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Mold illness is an illness caused by exposure to mold spores and their biotoxins in water-damaged indoor environments. It can cause numerous symptoms that range from uncomfortable to debilitating, including brain fog, chronic fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues.
A low-mold diet is a specific dietary approach that can aid recovery from mold illness. Read on to learn about the foods to eat and foods to avoid on a low-mold diet and how this way of eating can support your mold illness recovery.
The Lyme Disease and Mold Connection
People already suffering from immune system dysregulation are more susceptible to the harmful health effects of mycotoxins. (1) This means that people with Lyme disease may be more susceptible to mold illness.
In turn, people with mold illness may be more susceptible to chronic Lyme disease due to the immunosuppressive effects of many mycotoxins. (2)
If you are dealing with both Lyme disease and mold illness, I encourage you to read my article on the connection between mold toxicity and Lyme disease. If you have Lyme disease, treating mold illness is essential for helping your immune system function properly so you can ultimately recover from Lyme disease.
What is the Low-Mold Diet?
The low-mold diet is a dietary approach used in the treatment of mold illness that reduces your exposure to mold and mycotoxins in food, thereby reducing your total body burden of these harmful substances.
The low-mold diet focuses on the following principles:
- Remove foods that are commonly contaminated with mold and mycotoxins
- Remove foods that feed mold growth inside the body.
- Support the body’s detoxification pathways so it can eliminate mycotoxins.
- Reduce mold-induced inflammation inside the body.
Through these mechanisms, the low-mold diet may reduce symptoms of mold illness and create a strong foundation for mold illness recovery.
Foods to Avoid on the Low-Mold Diet
Let’s begin by covering the foods that you need to avoid on the low-mold diet.
Avoid Foods That Commonly Contain Mold and Mycotoxins
First and foremost, you’ll need to avoid foods that are commonly contaminated with mold and mycotoxins.
Some healthcare practitioners argue that food-derived mold and mycotoxins are easily excreted by the body and, therefore, can’t cause health problems. However, research indicates that even low-level exposure to mycotoxins (at levels that typically occur through food) can detrimentally alter the gut microbiome and promote leaky gut. (3, 4)
An unhealthy gut, in turn, is less able to detoxify mold and mycotoxins. These findings suggest that reducing oral intake of mycotoxins through food may promote better gut health and, in turn, an improved ability to detoxify mold and mycotoxins.
In other words, while accidental ingestion of high doses of mycotoxins through contaminated foods can cause acute toxicity, long-term low-dose mycotoxin exposure through contaminated foods may also hurt our health.
Certain foods are more prone than others to growing mold and accumulating mycotoxins. These foods include:
- Grains: Most grains are contaminated with mold and mycotoxins, including wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, and rice. (5) The low-mold diet is thus a grain-free diet. This means foods made from grain-based flour, such as bread, pasta, and cereal should also be avoided.
- Fermented and cured foods: Fermentation and curing of foods often intentionally involves mold or inadvertently results in mold contamination of the end product. (6, 7) Avoid fermented foods like sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, yogurt, kefir, and cheese on the low-mold diet. Ideally, you should also avoid cured meats like salami.
- Conventional meat and dairy products from grain-fed animals: Animals that eat a lot of moldy grains have mycotoxins inside their bodies. These mycotoxin metabolites can carry over into their meat and milk. When we eat their meat and dairy, the mycotoxins can then add to our total body burden of mycotoxins. (8)
- Peanuts and peanut butter: Peanuts are commonly contaminated with the mold Aspergillus, which makes aflatoxin, a type of mycotoxin linked to liver toxicity and DNA damage, among other adverse health effects. (9)
- Alcohol: Certain alcoholic beverages, like wine, beer, cider, and kombucha, can be contaminated with mold and mycotoxins. (10) Alcohol consumption can also increase oxidative stress and harm the gut, two effects that we really don’t need when we’re already dealing with an inflammatory illness like mold illness.
- Coffee: Coffee beans are frequently contaminated with Aspergillus and Penicillium molds, and their associated mycotoxins, such as the mycotoxin ochratoxin A. (11, 12) For this reason, if you are a coffee drinker, I strongly recommend selecting a low-mold coffee, such as Purity Coffee.
