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A taste of the Paleo & Anti-Candida Diets. Is either right for you?

We can’t deny it any longer: Rates of chronic disease in the United States and Canada are skyrocketing. Even as our health declines, a plethora of new diets has appeared, all designed to treat or cure what ails us. While some of these plans are questionable at best, others have garnered huge followings or even received nods from the medical establishment.

The Paleo (short for Paleolithic) approach has gained a broad following in recent years and finally hit the mainstream with the publication of popular Paleo cookbooks like Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain. Similarly, you may have heard rumblings about the Anti-Candida Diet (ACD). This is an eating plan and protocol devised to reduce yeast overgrowth in the body, often a consequence of too much sugar in the diet. People with excess candida albicans, a normally benign form of yeast, suffer symptoms that range from foggy thinking to recurrent yeast infections to overwhelming sugar cravings. The ACD works to return the levels of candida back to normal so that these symptoms subside.

What these two gluten-free (and often grain-free) diets have in common is a focus on real foods and elimination of processed products. Both programs are also free of refined sugar and they tend to focus on animal products as the primary source of protein.

Yet what works for Paleo may not work for the ACD. Both diets evolved from a desire to alleviate disease, but the broader Paleo approach focuses on inflammatory conditions like diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune diseases. The anti-candida diet, as the name implies, is designed to redress the specific condition of candida overgrowth. Of course, people on an ACD protocol often see improvement in other chronic conditions as well, but that’s not the primary goal of the program.

Both diets encompass more than food alone. They also include lifestyle factors and daily living practices.

Each diet is based on a specific premise. Paleo, for instance, is based on the notion that our Paleolithic ancestors ate only whole, natural foods they could find by hunting and gathering. It promotes healing with unprocessed foods, sufficient relaxation and exercise. An anti-candida diet, on the other hand, is designed to either kill excess yeast or prevent further yeast overgrowth. Along with specific food choices, the ACD lifestyle accomplishes this goal via practices to reduce toxins in the environment and stress reduction, among other things.

But both diets allow a wide range of healthy ingredients that make for delectable recipes and meals. Here’s how to distinguish key similarities and differences between the two diets and determine if one is right for you.

Paleo: What Did Cavemen Eat, Exactly?

According to most Paleo advocates, our diet has changed so much since the Paleolithic era that our cave-dwelling ancestors would not recognize most of what passes as food today. (Wooly mammoth nuggets, anyone?)

With the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago and the subsequent move to large-scale industrial food production, Paleo advocates believe the human digestive system has been unable to adapt quickly enough to the changes in our food supply. In addition, we’ve fiddled so much with the basic foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate that we’ve stripped them of much of their original nutritional value. Paleo supporters contend that our ever-increasing list of chronic, inflammatory health complaints can be attributed in large part to the unnatural shift in our diet toward processed foods.

The most direct route to restore our body’s natural (healthy) state, they reason, is by returning to a diet as close as possible to the one our Paleolithic ancestors ate. A Paleo diet, therefore, includes the foods cavemen were able to find and consume on their own—vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and the fats naturally found in those foods. Because our Paleo ancestors had no modern agriculture or processing methods, the diet excludes foods like grains (although some versions allow small amounts); beans/legumes; and anything highly processed (canned, boxed or prepared foods). In other words, forget about your favorite packaged gluten-free cookies, cakes, donuts, canned soups or Chinese takeout.

Bottom Line Detractors criticize the strict Paleo diet for excluding whole grains and legumes, but the Paleo approach has undoubtedly helped many people improve their overall health. It’s a “clean” eating plan that focuses on unprocessed foods and lots of fresh produce. Any diet that reduces sugars and processed food while upping the veggie quotient is a good thing. These changes alone can prompt huge shifts in physical wellness for many people. The Paleo approach is naturally gluten-free, so it’s useful for those with celiac disease.

Anti-Candida Diet: Targeting a Fungal Invader

While there’s definitely some overlap between Paleo and the ACD (both are naturally low carb and promote whole foods), the ACD differs from Paleo in some important ways. In designing an anti-candida diet, there’s only one question behind every ingredient choice: Will eating this way encourage or discourage yeast growth? As a result, there is no single “absolute” anti-candida diet. Theories about what is an appropriate food to help treat the condition have morphed in recent decades as our knowledge of yeast evolves and yeast overgrowth becomes more recognized.

In general, most anti-candida diets must meet two important criteria: they cannot feed (and perhaps will even destroy) excess yeast in the body, so that levels can return to normal. And they must support the immune system, either directly by healing the gut (which is where 70 percent of our immune system resides), or indirectly by taking some stress off the immune system. After an initial rigorous period, the dietary restrictions ease up somewhat. But anyone who’s suffered with candida in the past is advised to avoid refined sugars and flours indefinitely.

