The alkaline diet has been getting a lot of press over the last several years. Celebrities like Kelly Ripa, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have all been loyal proponents of the diet at one time or another. It’s not uncommon to find books, magazine articles and countless websites touting it’s miraculous effects. There are even clever marketing companies jumping on the “alkaline bandwagon” with products such as alkaline water.
You may be wondering what all the hype is about, and if in fact, is it simply hype. Or is there is some true value to eating an alkaline diet.
The Premise of the Alkaline Diet
The alkaline diet, also referred to as the pH diet, was pioneered by American health entrepreneur Robert O. Young. The diet operates on the idea that eating too many acid-forming foods (such as sugar, processed foods, meat and dairy) puts stress on the body. This stress leads to weight gain, exacerbates inflammation and can cause the condition dietary acidosis. Proponents of the diet claim that the majority of disease that exists today is a direct result of our bodies being too acidic (or in the state of acidosis).
The theory states that we can ”alkalize” our bodies by consuming a greater proportion of alkaline foods, such as green vegetables. Followers of the diet are given a list of foods that categorizes them as either acidic or alkaline.
There have been many variations of the alkaline diet or pH diet created since the Young’s original introduction of the idea. Each varies slightly in regards to the foods that are allowed and the percentages of alkaline and acidic foods. Many versions of the diet have people aim to consume 80 percent alkaline foods and only 20 percent acidic foods. Others recommend a 60/40 split.
Young, the creator of the original alkaline diet, believed that all disease including diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and even cancer are the result of the body being too acidic. Therefore changing the pH of the body, by following the alkaline diet, is the answer to all disease. So in a nutshell: acid = bad, alkaline = good.
Before you swear off all animal protein, let’s examine the alkaline diet a little closer, highlight its strengths, expose its weaknesses. But first, let’s talk about what pH is and why it is important to your health
Think back for a moment to high school chemistry class. You probably remember learning about acids and bases. If not, don’t worry, here’s a little refresher.
pH, by definition, is the measure of the hydrogen ion concentration in a solution. The acronym “pH” stands for “potential for hydrogen”. To keep this really simple, all you need to remember is that the pH scale runs from 0-14. The middle of the scale, 7, represents neutral pH. Anything less than 7 is acidic, and the lower the number the more acidic it is. Conversely, everything over 7 is alkaline (or basic), the higher the number the more alkaline it is.
pH in the Body
pH levels vary throughout the body. Some areas are more acidic, and some are more alkaline depending on their function.
The gastric juices of the stomach are extremely acidic, which is necessary to break down proteins. The bile and pancreatic juices are alkaline to neutralize the stomach acid and aid in digestion. The urinary tract and vaginal fluid are acidic to limit the overgrowth of microbes. Blood pH is tightly regulated to stay within the narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45, making it slightly alkaline.
Now you should have a basic understanding of what pH is and why it is important to our health. Knowing that, let’s take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the alkaline diet.
Strength – Balance pH by eating whole healthy foods
At first glance, the theory behind the alkaline diet is promising. You are supposed to eat in a way that optimizes pH balance. The regulation of pH in your body is one of the ways in which it maintains balance. We call this a homeostatic control. In fact, pH balance is so critical to health and survival that the body actually has several homeostatic control mechanisms in place to balance it.
It is important to make lifestyle choices that cooperate with the body’s innate desire to find balance. For this reason, the alkaline diet appears to have a worthy objective.
The alkaline diet promotes eating whole, nutritious foods and avoiding sweets, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and anything with artificial ingredients. It also encourages plentiful consumption of green leafy vegetables that contains lots of phytonutrients. These concepts alone could certainly improve the health of many people who normally consume the standard American diet.
Without a doubt, the elimination of processed foods, sugar and alcohols, along with an increase in phytonutrients from greens, can be credited as the main reason for health improvements and weight loss on the alkaline diet. However, these same sound eating concepts that would be found at the core of any all healthy meal plans and is not unique to the alkaline diet.
Weakness- Assumption that everyone is acidic and it’s “good” to be Alkaline
In reality, it’s just as bad to be alkaline as it is to be acidic.
What you want to strive for in achieving optimum health is balance. Being too acidic or too alkaline can both result in some very undesirable health problems. Contrary to the diet’s teachings, not all heath problems stem from acidosis. In fact, many people experience health issues as a result of being too alkaline. Some of these may include: allergies, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, inflammation, glandular dysfunctions, gastro-intestinal distress, cognitive issues, and emotional disturbances.
Weakness – Confusion as to which foods are alkalizing
The pH-altering effect of different foods has been studied since the early 1900s. Today, much debate revolves around determining which foods are acidic and which are alkaline.
Laboratory testing is an “accepted” way to label foods as acid or alkaline. Various foods are burned to ash and the pH of the resulting ash is measured. In this way foods are classified as acid, alkaline, or neutral ash foods.
Alkaline-ash foods are those containing large amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and/or iron. Most fruits and vegetables are considered alkaline-ash. Acid-ash foods are those containing chloride, phosphorus, iodine, or sulfur. Meats, fish, poultry, grains, eggs, and legumes are considered acid-ash.
The problem is, human biochemistry and physiology is far more complex than a lab’s Bunsen burner. The effect a food may have on a living human body cannot be determined by simply burning the food. How much acid or alkaline a food’s ashes contain does not mean the intricate biochemistry of each person’s body will net the same acid or alkaline effect.
