YU Should Know: Author of “Living Candida-Free,” Ricki Heller (Plus Giveaway & Herbed Grain-Free Gnocchi Recipe)

If you feel that there’s a “war going on inside your body,” like it’s fighting a “stealthy adversary that seems to be everywhere at once” making you suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), recurrent sinus infections, chronic yeast infections or rashes, irritability, mood swings/depression, strong sugar cravings, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory issues and brain fog, or general malaise, you may be suffering from candida-related complex (also known as CRC, candida overgrowth, or simply “candida”). If these symptoms and frustrations sound familiar, you’re feeling your most discouraged, and doctors can’t seem to pinpoint what is wrong, author, educator and recipe developer Ricki Heller is here to tell you that there is hope, and you can heal.

In her new book Living Candida-Free, Ricki acknowledges that candida is a “formidable” opponent, but with diligence, the right approach and delicious recipes, you can get candida under control and restore your health. She’s proof, and in her book she not only shares her personal story, but the steps you can take to heal.

I really love that Ricki partnered with functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama to write the first chapter of the book. Andrea does a great job of walking you through what CRC is, how it develops, and how to get a proper diagnosis. She takes a very complicated, sometimes overwhelming topic, and dials it in to an explanation that will empower readers immediately.

Ricki then grabs the reins again and sets you up with the tools and know-how you need to strengthen your body, prep your kitchen and get to cooking delicious, healing recipes like Fluffy Pancakes, Almond-Crusted Root Vegetable Fries and S’Mores Parfaits. Oh, and Herbed, Grain-Free Gnocchi that I share in the recipe below.

Check out this interview with Ricki where she shares her story, tips for newbies, favorite must-have kitchen tools and more:

HC: So, Ricki, tell us about your transition to plant-based and your focus on Candida. When did it begin and why? What/who was your catalyst?

RH: I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but I suspect that my mom was a closet vegetarian. Although she never identified herself as such, as the wife of a butcher, she nevertheless shied away from animal products—a pretty clear sign!

As I grew up, I found myself inclined toward a plant-based diet as well. I only realized after I’d graduated from university that I’d been eating a more or less vegan diet during my time there. I’ve always preferred eating this way, and vegan cuisine is my favorite cuisine. So for me, there wasn’t a major transition where I went through a period of craving or trying to replace meat products with plant-based versions; I just began to cook and experiment more with all kinds of plant-based foods after I learned about different diets in nutrition school.

The switch to the anti-candida lifestyle was different, since I didn’t choose to eat this way. Like so many other people who “discover” healthy diets, my change occurred because of my own health issues, which first began in 1999 and resurfaced in 2009, when I was diagnosed with candida for the second time. It was illness that introduced me to the anti-candida diet, and the reason I stayed on the diet for so long. But now that I identify myself “anti-candida for life,” I have found ways to re-create all the foods I love in ways that are delicious and still appealing to others, too. And I don’t feel in any way deprived.

Ricki Heller’s Recipes
Photos © Ricki Heller

HC: I can really relate to this. For those that are new to a plant-based diet or the anti-candida approach, can you share some tips for starting out? 

RH: I think it’s essential to change your frame of mind. After that, it all gets easier and eminently more doable. If you think of candida as you would a life-threatening allergy, then there’s no “maybe just a little bit won’t hurt” kind of attitude. That’s how I feel about anything not on the anti-candida diet; this could kill me. Nope, no debate required—I just am not eating it.

HC: I imagine you are a big fan of planning ahead—what are some of your best tips for saving time and staying prepared?

RH: I learned the hard way, so now I never get into my car without some kind of healthy snack in case of emergencies. I have some tried-and-true snacks that I bring along with me when I travel so that I’m always prepared for delays and won’t feel tempted to buy something that isn’t good for my health.