Candida yeast loves sugar as much as we do. In fact, sugar is candida’s favorite food. Consequently, anti-candida diets remove all refined sugars and sweeteners that might feed the yeast. Exceptions are sweeteners that don’t impact blood sugar levels, such as stevia or xylitol. The diet also nixes most fruits (since they contain high natural sugars); moldy foods (peanuts, pistachios, mushrooms and the like); fermented foods that rely on sugar for fermentation (sorry, alcohol gets the boot, as do most vinegars and non-refrigerated sauerkraut and pickles; naturally lacto-fermented foods are fine); processed foods and highly allergenic foods that stress the immune system (gluten, dairy, eggs, caffeinated items), plus a few others. Many anti-candida diets also cut out all grains and legumes in the early stages, since these items may be considered too starchy.

Lifestyle factors are crucial to a successful anti-candida diet. Dealing with stress and detoxifying the body and environment are two key components of the protocol. The ACD approach also suggests specific treatment through herbal and natural supplements and, sometimes, prescription anti-fungal medicines.

Bottom Line This diet is useful for anyone who’s been diagnosed with candida or diabetes and anyone wishing to reduce their intake of refined sugars. As with a Paleo approach, the ACD provides an abundance of vegetables and whole foods. While grains and legumes are permitted, only gluten-free grains make the cut. So the diet is suitable for those with celiac disease and will likely help those with undiagnosed food sensitivities or allergies. Note: If you’ve been diagnosed with candida, following the diet is absolutely essential for a full recovery.

The major criticism of the ACD comes from the realm of allopathic (conventional) medicine, which doesn’t yet acknowledge “candida” as a bona fide diagnosis. In fact, allopathic and alternative practitioners are referring to two very different conditions when they discuss “systemic candida,” which may account for this rift. To alternative or holistic health professionals, candida overgrowth refers to an overabundance of the organism throughout the digestive tract and the myriad symptoms that accompany this imbalance in the body. Among conventional practitioners, however, a diagnosis of “systemic candidiasis” refers to candida that has further infiltrated several organ systems in the body—a critical and potentially deadly situation. Only in recent years have some conventional physicians begun to recognize “candida overgrowth” as a chronic and debilitating condition that’s much more widespread than classic “candidiasis.”

The following recipes are well-suited to both diets with some modifications as noted.

Photography by Nicole Axworthy


Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles


If you like raw cookie dough, you’ll love this recipe. High-protein “secret” ingredients (chickpeas and seed butter) give them a hefty nutritional punch. For a chocolate-coated treat, dip these truffles in melted chocolate. If you omit the coconut sugar, add more stevia, to taste.


1 cup cooked chickpeas or white beans, drained
3 tablespoons smooth sunflower seed butter or nut butter
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons vanilla powder
⅛ teaspoon pure stevia powder or ¼ teaspoon vanilla or chocolate pure liquid stevia, to taste
⅓ cup carob chips, chocolate chips or cacao nibs
3 tablespoons coconut flour
3 tablespoons plain or vanilla unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
2 ½ tablespoons unflavored or vanilla raw protein powder (pea or rice)
-Pinch of fine sea salt

Chocolate Coating

½ cup raw cacao powder
6 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla powder or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼-½ teaspoon pure stevia powder or ½-1 teaspoon pure liquid stevia, more to taste

1. To make truffles, process chickpeas, seed butter, coconut sugar, coconut oil, cinnamon, vanilla and stevia in the bowl of a food processor until very smooth. Add coconut flour, almond milk, protein powder and salt and process until mixture comes together in a very soft dough. (If using chips or cacao nibs, stir them into the dough by hand.) Scoop dough by the tablespoon and place the mounds on a cookie sheet. Freeze until just firm. Then roll into balls. Store uncoated truffles in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 4 days or freeze for longer storage.

2. To make chocolate coating, place cacao powder, coconut oil, vanilla and stevia in the top of a double boiler. Gently heat ingredients, stirring frequently until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

3. To coat truffles, place a ball of dough on a fork and dip it into melted chocolate to cover. Tap the fork against the rim of the pan so that excess chocolate drips through the tines and back into the melted chocolate. Slide truffle off fork onto cookie sheet. Repeat to coat remaining truffles.

4. Return cookie sheet to the freezer and chill truffles just until firm. For a thicker chocolate coating, repeat the dipping process.

5. Store truffles in a closed container in the refrigerator up to 5 days. May be frozen.

Each truffle without chocolate coating contains 41 calories, 2g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 2g sugars, 2g protein, 2 Est GL.
Each truffle with chocolate coating contains 73 calories, 5g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g sugars, 2g protein, 2 Est GL.

Recipe from Living Candida-Free by Ricki Heller. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong ©2015.

