Alkaline Diet: What is it, Does it Work?
It’s a pitch Hollywood celebs love: that the alkaline diet — also known as the alkaline ash diet or alkaline acid diet — can help you lose weight and avoid problems like arthritis and cancer. The theory is that some foods, like meat, wheat, refined sugar, and processed foods, cause your body to produce acid, which is bad for you.
So, according to the “science” behind this diet, eating specific foods that make your body more alkaline can protect against those conditions as well as shed pounds. The alkaline diet really rocketed into the news when Victoria Beckham several years ago tweeted about an alkaline diet cookbook.
What You Can and Can’t Eat
Most fruits and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, and some nuts, seeds, and legumes are alkaline-promoting foods, so they’re fair game.
Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods, like canned and packaged snacks and convenience foods, fall on the acid side and are not allowed.
Most books that tout the alkaline diet say you shouldn’t have alcohol or caffeine, either.
Level of Effort: High
You’ll be cutting out a lot of foods you may be used to eating.
Limitations: Many foods are off-limits, and so are alcohol and caffeine.
Cooking and shopping: You can get fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. It may take a while to learn how to prep and cook your meals when you use fresh foods.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Not required.
Does It Allow for Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: This diet is mostly to become completely vegetarian. It also works for vegans, in that dairy is off-limits.
Gluten-free: The diet excludes wheat, but to avoid gluten completely, you’ll need to check food labels carefully, as gluten is not just in wheat.
Besides wheat, the diet nixes most of the other major triggers for food allergies, including milk, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, fish, and shellfish. It’s also good for people who are trying to avoid fat and sugar.
Does It Work?
Maybe, but not for the reasons it claims.
First, a little chemistry: A pH level measures how acid or alkaline something is. A pH of 0 is totally acidic, while a pH of 14 is completely alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. Those levels vary throughout your body. Your blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Your stomach is very acidic, with a pH of 3.5 or below, so it can break down food. And your urine changes, depending on what you eat — that’s how your body keeps the level in your blood steady.
The alkaline diet claims to help your body maintain its blood pH level. In fact, nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.
But the foods you’re supposed to eat on the alkaline diet are good for you and will support a healthy weight loss: lots of fruits and vegetables, and lots of water. Avoiding sugar, alcohol, and processed foods is healthy weight-loss advice, too.
As to the other health claims, there’s some early evidence that a diet low in acid-producing foods like animal protein (such as meat and cheese) and bread and high in fruits and veggies could help prevent kidney stones, keep bones and muscles strong, improve heart health and brain function, reduce low back pain, and lower risk for type 2 diabetes. But researchers aren’t sure of some of these claims yet.
People who believe in the alkaline diet say that though acid-producing foods shift our pH balance for only a little while, if you keep shifting your blood pH over and over, you can cause long-lasting acidity.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Following an alkaline diet means choosing fruits and vegetables over higher-calorie, higher-fat choices. You will also shun prepared foods, which often have a lot of sodium.
That’s great news for heart health because these steps help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which are big risk factors for heart disease.
Getting to a healthy weight is also important in preventing and treating diabetes and osteoarthritis.