Keto, Paleo, gluten-free, low-carb, Zone, vegan, Atkins, Dukan — the list of diet plans seems almost endless these days, so what about the alkaline diet? Celebrities around the globe are touting the alkaline diet, also known as the alkaline ash diet or alkaline acid diet, as THE diet for preventing and fighting diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension and diabetes — and for prolonging life.
The alkaline diet helps balance the pH levels of your body’s fluids, specifically blood and urine. Are they right? We’ll delve into the alkaline diet benefits in a moment, but first, let’s understand more about the role pH plays.
Without giving you nightmares of high school chemistry class, you might remember that acids and bases (AKA alkaline) are essential to a variety of chemical processes! pH, which stands for Potential of Hydrogen, refers to the degree of acidity or alkalinity of any solution, including blood and urine.
Our respiratory system also plays a role in controlling blood pH. Our kidneys produce bicarbonate ions that bind to unwanted acids in our blood and form carbon dioxide and water. We breathe the carbon dioxide out and we excrete the excess water in our urine.
A variety of factors affect blood pH including the foods we eat, diarrhea, vomiting, urinary tract infection and lung, endocrine and kidney function.
The goal of the alkaline diet is to eat foods that help our body obtain a more alkaline state, meaning slightly higher on the pH scale. Just as a fire leaves behind ashes when it burns wood, our body “burns” food for energy and leaves behind “ash.” This “ash” is a form of metabolic waste.
This metabolic waste can be alkaline — or acidic. The idea behind the alkaline diet is that if we eat foods that leave behind acidic residue, our body must work harder to maintain its desired higher alkaline state. Diet proponents also believe our body is more susceptible to disease and weight gain if we are in an acidic state.
The alkaline diet is high in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially organic ones because the soil used for organic foods tends to be more alkaline. The type of soil plants grow in can also significantly influence their mineral and vitamin content. Minerals and vitamins are essential to maintaining a healthy pH balance.
One thing to note is that just because a food tastes acidic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it leaves an acidic residue. Lemons, for example, are acidic in taste but leave alkaline ash once metabolized.
You’ll want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables because they promote alkalinity better than other foods. You can eat just about any fruit on the alkaline diet, but the best fruits include avocado, papaya, citrus fruits, pomegranate, tomato, cucumber, watermelon, ripe bananas and figs.
The same goes for vegetables, but the best vegetables to promote alkalinity include mushrooms, kale, chard and collard greens, broccoli, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, radishes, green beans and grasses such as wheat, alfalfa and oats.
Another good option is vegetable and powdered-grass-based drinks that are loaded with alkaline-forming foods and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll can help alkalize the blood.
Most plant proteins are great for the alkaline diet including almonds, coconut, chestnuts, seeds (especially chia and hemp), chickpeas, quinoa, tempeh (fermented), tofu (fermented) and some beans.
Avocado, coconut, flaxseed and olive oils are all considered alkaline-friendly. You can eat most seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower and sprouts such as alfalfa, mung bean, broccoli and spelt. For sweetener, use stevia, a natural plant-based sweetener that does not cause insulin spikes. Apple cider vinegar, alkaline antioxidant water, fresh fruit juice and mineral water are also alkaline-friendly.
While the alkaline diet is not considered a vegetarian diet, nearly all animal-based foods can increase acidity. People who are most successful with following an alkaline diet aim for an 80/20 split, where they eat alkaline enhancing foods 80 percent of the time and allow themselves to eat acidic ash foods 20 percent of the time.
Foods you should avoid:
Many believe reducing acidity in your body can provide a variety of benefits. However, it should be noted that most researchers agree that dietary changes don’t have much impact on blood pH levels since the body has powerful regulatory processes that protect these crucial levels. An alkaline diet can positively impact urine pH levels — one study found that alkaline urine removes uric acid better than acidic urine.
The alkaline diet can help the kidneys function better because an acidic diet makes it harder for the kidneys to do their job of removing uric acid from the blood. Uric acid is a waste product our bodies create as part of food digestion. Uric acid build-up in the body can lead to gout and many other chronic diseases. If you suffer from gout, the alkaline diet may help reduce or even eliminate your symptoms. Learn more abouthow to lower your gout risks naturally. You may also benefit from a nutritional supplement designed to lower uric acid levels.
An alkaline diet can help protect the ratio of minerals in the body that support bone health and muscle mass. Some believe that an acidic diet forces your body to take alkaline minerals such as calcium from your bones to buffer the acids. The alkaline diet can help maintain muscle mass by protecting from magnesium and phosphate loss.
Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that an acidic state in the body leads to diseases such as cancer, hypertension, stroke and inflammation. Cancer thrives in acidic environments, although some researchers say the cancer cells create the acidic environment themselves. Since the alkaline diet restricts meat, high-sodium foods, junk foods, alcohol and many other foods known to cause health problems, it makes sense that it would lower your disease risk.
Many who follow the alkaline diet lose weight. Again, many researchers say the weight loss has more to do with it being a plant-based diet that eliminates high-calorie foods such as sugar, alcohol, baked goods, rich sauces, snack foods, desserts and fatty meats than being related to pH levels.
Since the alkaline diet avoids foods known to cause weight gain, hypertension, gout, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and other chronic conditions common in the Western world, you’re likely to experience better health by following it. If you suffer from kidney disease or gout, you may see some improvement in your symptoms by eating an alkaline diet. Some studies have found positive correlations between higher alkaline foods and better health, but many indicate the health improvements are more related to eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables versus impacting urine or blood pH levels.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.