Photography by Ricki Heller

Paleo-Friendly & ACD-Friendly

Grain-Free Pizza Crust


The trick to creating a grain-free crust that holds up well is giving it sufficient time to bake before adding the sauce. This thin crust is delicious with your favorite toppings. It can be frozen.

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
⅓ cup coconut flour
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup gluten-free vegetable broth
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, place pumpkin seeds, coconut flour, chia seeds, garlic, baking soda and salt and process until mixture attains the texture of a fine meal, like cornmeal. Add broth and vinegar and process to combine. Batter will be thin. Let sit 1 minute to thicken slightly.

3. Turn batter onto prepared cookie sheet and spread it with a spatula to ¼- to ½-inch thickness (8 to 10 inches in diameter). Pat the top with your hand to ensure a flat, uniform texture.

4. Place in preheated oven and bake until dry and lightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan once about halfway through baking.

5. Remove from oven and place desired toppings over crust. Return to oven and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until heated through. Cut and serve.

Each serving contains 179 calories, 13g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 324mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 2g sugars, 8g protein, 1 Est GL.

Recipe from Living Candida-Free by Ricki Heller. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2015.

Photography by Nicole Axworthy

Paleo-Friendly & ACD-Friendly

“Sour Cream” & Gluten-Free Onion Kale Chips


If you’re not on the kale bandwagon yet, these chips will win you over. They’re addictive! Luckily, they’re nutritious, delivering a serving of your daily leafy greens. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

⅓ cup macadamia nuts, raw cashews or raw sunflower seeds
⅓ cup raw hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
⅓ cup filtered water
½ large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons raw apple cider vinegar
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste
5 drops plain pure liquid stevia or to taste
1 large head curly kale, stems removed, washed and dried

1. Preheat oven to 180°F. (If your oven doesn’t go this low, preheat at its lowest setting.) Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, water, onion, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and stevia in the bowl of a powerful food processor or blender and process until mixture is perfectly smooth and creamy (like thick pancake batter).

3. Place kale leaves in a large bowl. (If your bowl isn’t big enough, divide kale into batches.) There’s no need to tear leaves into smaller pieces unless you want really small kale chips.

4. Pour blended mixture over the leaves and toss with clean hands until leaves are evenly coated.

5. Arrange leaves in a single layer on prepared cookie sheets.

6. Place in preheated oven and bake 1 hour. Remove from oven and flip leaves over. Bake an additional hour and check for doneness. Remove any leaves that are perfectly dry and brittle and let cool. Return remaining chips to the oven and bake another 20 minutes or so. Continue to remove leaves as they’re done. Bake moist leaves an additional 20 minutes until all chips are dry and crispy.

Each serving contains 207 calories, 15g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 62mg sodium, 14g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 2g sugars, 8g protein, 4 Est GL.

TIP If using a dehydrator instead of the oven, dehydrate the chips at 115°F for 10 to 14 hours until dry and crisp.

Recipe from Living Candida-Free by Ricki Heller. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2015.

Photography by Ricki Heller

Paleo-Friendly & ACD-Friendly

Gluten-Free Chocolate Fudge Bites


If a chocolate brownie had a love child with a hunk of fudge, it would be these cookies. Dense, chewy and ultra-fudgy, these grain-free bites can be eaten with impunity on a Paleo and anti-candida regime. This gluten-free recipe can easily be doubled.

½ cup xylitol
⅔ cup natural smooth cashew butter or sunflower seed butter
¼ cup coconut flour
¼ cup unsweetened almond milk (for strict Paleo, it must be homemade) or coconut milk
2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons yacon syrup,* pure maple syrup or coconut sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a coffee grinder or blender, process xylitol into a powder.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, place xylitol, cashew butter, coconut flour, almond milk, cocoa powder, yacon syrup, vanilla, baking powder and salt and process until smooth. Let batter sit 2 to 3 minutes to thicken slightly. It will be very soft, like frosting consistency.

4. Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, scoop batter and place it onto prepared cookie sheet. Spread batter gently with the back of a spatula until each cookie is about ½-inch thick.

5. Place cookies in preheated oven and bake until dry on the outside but still soft to the touch, 10 to 13 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

6. When done, remove cookies from oven. Let cool completely before removing from pan. Store, covered, in the refrigerator up to 3 days. May be frozen.

Each cookie contains 119 calories, 7g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 89mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g sugars, 3g protein, 2 Est GL.

*TIP Pure maple syrup and coconut nectar are not allowed on either a strict Paleo diet or ACD; however, they can be substituted for yacon syrup without impacting the success of this recipe.

Recipe from Living Candida-Free by Ricki Heller. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2015.

Food blogger Ricki Heller, PhD, RHN ( is author of Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free, Sweet Freedom and Living Candida-Free: 100 Recipes and a 3-Stage Program (Da Capo Lifelong).


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