Importantly, exposure to mycotoxins in food isn’t just a phenomenon in hot, humid developing countries. Significant exposure to food-based mycotoxins has also been found in developed countries. (13) For example, high levels of mycotoxins have even been found in highly-regulated baby food products in developed countries – yikes! (14)
Avoid Foods That Feed Mold Inside the Body
People who have been exposed to mold spores inside a water-damaged building may potentially experience mold colonization inside their bodies, particularly inside the gut. Mold colonization in the gut may cause bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
To avoid fueling mold growth inside the gut, it is crucial to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates. Mold is a fungus, and fungi love to feed on simple carbohydrates, including starchy flour-based foods and added sugars.
Simple carbohydrates that may feed mold growth inside the body, and thus should be avoided, include:
- Added sugars, including cane sugar, brown sugar, date sugar, rice syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar. I refer to these sweeteners as “added sugars” because they are typically added to foods. You should also strictly limit your intake of natural sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup; these are still sugars, after all!
- Foods made with refined sugar, including candy, desserts, and even many “health foods,” such as sugar-sweetened cereal and energy bars.
- Dried fruit. Dried fruit is “nature’s candy;” it is high in sugars that can readily feed fungal microorganisms, like mold, in the gut.
- High-sugar fresh fruits like mango, dates, and grapes.
- Foods made with grain-based flour, including bread, pasta, and cereal.
- White potatoes. While white potatoes are an otherwise healthy whole food, I have found that they can be triggering for individuals with mold illness and suspected mold colonization in the gut, presumably due to their high starch content.
Consider Avoiding Mold Cross-Reactive Foods
Some people with mold illness cross-react to foods that contain yeast. Yeast shares some structural similarities with molds; if your immune system is already reacting to mold, it may get “confused” and react to yeast as well.
Foods that contain yeast, such as bread, and nutritional yeast are best avoided if you suspect you’re sensitive to yeast. Be sure to read the ingredients labels carefully to watch out for yeast.
In my experience, some people with mold illness cross-react to mushrooms and should remove mushrooms from their diets. However, this isn’t true for everybody with mold illness, so listen to your body.
Foods to Eat on the Low-Mold Diet
The low-mold diet isn’t just about avoiding certain foods. By including specific anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods in your low-mold diet, you can better equip your body to detoxify and heal from mold illness.
Here are the foods to focus on eating on the low-mold diet:
Eat Grass-Fed, Pastured, Organic, and Wild-Caught Animal Foods
Meat, poultry, eggs, and fish from grass-fed, organic, and wild-caught sources are a crucial part of the low-mold diet. Grass-fed, pastured, and wild-caught animals are typically not fed grains, meaning they are likely consuming far fewer mycotoxins than their grain-fed counterparts.
Your body needs amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from animal proteins to make glutathione, a crucial antioxidant involved in mold detoxification. Glutathione is comprised of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamine, and glycine. Glutamine and glycine, in particular, are found in the most significant amounts in animal foods, particularly collagen-rich animal foods such as bone broth.
I recommend eating a serving of protein at least the size of the palm of your hand at least 3 times daily to supply your body with adequate protein for detoxification. Of course, individual protein needs are highly variable. A nutritionist can help you determine the optimal protein intake for your body based on your unique health needs.
Eat Many Colorful Vegetables
Vegetables provide dietary fiber, which may help gently bind mycotoxins in the gut and usher them out of your body via your stool. Vegetables also contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and support detoxification.
Examples of vegetables to prioritize on the low-mold diet include beets, artichoke, asparagus, radishes, broccoli, cucumber, and dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, arugula, and mustard greens.
Consume at least three, but ideally closer to six servings of vegetables per day if possible. Cook veggies, if needed, to improve digestibility.
Drink Bone Broth
I highly recommend including bone broth in your low-mold diet. Bone broth contains amino acids that support gut repair. Mold and mycotoxins can damage the gut (15), so repairing the gut is a top priority for recovery from mold illness.
Focus on Eating Grain-Free Carbohydrates
I recommend sticking with non-grain carbohydrates for most of your carb intake since many commonly consumed grains are a source of mycotoxins and a concentrated source of carbohydrates that can feel fungal colonization inside the body.
