ferric form.
All you need to do is grab yourself any veg of your choice, any herbs/spices you want, add them to a jar with a lid and cover with a salt water brine. After 5-10 days (or longer if you wish) you’ll have probiotic-rich lacto-fermented veggies to enjoy with every meal!
If you’re interested in trying this, check out some recipes online as it’s important to get your salt:water ratio right.
You can also find some great books which go into more detail and give some delicious recipes to try. Sandor Katz Wild Fermentation is a great one to check out.
Milk Kefir is a traditional fermented milk drink found all over the world, from Turkey to Russia. It’s simply milk that has been cultured with kefir grains. It’s a little like yoghurt in flavour and texture, but a bit tangier. You can consume it in the same way as yoghurt.
And for those of you with lactose intolerance, you can also give kefir a try as the kefir grains actually consume the milk sugar, lactose, as their source of food. This means you’re left with the delicious fermented beverage, minus the lactose – hurrah!
You can easily make your own kefir at home. All you need are some milk kefir grains or dehydrated grains. You place them in a jar of milk and within a day or two you will have some delicious kefir!
The best thing about kefir is that you can keep using those same grains indefinitely and they even grow over time so you can share them around.
You can also use these grains to make cultured coconut kefir, or even cultured almond or cashew milk!
As mentioned earlier, water kefir grains are similar to milk kefir, but instead of milk, they feed off of sugar water.
Since their food source is the sugar, you don’t have to worry about yourself consuming it, as they eat it and turn it into probiotic goodness 😊
This makes for a wonderful effervescent bubbly beverage that works really well as a soda replacement or alcohol alternative at a special event. (I mention this since alcohol is off the cards on the anti-candida diet in part two).
Again, find yourself some water kefir grains from a friend or online, mix up some sugar water and you’re good to go. (I recommend looking up the ratio and tricks on how to make it online if you’re interested in getting some on the go).
Yoghurt is another naturally fermented dairy culture and contains a variety of lactobacillus strains of probiotic bacteria.
When buying in the shop, look for ones that contain live cultures. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum are particularly helpful. Try to avoid yoghurts that don’t list the specific strains of bacteria on the packaging as they may not be worth the money.
Also, make sure that if you’re following the anti-candida diet that you choose an unsweetened natural yoghurt.
Remember, that excess sugar can feed or possibly restart an unwanted Candida overgrowth. Opt for natural, unsweetened plain yoghurt.
Once you get used to less sugar in your diet, you won’t miss the overly sweet sugary types. You’ll actually start to enjoy the tangy flavour of unsweetened yoghurt. And depending on what stage of the diet you’re on, you can add some fresh pomegranate or mixed berries to give it some more flavour should you wish.
And of course, there’s always the option of making your own. Once you have a base culture, you’ll be able to make endless batches of fresh yoghurt.
Kombucha is a fizzy fermented tea drink and is unfortunately prone to be under much scrutiny in the candida conversation circles, which is mildly baffling to me.
A lot of people avoid kombucha when they have an overgrowth of candida after being told it may make the condition worse due to the fact it’s made using sugar.
Let’s tackle that first.
Yes, there is sugar used in the process of making kombucha, however, the kombucha scoby uses this sugar as it’s food source, turning it into the fizzy probiotic-rich beverage known as kombucha. Generally, kombucha ferments for 1-2 weeks, and in that time the sugar content is significantly reduced. If it is still sweet, you can leave it to ferment longer and eat up more sugars.
It is important to note that you want to drink kombucha without added fruit juice to ensure that there are no unnecessary sugar levels inside and it is properly fermented. If you’re buying it, read the label. If you’re making it at home, add lemon or ginger pieces instead of juice to flavour it.
Kombucha contains a powerful probiotic called Saccharomyces boulardii, which is actually a probiotic yeast.
S. Boulardii is a good probiotic yeast and we need not only good bacteria, but good yeasts as well to keep us in balance.
S. boulardii is able to effectively compete with and displace harmful yeast strains such as Candida. This makes kombucha a fair contender in the battle of candida overgrowth.
Making your own kombucha is easy. You simply get a SCOBY from a friend, online or in a shop. Instructions for making kombucha can also be found online or from whomever you get it from.
Other fermented and cultured foods worth mentioning include:
- kvass, a probiotic beverage made from rye bread
- miso, a paste made by fermenting soybeans, brown rice or barley with koji
- natto, fermented soybeans
- apple cider vinegar, a liquid made by fermenting apples, vinegar and a bacterial culture
- apple scrap vinegar
- sourdough bread
Cultured foods can certainly aid in the treatment of Candida overgrowth as long as they are made properly in order to remove excess sugars and allow the probiotics to grow and become strong.
Consuming probiotic foods is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system, improve your digestion, bring the gut into balance and fight off digestive infections such as Candida overgrowth.
I hugely encourage you to try adding a variety of cultured foods into your meals regularly and increase them as you adjust to the huge influx of good microbes that begin to conquer and dominate your microflora.
Continue reading more about candida overgrowth here:
- The Symptoms, The Causes and the Treatments (Part One)
- Dietary Changes (Part Two)
- Herbs, Medicinal Mushrooms and Supplements (Part Four)
- Lifestyle Changes (Part Five)
Any questions? Drop into your local Nourish store to chat with our expert team and explore our full range of foods, supplements and skincare. You can also find our full product range in our online store.
A word of caution.
If you’re not used to eating or drinking fermented and cultured foods, take it slowly.
Going full steam ahead and throwing them all down can cause a detox reaction as the bad bacteria and bad yeasts leave the body. They give off toxins as they die off and you can experience detox symptoms such as:
- body aches
- joint aches
- skin rashes
- maybe even cold and flu symptoms. This all depends on your level of health and general diet. For others, you won’t notice any of these.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.