The Alkaline Diet
Written by Kelli Baker | Reviewed by Jennifer Calo, MS, RDN, CDN, CDE, CLT
The alkaline diet, also known as the alkaline ash diet, has gained popularity over the last few years due to claims of improved health, weight loss and avoidance of certain diseases such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and even cancer. The theory behind such claims stem from the belief that certain foods create either more acidic or more alkaline states within the body. Foods such as meat, wheat, dairy, eggs, grains, refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods are said by proponents of the diet to lower the pH of the body, specifically the blood, causing a more acidic state which fosters the development of such diseases. These foods are avoided on the diet and alkaline foods are encouraged to raise the pH and create a more alkaline state. The alkalizing foods advocated in the diet include fruits, vegetables, soybeans, tofu, nuts and legumes.
While the basically vegan diet is not inherently unhealthy, the theory behind it is somewhat flawed. Our bodies have natural regulatory mechanisms that create an acid-base balance within the blood. The kidneys in particular are charged with maintaining blood pH homeostasis between 7.35 and 7.45 and therefore our food consumption has very little impact on blood pH. The truth of the matter is that the food we eat cannot change our blood pH and the health promoting qualities often experienced by participants on the diet are due to an increase in fruits and vegetables consumed and a decrease in processed food intake.
Pros and Cons of the alkaline diet:
- Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, which means an increase in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Decreased consumption of processed foods and thus a decrease in sodium and potential for lowered blood pressure.
- Decrease in calories consumed as a result of omitting high fat, calorically dense processed and prepared foods. Decrease in calories means possibility of weight loss.
- Very restrictive with many foods off limits which means difficulty with compliancy.
- Potential for nutrient deficiencies including protein, calcium and vitamin B12 if meals throughout the week are not properly balanced or supplemented.
- Necessary meal planning and food preparation with difficulty eating out particularly at restaurants where options may be limited.
The alkaline diet can definitely be utilized in a healthy way by making sure there is a balance in macronutrients as well as micronutrients. However, such an extreme diet is not necessary in order to better your health and lose weight. While the encouragement to avoid processed foods is accurate, emphasis for consuming a healthy diet should be placed on the consumption of a variety of whole foods as well as participation in healthy behaviors. This means in addition to the fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes recommended by the alkaline diet, a moderate intake of lean protein, dairy, eggs and whole grains are important components of a healthy lifestyle. The focus when consuming these types of foods should be on high quality products such as grass-fed meat and organic cage-free eggs, but it is definitely not necessary to eliminate them altogether. Additionally, behaviors such as exercise, adequate sleep and stress-relieving techniques are all factors that contribute to healthier living.