Instead, choose grain-free nutrient-dense carbohydrates such as sweet potato, winter squashes, root vegetables, and low-sugar fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, green apples, and kiwi. See the section of this article titled “Should You Eat Legumes on the Low-Mold Diet?” below for my thoughts on legumes as a carb source.
Eat Fresh Nuts and Seeds
Most nuts and seeds are fine to include on the low-mold diet, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds. Avoid peanuts due to their high aflatoxin content; technically, peanuts are a legume anyway, not a nut.
Some sources tell people to avoid cashews and pistachios on the low-mold diet. However, I’ve found that as long as you source fresh options for cashews and pistachios (check out the company Wildly Organic for delicious pistachios!), these nuts don’t seem to pose problems for mold-sensitive people.
If you can properly soak, dehydrate, or sprout your nuts and seeds to improve their digestibility, that would be even better!
Select Healthy Fats
Use anti-inflammatory fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, and coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil is a potent antifungal (16), so it’s a particularly helpful fat to incorporate into your fungus-fighting low-mold diet!
Eat Lots of Antifungal Herbs and Spices
Liberal use of antifungal herbs and spices will help your body fight mold! Add clove, cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, turmeric, and bay leaf to recipes. Try adding a couple of teaspoons of herbs and spices to your diet daily.
Include Food-Based Binders
Food-based binders contain fibers that may help bind to mycotoxins in the gut, aiding the body in eliminating the mycotoxins in your stool. Examples of food-based binders include flaxseed, chia seeds, and basil seeds. My favorite edible basil seeds are Zen basil seeds.
Should You Eat Legumes on the Low-Mold Diet?
Legumes (aka beans) are relatively starchy, like grains, meaning they may feed fungal growth inside the body. Legumes, like chickpeas, are also commonly contaminated with mycotoxins due to mold growth in the pre- and post-harvest stages. (17)
However, some people with mold illness tolerate moderate amounts of legumes, such as a few servings of chickpeas or lentils a week. Individuals with mold illness and low body weight who need to gain weight may benefit most from including some legumes in their low-mold diet.
However, for everyone else, I advise against making legumes a staple of your diet due to their high starch content.
What About the Low-Amylose Diet for Mold?
You may have read about the low-amylose diet for mold illness. Amylose is dietary starch in foods such as legumes, grains, bananas, plantains, and starchy tubers like cassava.
The premise of the low-amylose diet is that it may help reduce levels of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9), an inflammatory molecule frequently elevated in individuals with mold illness.
However, I have been unable to find any scientific research directly suggesting that restricting intake of nutrient-dense whole foods that contain amylose, like plantains, significantly reduces MMP-9 (or leads to clinically significant changes in symptoms, for that matter) in people with mold illness.
For now, I prefer the low-mold diet to the low-amylose diet for individuals with mold illness because it is evidence-based.
Furthermore, many of the foods people are told to avoid on the low-amylose diet are already limited on the low-mold diet (grains and processed grain-based foods), so these diets have more similarities than differences anyway!
How Long Should You Eat a Low-Mold Diet?
How long should you eat a low-mold diet if you’re dealing with mold illness? There’s no easy answer to this question. The length of time you should eat a low-mold diet depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Whether you’re still being exposed to mold or not in your living, work, and/or school environments.
- How your mold detoxification process is progressing: Is it going smoothly, or are you very sensitive and need to approach detox very slowly? If you’re very sensitive, you may need to stay on a low-mold diet for longer.
- The health (or lack thereof) of your gut
As with any therapeutic dietary intervention, there is potential for a restricted diet like the low-mold diet to exacerbate anxiety around food and disordered eating behaviors or drive nutrient deficiencies if food options are narrowed excessively.
To avoid the potential pitfalls of a restricted diet, I strongly recommend working with a functional healthcare professional who can guide you through the low-mold diet.
The low-mold diet is a helpful tool that can aid your recovery from mold illness. However, like most special diets, it’s not meant to be followed strictly forever.
Furthermore, the foods you include in your low-mold diet are just as important as those you avoid! Adopting an abundance mindset and focusing on all the fresh, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods you can eat to help rid your body of mold and mycotoxins is critical for recovery.
If you’re struggling with figuring out how to nourish your body to support recovery from mold illness, I’d love to help you! I am currently accepting new clients in my functional nutrition practice. You can schedule a discovery call with me to learn more about how I can help you!