Kelly Ripa, Elle Macpherson, Victoria Beckham, and other A-listers have promoted the Alkaline Diet, making it a raging trend. It’s not an extreme diet and its benefits seem well worth the efforts.
But as always, is it just another fad diet? And can you live healthily and actually see these benefits come to fruition in your own life? Read on to see if the Alkaline diet is what you need for greater health and wellness.
What Does Alkaline Mean?
Alkaline is the opposite of acid, and in the human body – as well as in other living organisms – the body is constantly working to keep a balance between alkaline and acid.
Too much acid and not enough alkaline can have adverse effects on the body.
A Brief Breakdown of “pH”
How do we measure the levels of acid and alkaline within the human body?
You’ve probably seen and heard people talk about your pH levels. But what are they exactly? pH levels are simply how you measure the acidity and alkalinity within the body.
You can measure acidity and alkalinity levels on a scale of 0 to 14. “O” is a completely acidic state. “14” is a completely alkaline state. 7 is the happy middle ground.
And optimally, we should have a pH level of about 7.4 because this means we have slightly more alkaline than acid in our systems.
Why Are Your pH Levels Now More Important Than Ever?
If you’re an American reading this, chances are, your diet is high in sodium, processed foods, trans fats, added and artificial sugars, lots of meat and grains, and low in fruits and vegetables.
With a diet like this, the typical American consumes way too much sodium and not enough potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, and fiber. Furthermore, the Standard American Diet – whose acronym, SAD, couldn’t be more appropriate – also contributes to unbalanced pH levels.
With the SAD, people risk going below the optimal pH balance of 7.4 and can live with too much acidity in their system.
This is dangerous because when our system is too acidic, we become more vulnerable to illness, degeneration, and aging. And while it’s true that we’re all going to grow old and there’s no use trying to avoid that, why not age healthily and with strength?
That’s where the Alkaline diet comes in.
What is the Alkaline Diet?
The Alkaline Diet isn’t a point-based system. Instead, it focuses on increasing the number of alkaline foods you eat in order to obtain and maintain optimal pH levels. The goal is to have an alkaline body, instead of an acidic one.
Food scientists and nutrition expert, Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D. explains the reasoning behind the Alkaline Diet here: “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 implication such as osteoporosis or other chronic conditions.”
So, you don’t have to count calories or own a scale to follow the Alkaline Diet. Weight loss isn’t the long-term goal here. Instead, this diet is a way to create a pH equilibrium that benefits your entire body.
Why Do People Choose the Alkaline Diet?
This diet has been touted as a way to prevent kidney stones, cancer, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, as well as to decrease inflammation, chronic pain, and to lower blood pressure. Brain function and heart health are also focus points in the Alkaline Diet.
It comes as no surprise that a diet low in inflammatory foods – like sugar and gluten – would also reduce an individual’s inflammatory condition. But what other factors come into play in how the Alkaline Diet works?
How the Alkaline Diet Works
Nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.
As we’ve learned, the Alkaline Diet seeks to bring your blood pH levels back into a happy balance by providing you with foods that are low in acidity, and by increasing the amount of neutral and alkaline foods you consume.
However, some researchers and experts questions whether this approach can actually bring your body, and more specifically, your blood, into a more alkaline state.
For example, Dr. Melinda Ratini says that “nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.” This is further backed by nutrition sciences instructor at Texas Tech University, Allison Childress, R.D., who says that “all food is acidic in the stomach and alkaline in the intestine.”
Therefore, the food you eat will alternate between acidic and alkaline states, depending on where it is in your digestive system. But perhaps if you consistently eat acidic and acid-producing foods, you increase the chance of having too much acid in your body. Period.
So, what can you eat on the Alkaline Diet? Let’s find out.
Foods You Can Enjoy on the Alkaline Diet
Here’s a basic overview of the allowable foods on the Alkaline Diet:
- Fresh fruits: citrus, dates, grapefruit, avocado, watermelon, figs, ripe bananas, tomatoes, pomegranate, and fresh coconut
- Fresh vegetables: the list of permitted vegetables is wide and varied. So, here are just some to choose from: asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, sweet potato, pumpkin, squashes, radish, cucumber, kale, broccoli, garlic, cabbage, celery, and red beets
- Raw fruits and vegetables: Uncooked fruits and vegetables preserve their alkaline properties more than cooked produce does.
