A reader writes: "I struggle with reoccurring yeast infections. The doctor gave me an oral medication for them about 5 years ago and I didn't have them for a year. Then my body started to be allergic to that medicine.
"I've always known I can change my diet, but you know how hard that is! I know I need to cut out refined sugar and starches. Again not so easy!
"Can you give me some ideas as to what to eat for breakfast? It's hard to go to the store with four kids and actually read the labels."
Fascinating information out there about this condition. Suffice it to say, some diet changes can help prevent yeast infections. But it may not be as drastic as you have been led to believe. Here's why:
Yeasts are everywhere. They live in soil. They reside on the skins of fruit and berries. And they live in the body. Some yeasts are good and others are not.
The yeast most often responsible for infections in the body is Candida albicans (aka Candida). Although a normal resident of the body, Candida is considered an "opportunistic pathogen" which means it is only harmful if it is allowed to grow out of control.
The most common cause of yeast infections? Antibiotic use, say experts. Antibiotics kill good bacteria (which protect the body from yeast overgrowth) as well as bad bacteria. Other conditions that may promote the abnormal growth of yeast in the body include pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, diabetes and HIV infections.
Yeasts in food, however, are entirely different species from the pathogen Candida albicans. Nutritional yeasts are "friendly fungi" much like mushrooms and other "organisms" we add to food for one reason or other. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (abbreviated S. cerevisiae) is a common yeast that has been used to make bread for thousands of years. Other strains of Saccharomyces are used to ferment grape juice into wine. Kombucha is a fermented sweetened tea made with a nutritional yeast. Some yeasts are even used to turn corn into ethanol fuel. But I digress.
Although the internet is full of diet advice on how to prevent yeast infections (one site says you must eliminate everything but garlic, spices, herbs and vegetables), here are some reliable remedies:
Increase your intake of Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus). These good bacteria in the gut keep Candida yeast cells from growing out of control. Sorry, but you will need to look at food labels to find foods such as milk, kefir, or yogurt that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus as an ingredient.
Keep up your defenses. Protein-containing foods strengthen our immune system so it can thwart the growth of wayward yeast cells. Include at least one of these at each meal: fish, poultry, meat, eggs, low-fat cheese, yogurt, milk, beans, nuts or nut butters.
Make half your plate vegetables. (Have we heard this before?) Cooked or raw, these foods feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut that keep the bad Candida boys under control.
Add some raw garlic to your diet. Garlic has proven anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Smash it up and add it to salad dressings and other fresh foods.
Consider taking a probiotic supplement that contains Lactobacillus - the good guys shown to control the growth of Candida. One trustworthy brand is Culturelle which, contains Lactobacillus GG.
Cut extra sugar from your diet. Eat whole fruit and avoid excessive amounts of juice and other sugared beverages. This is a good recommendation for all of us.
Ideas for breakfast? Try plain or low-sugar yogurt made with Lactobacillus "live active" cultures. And sprinkle with some raw garlic ... just kidding.
Bottom line: Avoid the overuse of antibiotics. Replenish your gut with good bacteria in the form of active live Lactobacillus-containing foods. Eat some protein at each meal. Load up with vegetables. If you haven't already, let your doctor know about your symptoms so he can prescribe necessary medical therapy.
And don't believe everything you read on the internet.
(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
©2012 The Monterey County Herald Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.