Chances are, you’ve heard of the Alkaline Diet—or some portion of it—in magazines or online lately. Whether it’s people tweeting about eating or drinking certain things to keep their bodies alkaline, or Victoria Beckham touting the benefits, we thought this diet was getting enough attention to merit a closer look.
The basics of the diet: The theory behind the alkaline diet is that eating foods that release an acidic bi-product into the body are less ideal and create more health problems than eating foods that release alkaline (basic) bi-products. Based on this, the diet promotes eating certain fruits, certain veggies, soy foods, certain whole grains, avocados, olive oil, and certain legumes. It avoids foods that create an acidic environment, including meat, fish, poultry, sugar, processed/refined flour foods, and caffeine.
In order to better understand the premise of this diet we need to quickly review the pH system. PH is based on a scale of 0 to14, 0 being completely acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being completely alkaline/basic. Our bodies prefer several different pH levels, and they’re each regulated VERY carefully since without a proper pH each of our body’s systems wouldn’t work correctly.
For instance, the stomach contains acid to digest food—the pH of the stomach is acidic and ranges from 1 to 4 on the pH scale (when food is in the stomach the pH is generally higher/less acidic). The pH of the small intestine is around an 8. The pH of the blood is 7.35 to 7.45. Our body’s pH levels are tightly regulated so that things like our blood’s pH never deviate far from ideal. So, while certain foods may create a higher or lower pH in urine, that’s typically a bi-product of your body regulating its internal pH. No food should change your blood pH. And if your body’s pH levels are off for some reason, this can indicate a very serious problem and you should have your doctor look into it.
The pros: People who eat more fruits and veggies have a lower rate of many chronic diseases (such as cancer and heart disease) than people who don’t— and this diet packs in the produce. Because of the heavy dependence on whole vegetarian foods, the fiber intakes of people following this diet most certainly meet or exceed recommendations. The diet encourages consistent, adequate water intake— and since every system in your body works better when it’s properly hydrated, that’s definitely a plus. You could lose weight on this diet and still feel really satisfied, since many of the foods recommended contain fewer calories in a larger volume than heavier animal product-heavy foods.
The cons: The research isn’t there to support or disprove the claims of the Alkaline Diet. You’ve no doubt seen reports that eating alkaline foods will prevent cancer or slow bone loss, but neither of these claims has been substantiated via solid research (yet!). This diet is low in dairy foods, so if you’re someone who is not taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, you may run the risk of deficiency. Unless you’re diligent about getting a mixture (and wide variety) of legumes and whole grains into each meal, you also run the risk of not getting enough protein. Just like anyone following a mostly vegetarian diet, it’s completely possible to stay really healthy on this diet but it takes consistent planning. In addition this diet doesn’t guarantee weight loss, since eating too much of even the most healthful foods (produce, grains, legumes, avocados, etc.) can lead to extra pounds.
The bottom line: Like most popular diets, take the good stuff and leave the not-so-great aspects of this plan. Don’t cut out any specific fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, whole grains, or legumes just because they’re less alkaline— it’s still important to get a wide variety so you reap the different nutritional benefits of each. Focusing the majority of your meals on well-planned vegetarian fare is a healthful (and economical) way to eat. However, if you can eat dairy, serve yourself a few servings of nonfat or low-fat dairy foods each day to ensure your calcium and vitamin D needs are being met. Or, skip the dairy and opt for a supplement. If you’re not a vegetarian, eating fish a couple times a week may reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke, and age-related mental decline. And definitely keep that water intake up— we love that the plan encourages hydration.
Have you tried this diet? Know anyone who has? What do you think of it?