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I have just finished ten days on a sugar-free diet.
I originally started the diet to see if I would experience any obvious “die-off” symptoms, which would indicate that I had an overgrowth of Candida Albicans in my gut. As I expect my body is not great at detoxifying itself, if I have a candida overgrowth the death of the yeast cells (no longer fed on the sugars I usually consume) would pollute my body while it struggled to deal with them and make me feel ill. So that was the theory. I also took two different probiotics, not specifically to combat the candida, but to combat the bad bacteria in general.
The week did not really see me change my diet radically. I cut out plain and flavoured soya yogurt and (chocolate flavoured – sob!) soya desserts. These soya products were a daily staple in my diet. Even the plain one has a bit of sugar so out it went. I also switched from sweetened soya milk to unsweetened (which did not make my morning gluten-free porridge the highlight of my day, as it was previously). These were the most difficult things. Also quite tough was no honey on my rice cakes and no milk chocolate covered rice cakes either. Also no crystallised ginger and no pears (the only fruit I eat regularly, again due to digestive issues). There are also other things that you should avoid on the anti-candida diet, so I tried to do that, although I got quite annoyed at the varying opinions about what was ok!
Due to my already restricted diet the things that replaced these foods were largely nuts and seeds. I (well, my partner) made coconut and almond macaroon-type things with Stevia (a natural, calorie-free sweetener), and just slapped lots of almond butter on rice cakes to finish my meals instead of my sweet fix. I also nibbled on nuts and seeds. All this is good, except I think it left the easy and not so easy to digest foods out of balance and my stomach has not been overly happy. It has not been awful, and despite a bit of over-activity my wind levels have been lower than usual. Whether that is due to the probiotics, or less soya products, or less sugar itself I have yet to discover. As this is a major source of discomfort and distress to me at times I am happy that something has improved it.
The week started when I had just had a busy weekend so I was expecting to feel not so great for a few days. As the week went on I felt worse than expected as I did not seem to be recovering and wondered if I did indeed have a candida issue, but as time passed I just could not see that I would ever really know what was going on and felt that my diet was just too limited and my stomach problems were getting me down. I had a lot of pain in the week (not trapped wind though!) and my stomach felt very sore. I had spoken to a couple of people online who have definite candida issues and their experiences were so different from mine. Despite the fact that I think I have Leaky Gut Syndrome or Gut Dysbiosis and everything about these conditions talks about candida overgrowth, I am not convinced it is a big issue for me. I do think I have issues of other bad bacteria (hence the wind issues and the smell is indicative of ill-health, shall we say).
I was originally going to do the diet for longer but have decided to continue with a slightly more moderate approach and include fruit, with occasional honey and even a bite of dark chocolate now and then! I am continuing to research types of sugar and sweetener and see if I can keep refined sugar to a minimum. I also want to keep working to make my diet lower GI (Glycemic Index) as I think this is an area where my current eating “habits” let me down and are bad for encouraging bad bacteria. I say habits, but really they have been necessity, not choice or habit; but still I want to see if I can do better. I have bought two new enzymes, one is Gastro by Enzymedica and I am hoping it will help me to digest things that are higher in fibre and really open up my diet (beans and peas, please!). The other is for gluten/dairy digestion. I have not tried it out yet as gluten is not allowed on the anti-candida diet, but I would really like to be able to eat some gluten, especially whole grain wheat and rye on occasion. I also hope that these enzymes will help me introduce oats more successfully as these are meant to be very good for gut health. I think I just need to start gently and see if the enzymes help and if I can get used to these more challenging foods over time.
The other issue this diet has exposed is the potential dangers of eating too much soya. I don’t not know how real these issues are but you can read a bit here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/371222-what-are-the-dangers-of-too-much-soy/ and a quite thorough article here http://www.holistic-wellness-basics.com/soy-foods.html. (There are probably better sources of info, I just had a quick google – also wordpress is not letting me do linking properly so sorry about the mess). I had read things about this before but had not really taken it in (or wanted to, as I feel I have little choice over my protein sources as a vegetarian) but there is quite a lot of evidence that it is not so great. I cannot radically change my diet overnight but I aim to find alternatives to some soya products as I am eating a lot. I can drink rice-based milk and use that for my breakfast, but I don’t think it is low GI or very nutritious. There are various nut and seed-based milks but they are really very expensive. I have seen recipes for making your own almond and other milks, which doesn’t look really hard but I would need help with that and it’s one more thing to ask for help with from my very busy partner. If you bought the nuts in bulk it might be more cost-effective though than buying ready-made.
I tried goat yogurt yesterday (and bravely had more today!) as it is meant to be the most digestible dairy source and I find that cow’s milk and yogurt upsets me. The taste was just too strong for me and although I will finish the tub I have (with stevia sprinkled in it was a bit better), I don’t think I could get used to it even if my stomach allows it. There is a brand called Lacto-free which make yogurt without lactose, so I am going to try them and see how that goes too.
One great thing about the sugar-free time was that I was not craving sugar in particular, only missing some favourite foods and finding it hard to find alternatives that my digestive system would agree with. Linked to this, I was not actually craving food in the same way as I usually do. Hunger felt less urgent and I was less bothered about snacking an hour or two after eating, so I think my blood sugar was much more stable. That has to be a good thing for the energy-challenged. I also really enjoy the tea made from grated fresh ginger so I will continue to drink that. I would like to preserve the good things from this experiment, even if I still don’t really have an answer about Candida…