I’ve also developed a post-shopping ritual when it comes to prepping fresh veggies and fruits. I think of it the way we’re taught to handle email, with the acronym “OHIO”: only handle it once. So, if I’ve bought a gorgeous head of kale at the store, I strip it from the stems, wash and spin it as soon as I get home, so I can store it in a big container in the fridge for as long as I need it. It stays fresh longer that way, and then when I want to make a smoothie, chop some for a salad, or throw some in my chili, it’s right there, ready to go.

HC: Yes! I couldn’t agree more, preparation is the key to staying on track. We don’t leave our homes without our phones, so why couldn’t we make snacks and meal prep just as important? Tell us, when you went plant-based, what were some of the biggest surprises you discovered about the lifestyle and yourself?

RH: Well, as I said earlier, once I discovered the vegan community I realized I’d already been a “natural vegan” for many years! This is the way I prefer to eat and I feel best, so I’d been eating this way without even knowing the word “vegan,” all through my undergrad years. As I read and learned more about the ethical aspects of veganism, I was, of course, shocked to learn about the horrific way so many animals are treated. I also remember being surprised to learn that pearls aren’t vegan—it had never occurred to me!

HC: I have to admit, I’ve never thought of that either. Hmm. Let’s stick with an ocean theme and say that you’re stranded on an island (with electricity!). What are your top three must have kitchen tools and appliances?

RH: My number one go-to, hands down, is my food processor. When I created the recipes for Living Candida-Free, I was amazed at how many of them use that appliance! I use it literally every day. I find it saves me a lot of time, and I love that recipes are “one-bowl”—just not your typical “bowl”!

I also love my high-powered blender. Of course, I make smoothies and soups in it all the time, but when I’m feeling really industrious, I also transfer my nut butters and hummus to the blender to smooth them out even more. Nothing is quite as heavenly as silky smooth hummus. Finally, I couldn’t do without my sturdy Henckels knives (I’d use them to cut down and crack open coconuts on that island, too).

HC: What inspires you to stay motivated day to day? Do you ever fall off track? And if you do, how do you get back on?

RH: I know it’s hard to believe this, but I’ve never fallen off track in terms of eating foods not on the program. I literally have not ingested a single crystal of white sugar or drop of alcohol since the day I started the ACD in 2009.

That’s not to say I never slip up, however. I no longer avoid fruits or some of the other “verboten” foods from the early stages of the diet. At this point, I’ve reintroduced a lot of foods that were banned in the beginning but are fine in later stages, like coconut sugar, coconut nectar, some dried fruits, flour products, and so on. So, for me, “falling off track” looks more like “I ate 4 anti-candida friendly brownies today” rather than having one brownie.

I know I’m getting off track when I start to crave more sweets and find myself eating nut butters (I make my own flavored nut butters, so a chocolate-chili almond butter or “butterscotch” walnut butter can be just as enticing as a cookie to me). When that happens, I do two things: first, I start juicing more and eating more raw foods. I find the alkalizing effects work wonders to get me back on track. And second, I begin my days with a savory breakfast for a while. I find that starting savory allows me to continue savory, and I’m much (much!) less likely to slip up if I haven’t been eating something sweet right from the beginning.

HC: Name one plant-based/vegan magazine, blogger, brand, book and/or documentary we should all know about.

RH: Just one?! Can’t do it. Here are a few of my favorites plus a few recent discoveries (and there are LOTS more than this, I could mention!). If you haven’t seen the work of Dreena Burton, Emma Potts, Vegan Richa, Heather Nicholds, Melissa King, Kristina Sloggett, Cara Reed, Ann Oliverio, Tess Challis, The Vegan 8. . . well, you’re missing out. And there are new, amazing vegan blogs popping up every day! I can’t even keep up any more. Oh—and of course, there’s Nicole Axworthy (A Dash of Compassion), who did the photos for my book!

HC: That‘s an inspiring list! For our travelers, tell us what city/town you live in and what your favorite veg-friendly restaurants and shops are in your hood?

