This article is part of our Fad Diet series.
As we edge ever closer to the New Year and those ‘new year, new me’ resolutions (guilty as charged), we put a scope on some of the most popular fad diets of the past year. All this, in the hope of recognising that there are no shortcuts in life, and the key is living a healthy, balanced and active lifestyle. To recap thus far, we have looked at the ever-popular low carb Keto diet as well as the caveman-inspired Paleo diet. This week, we will shed some light on the alkaline diet.
A little chemistry
How basic or acidic something is can be measured by its pH level. A pH of 0 is totally acidic, while a pH of 14 is totally alkaline or basic. A pH of 7, halfway on the scale, indicates neutrality. In our body, we have various pH levels. Blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. The stomach is acidic, with a pH of 3.5 or below, due to the secretion of hydrochloric acid and urine can vary between a pH of 4.6 – 8. The pH of our body is maintained in many ways: releasing carbon dioxide at the lungs and the excretion of acids or bases into blood by the kidneys. As you can see, everything in our body is kept to an optimum pH for our body to function properly, stray outside these ranges and the body has mechanisms to regulate and maintain changing pH levels (homeostasis).
The alkaline diet
The alkaline diet is based on the notion that your health can be improved by replacing acid-forming foods with alkaline (basic) foods. It has even gone so far as to claim that this diet can protect against arthritis and cancer. Knowing the little basic chemistry that we know (read above paragraph), we know that nothing we eat is going to substantially change the pH of our blood, as the body works to keep it at a constant level.
What you can and can’t eat
If you are following an alkaline diet, you get to eat most fruits, veggies, soybean, tofu, seeds, legumes and some nuts to increase the alkalinity of your body.
You won’t get to eat dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, processed foods and snacks, as they are acid promoting foods. Some sources say you can’t even have alcohol or caffeine either (oh dear).
All of the foods recommended for the alkaline diet are nutritious and healthy foods, so I’m not at all surprised that it can support healthy weight loss. As for the other claims, let’s dive in further.
Is there any evidence that the alkaline diet benefits health?
In a recent review looking at exactly this, no substantial evidence was found linking the alkaline diet to good health. Some claim, that the alkaline diet can treat cancer, however, studies have shown no link between diet-induced acidosis and cancer. In fact, cancer grows in normal body tissue, which is slightly alkaline (pH of 7.4). Researchers can successfully grow cancer cells in an alkaline environment. And while tumours grow faster in acidic environments, they create this acidity themselves. It is not the acidic environment that grows cancer, but the cancer cells that create an acidic environment.
The bottom line
The emphasis on fruits and vegetables and restriction on processed foods, that lie at the core of the alkaline diet, promote weight maintenance/loss. However, the exclusion of many major nutrients makes the alkaline diet very restrictive. Protein has to be sourced from plant-based sources as meat is not allowed, which increases nutrient deficiencies. And the notion that the diet boosts health because of its alkalizing effects is shady af, seeing as there is no evidence suggesting it has anything to do with pH levels!
Moderation, balanced nutrition and an active lifestyle are three factors, which when combined together have a positive effect on health. So, forget about alkaline promoting foods, and eat things that you enjoy (in moderation) and that are good for you!
Not everyone is suited to the alkaline diet for various reasons, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and nutrient deficiencies. Please speak to a medical professional and do your research if you are thinking of going on a diet.