- Legumes: most beans, including lima and navy beans
- Nuts and Seeds: almonds and flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds
- Grains: lentils, quinoa, Kamut, buckwheat, amaranth, and others
- Sprouts and Grasses
- Oils: olive, flax, coconut, and avocado
As you can see, the Alkaline Diet is primarily a vegetarian diet. So, let’s take a look at foods that are generally discouraged for anyone trying to follow this program.
Foods You Should Avoid on the Alkaline Diet
Remember, that the goal of the Alkaline Diet is too limit the amount of acid, or acid-producing foods you consume. This includes foods high in sugar, sodium and nasty preservatives, but some of the forbidden foods may surprise you.
Here’s a basic overview of the No-No List:
- Meats: beef, fish and seafood, organ meats, pork, and poultry
- Dairy and Eggs: milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, sour creams, and yogurts
- Fruits: apples, oranges, tropical fruits, pear, peaches, mangoes, and several others
- Beverages: alcohol, caffeinated drinks, energy and sport drinks
- Wheat and other grain-based foods: white bread and pasta, rice and noodles
- Nuts and Seeds: cashews, pecans, peanuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and several others
- Most sauces: soy sauce, tamari, wasabi, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup
- Processed or conventionally prepared foods, as they’re high in sodium and inflammatory ingredients.
Even though the list of allowable foods is pretty generous and varied, there’s no doubt that these forbidden foods demand that you make a pretty big lifestyle shift.
No meat, dairy, eggs, and many common foods are completely off limits. This can make eating out tricky. It can also up your grocery bill.
Are There Any Risks Associated with the Alkaline Diet?
As you were reading through the list of forbidden foods in the Alkaline Diet, you were probably surprised to see healthy foods, like apples, walnuts, eggs, and yogurt.
The truth is, many of the foods on the Alkaline Diet aren’t bad for you. Of course, processed foods and foods high in sodium and questionable ingredients are best to be avoided, no matter what kind of diet you follow, but is it smart to eliminate meats and dairy, and even some of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables listed?
Without these, it’s possible to become vitamin and mineral deficient and to experience fatigue, as well as low energy and emotions.
It’s not an unhealthy diet, but maybe it’s not going to really affect your alkaline levels as the name implies. As Childress says, “An alkaline diet can be very healthful as it contains lots of fruits, nuts, legumes, and veggies, but every diet should have these components, even though they will not directly affect the body's pH level.”
Furthermore, eating this sort of diet will be beneficial for many different reasons, but not necessarily because it lowers your blood pH levels.
What Are the Health Benefits of the Alkaline Diet?
As we mentioned above, the Alkaline Diet is a mostly vegetarian diet that includes a wide variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, and oils. A diet that encourages these foods and shuns sodium-dense and processed varieties is sure to provide benefits. Here’s just a few:
- Bone Density and Muscle Mass: A diet higher in alkalizing fruits and vegetables can help to prevent premature bone and muscle loss. Because as strange as it sounds, the acidic nature of dairy products can actually decrease, rather than increase, your calcium stores, as therefore, your bone and muscle health.
- Improves Cardiovascular Health: Because the Alkaline Diet is low in inflammatory foods, the risk of hypertension and high cholesterol can be reduced.
- Lower Pain Levels: Too much acidity in the body can acerbate already present pain, such as headaches, back and joint pain.
- Weight Loss: Anti-inflammatory and low-acidic foods can help you lose weight and keep it off. This, in turn, will stave away obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other weight-related illnesses.
Should You Try the Alkaline Diet?
The focus of the Alkaline Diet is to rebalance your pH levels and have a more alkaline state than an acidic state in your body.
While it’s unclear if the foods we eat can actually impact the pH levels of our blood, this diet may be useful if your body is too acidic, as it decreases the number of acidic foods you consume and increases the amount of alkalizing foods you eat. This alone can bring about many health benefits.
As always, it’s best to consult with a trusted medical professional before trying a new diet to assess your own, unique nutritional needs and whether or not you can meet them with the Alkaline Diet.