Alkaline diet first started making headlines around 2010. Made famous by celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Hudson, this diet is based on the principle that it is possible to alter your blood pH by changing your diet and consuming more alkaline foods.
The proponents of this diet believe that having an alkaline diet can help reduce hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and low bone density. But is there any truth to these claims? Let us find out.
What is an alkaline diet?
Alkaline diet, also known as acid-alkaline diet or alkaline ash diet is based on the premise that eating specific foods can make your body more alkaline and this helps you shed pounds.
When you metabolize food, it leaves an ash residue, just like wood does when we burn it. This residue can be acidic or alkaline, depending on the food you eat.
Acidic ash can make your body vulnerable to diseases, while alkaline ash can protect you from infections.
According to this diet, some foods like wheat, refined sugar, meat, and processed food cause your body to produce acid, which is terrible for you. Foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, soybeans, and tofu are alkaline-promoting and are right for you.
What is the meaning of pH level?
The pH value measures of how acidic or alkaline something is. The pH values of a substance can range from 0 to 14, with 0 being highly acidic and 14 being highly alkaline.
The pH value of our body refers to the measure of the acidity of our blood. The ideal pH level of our blood for optimal health is 7.35 which is slightly alkaline.
The pH levels vary throughout the body, with our stomach being the most acidic part of the body with a pH of 3.5 or below.
The ‘science’ behind alkaline diet
The alkaline diet claims to help maintain the pH level of the body. However, what we eat can not make much of a difference to the pH levels of our blood. Our body works to maintain the pH levels of the blood at 7.35.
What we eat can change the pH levels of our urine. Our body maintains the constant pH of the blood by excreting acids in the urine.
- Fresh fruits like avocados, figs, raisins, watermelon, and bananas
- Vegetables like spinach, cucumber, kale, garlic, green beans, broccoli, ginger, beets and cabbage
- Raw or lightly steamed vegetables
- Almonds, navy beans, lima beans
- Drinks rich in chlorophyll like wheatgrass juice
- Soy products like natto and tempeh
- Processed foods that are high in sodium
- All kinds of meats
- Fish and other seafood
- Processed cereals like cornflakes
- Alcohol and caffeinated drinks
- Oats and whole wheat products
- Dairy products like milk
- Peanuts and walnuts
- Pasta, bread, rice, and packaged grain products
Do alkaline diets work?
Maybe, but not because it changes the pH levels of the body. The foods included in the alkaline diet are right for you and can help you lose weight.
The diet is based on plant-based foods. It is low in sodium and high in minerals and vitamins. It does not include alcohol, refined sugar or processed foods, which promotes good health and weight loss.
Many of us consume a diet that includes processed foods that are high in sodium and added sugars. They lack essential minerals like magnesium and potassium, essential vitamins and antioxidants.
Processed food diets cause obesity, accelerate the aging process and can lead to many health issues.
Alkaline diet claims
Let us scientifically analyze the claims of the alkaline diet
1. Acidic food can cause osteoporosis, while alkaline diet protects bone health
Alkaline diets claim to preserve the bone density, while acid forming foods cause a loss of bone mineral density. The main issue with this theory is that it ignores the role of kidneys in the body.
One of the primary functions of kidneys is to regulate the pH of the body by removing acids.
Kidneys produce bicarbonate ions that help neutralize the acids in the blood. When these bicarbonate ions in the kidneys bind with acids in the blood, they turn into carbon dioxide, which we then breathe out or excrete through urine.
Observational studies have not found any correlation between dietary acid load and lower bone mineral density (1).
Another study was done in 2010 to study the relation between the measure of urine pH with the risk of osteoporosis and change in bone mineral density in adults.
The researchers found that there is no association between urine pH or acid excretion and either the incidences of fractures or change of bone mineral density (2).
One study compared the relationship between bone mineral density and general dietary pattern in 497 women over 60 years. The study found no correlation between dietary acid load and BMD (3).
A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, and adequate protein is vital for bone mineral density (6). In addition to vitamin D and calcium, dietary proteins are also crucial for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.
2. Acidic diet can lead to cancer, and the alkaline diet can decrease this risk
The followers of alkaline diet believe that alkaline diet lowers the risk of inflammation and cancer. But this idea is deeply flawed.
A 2012 study that examined the direct link between diet-induced acidosis and cancer found that short-term dietetic acid loading may cause temporary acid-base disequilibrium, but is quickly compensated and has no measurable clinical effects (7).
Food alone can not change the pH equilibrium of the blood.
Also, cancerous tumors are not restricted to acidic environments. Many studies have shown that malignant cells can grow in normal, slightly alkaline environments as well.
Though tumors may grow faster in acidic environments, they create this acidity themselves. It is not the acidic environment that creates cancer, cancer itself creates the acidic environment (8).
3. An alkaline diet can lower the risk for hypertension and stroke
Following an alkaline diet means choosing fruit and vegetables over highly processed foods that are high in sodium. This helps lower cholesterol and reduces hypertension, which is excellent for your heart health.
The WHO strongly recommends reduced dietary salt intake to decrease the number of deaths from hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Studies have also found that a moderate decrease in salt intake can reduce blood pressure (9).
A diet high in vegetables and fruits can help improve cholesterol levels, which is great for heart health. According to one study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consumption of fruits and vegetables is inversely related to LDL in men and women (10).
4. Alkaline diets prevent mineral deficiencies
Alkaline foods like fruits and vegetables provide vital minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and iron to the body. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to fatigue, diabetes, heart disease, and excess weight.
Magnesium helps in absorption of calcium and helps strengthen bones and teeth. Calcium helps build healthy teeth and bones, regulates muscle contraction and makes sure blood clots normally.
Potassium balances fluids in the body and helps lower blood pressure. Iron helps in oxygen distribution and energy production.
5. Alkaline diets help in weight loss
Alkaline diet aids in weight loss, but it’s highly unlikely that this has anything to do with your pH levels. The alkaline diet encourages the consumption of healthy plant foods and restricts unhealthy processed foods.
When you replace high-calorie burgers and fries with antioxidant and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, you will lose weight. This is the primary reason why you will end up losing weight, not because your food is alkaline.
Disadvantages of the alkaline diet
- An alkaline diet is not a healthy option as it promotes the exclusion of some complete food groups from the daily intake. This diet excludes protein-rich meats which are essential for good health from the menu. Certain fats and oils that provide essential fatty acids are also eliminated from this diet.
- An alkaline diet is difficult to follow for long periods of time as it is limited in food choices. Eating out can also be a challenge with this diet.
- Alkaline diet fails to address the role of exercise in weight loss. Regular exercise along with healthy food is essential for fat loss.
The alkaline diet is an alternative diet that attempts to correct the pH balance of the body by introducing alkaline foods and removing acidic foods from the daily diet.
Though the proponents of this diet claim it can eliminate many health problems like osteoporosis, cancer and but there is little scientific evidence to prove it.
The alkaline diet encourages the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables which help in lowering the risk of hypertension and mineral deficiencies and help in weight loss.
This diet also eliminates certain food groups from the diet which is not good for a healthy body.