Acid or Alkaline? That is the question
The majority of acid/alkaline food lists place meats, beans, nuts, and grains in the acid forming column. Others place some beans, some nuts, and some grains in the alkaline-forming column. However, in the science world, there is a vast range of opinion as to which foods are acid forming and which forms are alkalizing.
There are claims and some evidence that meat and other proteins can actually be alkalinizing. Some research shows that milk is neutral, cheeses are acid. Others say milk is acid, some insist milk is alkaline. Certain fruits such as plums, prunes, cranberries, and sour cherries may be classed as acid-forming since they contain organic acids that are not completely broken down in the body. Yet others class all fruits as alkaline or neutral.
Certain vegetables may be placed in the alkaline category (such as green leafy types, potatoes, squashes, and herbs), while others are placed in the acid category (such as spinach, string beans, chard, carrots, and peas). Fat, on the other hand, are all across the board.
Confusing? You bet!
As you can see, the classification of foods as acid- or alkaline-forming can be very complicated. Some researchers believe that the way a food is grown, harvested, prepared and stored can have a huge effect on whether it is acid forming or alkalizing in the body.
Perhaps the largest reason for all the confusion is that fact that each of us is biochemically unique. This can make it extremely difficult to classify a food as “good” or “bad” as a general statement. The same food that is acidifying for you might be alkalizing for someone else.
No wonder people are confused!
Individual digestion and metabolism play a major role in determining whether a food leaves an acid or alkaline residue. For example, citrus fruits and tomatoes, in many people, leave no acid residue. But these same foods may be incompletely metabolized in others and become acid-forming. This may occur with inadequate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach or with thyroid under function. A person’s genetics, lifestyle, stress level, and health status, will largely influence pH balance and ultimately determine which foods are best for that individual.
What About Cancer?
The alkaline diet has been touted by many of its followers as “the answer to cancer.” The idea stems from the fact that cancer grows in an acidic environment. Proponents of the alkaline diet point out that cancer rates have skyrocketed (along with many other chronic, debilitating diseases), while our bodies have become more acidic from our processed-food diets.
They are right, cancer is a huge problem, and it has gotten worse as people continue to become more sedentary and rely on processed “fake” foods as the bulk of their diet. However, the scientific research about the benefits of alkalinity is by no means conclusive.
pH and Cell Mitochondria
What we do know (and all agree on) is that pH appears to have a major influence on cell mitochondria. What exactly that means is up for debate. A study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that alkalosis causes cellular death as a result of altering mitochondrial function.
As for the alkaline diet being “the answer to cancer”, there are several scientific studies that really argue against alkalinity, at least with respect to preventing or treating cancer.
Several studies have looked at tumor formation and acidity. The popular idea that cancer grows in an acidic environment was really looked into. The studies revealed that tumors, by their nature, make themselves acidic. These means even in an alkaline environment, cancerous tumors will create their own acidity. New anticancer research is finding that alkaline treatments do not have a desired effect when fighting cancer, but acidic treatments just might.
It seems that we just might have to fight fire with fire, killing cancer cells with the very acid that they love. In a 2005 study, the National Cancer Institute examined the effect of intravenous vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid) on cancer cells. It was found that at pharmacologic doses, the ascorbic acid was able to kill cancer cells without harming the normal cells.
Clearly, the idea that making your body more alkaline will prevent, treat or somehow cure cancer is purely an idea and by not concrete science.
What to do?
By now you are probably thinking, “So, is it better for me to eat foods that are more acid or more alkaline?” All the research seems contradictory and confusing.
You are right. It is contradictory and it is confusing. But there is a very good reason for that.
Next time you go out in public, take a look around. What you will notice is that every single person is different. They are different shapes and sizes, different colors, have different experiences, skills, knowledge, and personalities. People are different on the outside and they are also different on the inside.
Different people need different things to achieve optimal health
Think of it this way. Let’s say you buy a brand new car. When you get inside you have to learn where all the controls are, how to set the radio, turn on the windshield wipers, etc. It’s a car like every other car, but it is also different in some ways. When it comes time to refuel, you must find out what type of fuel it takes, if you want it to run well. You wouldn’t want to put diesel in a sport car that requires premium unleaded. The wrong kind of fuel could be damaging the engine, and in the very least, cause the car to perform less than optimally.
Just like that new car, your body needs to be fueled correctly in order to run well.
A good starting point can be eliminating all processed, packaged foods, such as refined sugars and flours, soda, processed meats, hydrogenated oils, and distilled alcohol. Many of the illnesses, disorders, and diseases that are being associated with increased acidity, from chronic back pain to cancer, have more to do with the consumption of chemically altered “fake foods” than it does with the nutrients in the foods.
Take Your Health To The Next Level
Your body is designed to be healthy, but in order to run efficiently, it must be given the right fuel, the kind of fuel it is genetically programmed to utilize.
In other words, learning to eat according to your Metabolic Type© will ensure that you are in the way that allow your body to operate with ease, instead of dis-ease.
In addition, once you begin eating this way, you will find it easy to maintain your ideal weight, enjoy amazing energy, clear thinking and great health without hunger, cravings, or feeling deprived.