Proponents of the “alkaline diet” claim that you can lose weight and improve your overall health by eating and avoiding certain foods based on their pH levels — but what does the science say?
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Here’s what you need to know about alkaline foods and an alkaline diet.
What Is The Alkaline Diet?
The alkaline diet (also known as the alkaline ash diet, alkaline acid diet, acid ash diet, and the acid alkaline diet) is based on the belief that certain foods can affect the acidity and pH of bodily fluids, including urine or blood, and can therefore be used to treat or prevent various ailments and diseases.
Due to the lack of credible evidence supporting any benefits of this diet, the diet is largely considered to be pseudoscience, and is generally not recommended by dietitians and other health professionals. Nonetheless, pH levels of the body and food have been studied for years, and the diet has gained a following amongst Hollywood circles, with fans like Elle Macpherson and Kelly Ripa, who recently gushed about the alkaline diet cleanse that “changed (her) life.”
A compound, like food or water, is considered alkaline if its pH measures greater than 7. Levels of pH (potential hydrogen) tell you how acidic or alkaline food is. Since a pH of 7 is neutral, 0 pH indicates complete acidity and oxygen deprivation, while 14 equals totally alkaline and oxygen rich.
Human blood measures slightly alkaline; the normal range lands between 7.35 and 7.45. However, other areas of the body maintain various levels of pH. For example, the stomach is quite acidic, measuring 3.5 or lower; it needs this acid to breakdown foods. The theory goes that when blood pH levels move below 6.8 or above 7.8, cells don’t function well, and begin to die; basically, the body cannot heal itself in this state, partially because the body can’t efficiently process vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
“The thought is that some foods — like meat, wheat, refined sugar, and some processed foods — cause your body to over-produce acid, which can supposedly lead to health implications such as osteoporosis or other chronic conditions,” says Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., a food scientist and nutrition expert.
The Case For Alkaline Foods
Proponents of the alkaline diet claim that foods measuring higher in alkaline and lower in acid can prevent problems like lower back pain, type 2 diabetes, kidney stones and colon cancer and cardiovascular risks.
When it comes to diet, most people err on the side of an acidic imbalance. The theory goes that imbalanced pH levels can result in a plethora of problems, including hormone issues, weight gain (or excessive loss), low energy, brittle bones, slow digestion, tumor growth and more.
According to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, an alkaline diet may help reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases. Meanwhile, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that a diet concentrated on fruits and vegetables, including reduced acid-forming foods, helped preserve muscle mass in older populations. Further research published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology has cited studies showing improvement in lower back pain with alkaline mineral supplementation.
However, it’s very difficult to say whether a wholesome, nutritious diet that is full of fruits and vegetables and minimal in dairy and processed foods — which is the basis of alkaline diet, but also the foundation of most healthy diets — is responsible for these positive changes, or whether actual pH changes are to blame.
Which Foods Are Alkaline?
Many people feel better on the alkaline diet because it promotes consumption of healthy, whole foods, while discouraging use of alcohol and caffeine, and not necessarily due to a magical pH balancing act.
On the alkaline diet, most vegetables (except for corn, lentils, olives and winter squash) and most fruits (except blueberries, canned fruits, cranberries, currants, plums and prunes) are allowed. Alkaline-friendly foods also include tofu, soybeans and some nuts (for example, peanuts or walnuts are acidic, apparently), seeds and legumes.
In terms of proteins, foods like almonds, chestnuts, millet, fermented tempeh and whey protein powder are your best bets.
Not allowed on the diet include many food allergy triggers, such as dairy, eggs, peanuts, seafood and most grains and processed foods.
Basically: It’s a sugar-free, alcohol-free, wheat-free, vegan diet, with a few notable exceptions.
The quirky thing about “alkaline foods” is that a food’s actual measurement of pH doesn’t tell you if it’s an “alkaline food” or an “acidic food.” For example, lemons test acidic, but the end result of digesting lemons actually produces an alkaline effect. On the other hand, most meat products measure alkaline on the kitchen counter but create acidic residue in the body.
Oh, and by the way: Foods and drinks aren’t the only things that can contribute to acidic pH levels. Stress, environmental toxins or anything that reduces oxygen, vitamins or minerals in the body can increase acid, according to this diet.
As with any diet or exercise regimen, you should talk to your doctor. And, don’t worry, if you’re keen on trying this diet but are concerned about how strict it is: not every morsel you eat needs to be considered an alkaline food in order for you to be successfully following the alkaline diet. If you’re working on “healing an acidic body,” your diet should consist of about 80 per cent foods that produce alkaline and about 20 per cent acid-forming foods. You can even drop the alkaline forming foods to approximately 60 per cent to “maintain health.”
If you’re intrigued by the alkaline diet, by all means, give it a try. Any plant-based diet that emphasizes clean eating and minimizes processed foods, sugar and alcohol is going to do the body some good —regardless of its so-called pH levels.