So I'm sat in Starbucks, with a green tea latte (with coconut milk, I'm doing a vegan challenge this week - more to come about that!) finally braving a post which has the potential to end this blog, or at least render it useless.
As you can perhaps imagine I've been putting off writing this for a while. Kill my blog off with a final post? Ermm no thanks.
But nagging in the back of my mind over the last few months has been a doubt... that candida diets and yeast-free diets have no scientific grounding. It kept popping up, and I added the topic as something possibly to cover on the blog. But I kept pushing it back and pushing it back. You can understand why I didn't really want to face up to it when I've built a blog around these concepts...
However two articles posted recently have meant I can't bury my head any longer. So here's me facing facts:
The first article I read was a post on the Health Bloggers Community entitled Microbiome Myths and how to really help your digestion from Laura Thomas PhD. Naturally this piqued my interest with my fascination about the gut. Having heard Laura speak at a Rooted Project event a few weeks back I knew I was going to get some straight talking.
In the article Laura takes apart nutrition myths, including the statement "Candida overgrowth leads to 'leaky gut.'" Here's some of what she says (just a few quotes, I highly recommend you read Laura's entire piece to fill in the gaps as it's really enlightening):
"... Candida totally gets the blame for "leaky gut"... [but] there's no solid evidence (maybe a couple of sketchy papers) to connect Candida overgrowth with increased gut permeability or any of the other sh*t it gets blamed for....
What I find totally bonkers about this whole candida and leaky gut thing, is the so-called 'treatment' for it. Basically eliminating all 'sugar.' This is so confusing because basically all nutritious foods have some sort of sugar in them, including fruits and vegetables."
Okay, so after that article I'm feeling pretty red faced about championing yeast free as it's linked with these theories about candida. I knew I didn't have leaky gut as my symptoms are fairly mild. But I am definitely conscious of my sugar intake and even wrote a post about low-sugar fruit for this reason when I started out.
The second article took the cringe factor to another level though.
If you read the full article (which I highly recommend) be prepared for plenty of swearing. Here are a couple of quotes that don't involve curse words:
"The prospect that invasive candidiasis might be present in large proportions of the population is fanciful, bizarre and so far from the medical consensus as to be laughable... No good studies exist to back it up, and when the condition has been researched, no evidence has been found to suggest that it is in any way real....
The Yeast Connection [the 1986 book by Dr William Crook]... ticks all the boxes required for a faddy false belief to take hold and grow. Candida overgrowth is a masterful example of the pseudo-science playbook, covering all the steps required to tap into people's fears and uncertainties."
So where do I go now? I am writing a blog about eating 'yeast free' - but now I'm reading it's all based on pseudo-science! Should I bury myself under a duvet and never surface again?!
You may well have read my earlier blog posts about my food intolerance 'diagnosis' (I've admitted a blood test is not the perfect way to do it) and also my musings about whether I should be doing 'yeast free' or 'anti-candida' and what the difference really is. I always found the whole thing a bit confusing, which was part of the reason for setting up The Flourishing Pantry.
I suppose it makes sense that when I searched yeast free diet that there wasn't really a consensus out there about what it was or included / excluded. Perhaps it was because it's all just made up...?! And googling 'yeast free diet' didn't, sadly, direct me to articles like Anthony and Laura's about the actual SCIENCE behind this theory, or lack of.
I'm hugely relieved that I never read Dr Crook's book or got deep into Dr Zoe Harcombe PhD's anti-candida diet which Anthony mentions in his piece. Why didn't I read them? Well as I mentioned in a previous post it's because when I read the list of things on the anti-candida diet it never quite sat right with me.
I liked the loose principles of what the diet stood for and preferred the term 'yeast free' to 'anti-candida.' Sort of like a religion and taking the bits you like from it, but not following it to the letter. I loved the wholefoods basis and the restriction of refined sugar and processed meat, and I could live without vinegar and other condiments quite happily. But I was not up for full on banning of shellfish or "sugar in all its forms" for example.
It's a bit like the argument about clean eating, which I wrote about in January. It is possible to take the values of 'clean eating' (or whatever the bloody hell we're calling it these days, apparently we shouldn't be using that term) and base 80% of your diet on them as great basic rules for what food you put in your body. But also not take it to extremes which can result in dangerously restricting naturally nutrition rich foods, becoming a social pariah because you can't eat out with your mates or worse, developing an eating disorder.
The way I've approached yeast free is similar to most people's common sense approach to 'clean eating'. I haven't banged on about the science of candida (bit of luck hey... turns out there isn't any...) or stuck religiously to a controlling list. Instead I've used the principles of the diet to eat healthier and find out what suits me and personally have found my symptoms reduce as a result. I've done "what works for me."
What have I learned in the last 12 months doing this blog? Diet is complicated. The gut is complicated and there isn't a quick fix, one-size-fits-all cast-iron way to make everyone free from bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. When you consider Laura's point about the number of bacteria in your gut ("people probably have somewhere between 30-50 TRILLION bacteria in and on their body" and many of those are from the candida family!) it's sort of a no-brainer that everyone is unique and what works for one person won't fit the next.
So have I reached a conclusion for The Flourishing Pantry? Am I really on a 'yeast free' diet?
Maybe it's not a 'yeast free' diet after all. It's just a healthier diet. I just stuck a label on it. Sadly a label with poor scientific backing.
I think names and titles and snappy hashtags are the way the world is going and people are always going to keep looking for quick fixes and easy rules. What started for me as a curiosity about a diagnosis of a yeast intolerance has led me on a fascinating journey and one that's definitely not over yet.
Through my persistence to seek out more solidly backed nutrition information I've realised that there's a lot written which can't be trusted. But I'd love to think now that people searching anti-candida or yeast-free diets might come here to The Flourishing Pantry and read this and also the articles I've referenced (and more in the future), and really question what it is they're seeing and believing and find a way to their own understanding of the science.
I also really shy away from the shouty (sometimes sweary!) attacks on people following (falling for?) these diets and 'experts.' They can leave you feeling really stupid. I think it's important to encourage people and positively guide them towards the best research and evidence. I want this blog to be a safe haven for me and others to ask questions when we aren't experts and get answers and better understanding without feeling silly.
So... What do you reckon?
I have now put a big fat disclaimer on my post about Yeast Free vs. Candida and directed readers to the two articles above and now this post too. As discussed before, a blog is a living and breathing thing and tracks my journey. And mine most certainly has involved a lot of learning, and will continue to do so.
If you want to hear both Anthony Warner (Angry Chef) and Laura Thomas PhD talking in person and ask them questions yourself then why don't you grab tickets to the Health Bloggers Community Summit? They're available now and I'll be there too helping out - hopefully on this session in particular!
On their panel (called Nutrition and Nutribollocks) they'll also be joined by Pixie Turner (Plantbased Pixie) and Dr Rupy Aujla (The Doctor's Kitchen). It would be great to meet you (and them!) and keep the conversation going.