RH: I live just north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Since it’s quite difficult to find restaurants that comply with my specific dietary restrictions, I’ve looked far and wide and have found a few. I consider Live Food Bar and Fresh Restaurant my two go-tos, since I can eat a huge number of the dishes on their menus. But there are other places I go to with my husband as well; a Malaysian restaurant north of the city called Restoran Malaysia offers special orders, so I can have my beloved Penang Fried Keow Teow noodles with tofu only and gluten-free, sugar-free sauce instead of the usual. Another place not too far from where I live is Grazie, an Italian joint that has a fabulous gluten-free corn-based pasta (a real treat for me, even these days) with fresh tomato sauce with zucchini, eggplant and parsley. It’s to die for.

HC: What upcoming or existing projects are you working on that you’d like to share (include links please)?

RH: I’m excited to be offering a free webinar series about candida and how to deal with it starting February 19th! This year, there will also be an expanded version of my Candida Kick-Start Course (which helps anyone starting an anti-candida diet or wanting to remove refined sugar from their diet) in March. I’ve also introduced one-on-one coaching packages for anyone seeking more in-depth and personal attention with their anti-candida diet or special diet, so that they can make the transition as smoothly as possible. And of course more recipes on the blog. So there’s a lot going on!

HC: Love it! What else would YU like to share with us? The soapbox is yours.

RH: Thanks! I think the most important thing for people on an anti-candida (or any “restricted”) diet to remember is that it doesn’t have to feel like deprivation. There’s still loads to eat on the anti-candida diet, even without most sweeteners, gluten, refined foods, alcohol, moldy foods or processed foods. If you need further proof that you can still enjoy great food no matter your culinary restrictions, just take a peek at the recipe index on my blog! Embrace your diet, whatever it is, and enjoy the fact that what you’re eating is good for your body.

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Now you can see what Ricki means with this recipe from her new book that she’s so kindly letting me share with you. I love to sauté gnocchi so they get a nice crispy sear on the exterior (like my gnocchi recipe I share in the YumUniverse book). I used this technique with Ricki’s recipe, added some chopped Tuscan kale, garlic and fresh lemon juice to the mix.

Ricki’s Herbed Grain-Free Gnocchi Recipe:

Gnocchi & Tuscan Kale

Serves 2–4

1/4 cup smooth, natural almond butter (or sunflower seed butter)
2/3 cup veggie broth or stock (make your own)
1/4 cup chopped, fresh herbs of your choice (basil, cilantro, parsley and/or dill)
1 1/4 cups chickpea flour for gnocchi and about 1/4 cup for dusting/rolling gnocchi
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons whole psyllium husks (2 tsp of psyllium husk powder)
Pinch of fine-ground sea salt to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the almond butter and broth. Add the herbs and stir to combine. Sift in the chickpea flour, baking powder, psyllium, and salt and stir well until you have a soft dough. Allow to rest 2 to 5 minutes.

Sprinkle a cutting board with about 1/4 cup of chickpea flour. Divide dough into three roughly equal parts, and roll each to form a long rope about 1/2″ thick. Cut the roll into pieces about 1″ long. Dip a fork into more flour and press down on each piece to create light indentations.

To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low. Using a large spoon, gently lower 10–12 gnocchi at a time into the pot, and allow them to cook for 3–5 minutes (they will float to the top: cook for another 1–2 minutes after they do so). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked gnocchi to a heatproof plate or bowl. You can keep them warm in a low temperature oven, about 275°F, while you repeat the process with the rest of the dough.

Serve with pasta sauce or sauté in some coconut oil and garlic.

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Check out Ricki’s other books:

Z  coversf

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Want to win a copy of Living Candida-Free?

1. Enter the giveaway by registering here. Giveaway is closed. Congrats Carla 🙂
2. Share the giveaway on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (optional, but awesome)
3. Leave a comment below—tell us why you want a copy of Ricki’s new book.
4. Winner will be chosen at random on February 24, 2015.


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