The Alkaline Diet - Is There Any Truth To It?
By Doralise Halepis, Nutrition Student and Larina Robinson, APD
Many diets have attempted to compete with the dominating paleo, raw, low-carb trends without much success. The latest to try break this cycle is the alkaline diet. Known for its similarities with veganism, the alkaline diet is yet another that eliminates entire food groups in promise of a life free of disease and illness.
The alkaline diet comprises of fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, legumes, while eliminating dairy, meat, eggs, processed foods, alcohol and reducing caffeine. By doing this, the body hypothetically alters the pH in fluids to a more ‘alkaline’ state.
What is pH?
A pH level measures how acid or alkaline something is. A pH of 0 is totally acidic, while a pH of 14 is completely alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. The level of acidity and alkalinity varies in different areas of your body. Your blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Your stomach is very acidic, with a pH of 3.5 or below, so it can break down food. And your urine changes, depending on what you eat – that's how your body keeps the level in your blood steady.
The alkaline diet claims to help your body maintain its blood pH level. In fact, nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.
So are there benefits to the diet?
Well there is limited evidence that cancer cells may grow more rapidly in an acidic state (the opposite of alkaline). As these trials have been limited to test tubes and animals there is not enough evidence to support this claim. It is very rare that you will see a qualified health professional advocating for this diet as limiting sources of calcium, protein and vitamins will likely do more harm than good in the long run. Those following an alkaline diet have a higher risk of osteoporosis, iron deficiency and can suffer from low energy levels to name a few if not properly managed.
In terms of weight loss, of course the alkaline diet would start you in the right direction, but any diet that minimises processed foods and increases fruit and vegetable consumption is bound to see results.
Some Alkaline foods:
- Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, cabbage, fermented vegetables, cucumber, sprouts, wheatgrass and kale
- Fruits: Berries, apples, banana, rockmelon, avocado, lemon, lime and mango
- Nuts, seeds and oils: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil and coconut oil
- Grains: Rice, amaranth, quinoa, rye and buckwheat
- Drinks: Coconut water, herbal teas, almond milk, green smoothies, apple-cider vinegar and water
These look like perfectly good whole foods to include in your diet!
Is there any evidence?
Yes, there is some truth behind it. There is actually some human evidence showing that there has been considerable change of the pH and net acid load in the human diet from the hunter gather civilization to the present . It's widely accepted that many of us today have a diet poor in magnesium, potassium and fibre; but rich in saturated fat, simple sugars, sodium, and chloride compared to the preagricultural period . This is thought to potentially lead to a diet induced metabolic acidosis (an acidic state in the body), which doesn't match up to what our bodies are meant to be consuming . As well as when we age, there is a gradual loss of our kidney's ability to balance our acid-base levels, potentially contributing to an increase in diet-induced acidity when eating a standard Western diet.
But if we are following a diet rich in wholefoods, and minimising processed, refined foods, and we have healthy kidney function, then there really is no need to stick to a list of foods to "have" and "avoid" as part of the alkaline diet. Even Dr Stephan Domenig, the author of alkaline diet books, states that it's not just about the food we eat. Getting adequate rest, eating mindfully, and decreasing our stress levels and exposure to toxins/pollution will help improve our overall health as well. Sounds like great advice for everyone!
The truth is, our bodies regulate pH all by itself. Regardless of what we eat.
Evidence is yet to suggest that the alkaline diet specifically reduces the risk of chronic disease, and with many risk factors associated with eliminating food groups unnecessarily, there really is no need to follow this type of "diet". Opting for a diet rich in wholefoods and cutting out the junk is going to help with energy, weight maintenance and wellbeing regardless of whether you're following a strict 'alkaline' diet or not.