You’ve probably heard something about the benefits of an alkaline diet—especially if you’re a television or movie fan. It seems like every other celebrity out there is promoting an alkaline diet right now, and there’s a good reason for that. Following the guidelines for an alkaline diet, provided you do it sensibly (more on that later) really does promote good health. Eating an alkaline diet (again, provided you do it sensibly) can help your body fight many of the ills of the modern world including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and even brittle bones.
It may sound a little “out there,” but there’s actually some valid science behind the idea of eating for alkalinity. However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there too. Too many self-styled health gurus push the alkaline agenda without really understanding the science behind it. So today I’d like to explain just what an alkaline diet is (and isn’t) plus the foods that can change your pH—and your health—for the better.
Fact vs. fiction
The basic concept of the alkaline diet is that what you eat affects your body’s pH—that is, the acidity or alkalinity of your bodily fluids and tissue. The pH scale runs from 0 (completely acid) to 14 (completely alkaline) and both ends of the spectrum are extremely caustic. (Hydrochloric acid has a pH of 0 while lye has a pH of 14, for example.) A pH of 7.0 is neutral—neither acidic nor alkaline. Pure water, for instance, is neutral.
The human body, in order to function properly, needs to be slightly alkaline. The ideal pH is 7.365, and though pH will vary over the course of the day there’s very little wiggle room. Slight changes in bodily pH can have big health effects. Where alkaline diet proponents get is wrong is when they claim that eating the wrong diet will raise the acidity of your blood. It’s simply not true. Even tiny fluctuations in blood pH can be lethal, and your body does a bang-up job of keeping your blood pH right where it needs to be.
However, this is also where the critics get it wrong.
They claim that, since what you eat has no real effect on your blood pH, there’s no benefit to eating an alkaline diet. And this too is simply not true. While your body does control blood pH very tightly, the pH inside your cells is another story. There’s a lot more room for variability. And what you eat—and drink—can and does affect this pH.
Acid is more than lemon juice and vinegar
Eating an acid diet means your body has to rob itself of minerals in order to neutralize the excess acid—minerals like magnesium and potassium, which most of us are already lacking. Mineral deficiencies, especially magnesium deficiency, lie at the heart of many health problems.
Dr. Norman Shealy, one of the pioneers of pain medicine, goes so far as to claim that “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency.” That’s a bit of an overstatement, but it’s true that low magnesium levels are associated with everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to poor vitamin D production. Potassium too is linked with many health problems including obesity and heart disease.
An overly acidic diet robs these minerals from your bones and teeth, leading to brittle bones, dental problems, and even kidney stones in the long term. Yet the modern American diet is practically the definition of “acidic.” Many of the worst foods are things we don’t typically think of as being “acid,” because it’s not a question of whether the food itself has a low pH level, it’s a matter of how it affects our bodies once it’s been processed by our digestive systems.
Some foods that we think of as acidic (lemons, for example), actually create alkaline conditions in our cells. Others that aren’t the slightest bit tangy or acidic-tasting (like meat and grains, or most bottled water) actually cause the body to become acidic. The bottom line is: our taste buds can’t tell us whether a food will create an acid overload.
So how do you keep your body on the healthy, alkaline side of the pH scale? Eat more alkaline foods and fewer acidic ones. That means, among other things, avoiding water that’s been filtered through reverse osmosis or distillation and anything (such as soda or flavored waters) that’s been made with it. It means cutting down on meat, and cutting out sugar as much as possible (sugar is a big acid-promoter).
Alkaine Foods by category:
Apple cider vinegar
Fresh Fruit Juice
It also means adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, which is always a good thing. Some of the best alkaline foods to add to your diet are flax seeds (full of anti-inflammatory vitamin E and fiber, as well as being alkaline), extra virgin olive oil (also full of vitamin E and good source of healthy fat), berries of all types, and melons.
One final word of caution: if you choose to replace some of the meat in your diet with soy products, make sure that they’re certified organic. Nearly all the non-organic soy on the market is genetically modified.
Personally, I recommend keeping soy products to a minimum since soy itself has been linked to so many health problems like Diabetes. Instead focus on cutting out filtered water and sugar, and eating plenty of alkaline-producing vegetables and fruits.