Diet trends come and go, most being nothing more than a fad, but some diets do check out as being beneficial for improving health. The alkaline diet is one that has been around for decades as an alternative diet. There are no scientific studies to prove it, but some people believe that this particular diet can prevent and even cure cancer. More recently it has come back into the spotlight as a lifestyle diet that is believed to help balance the body by correctly adjusting pH levels.
Before starting any diet, regardless of how incredible it may seem, it is important to really understand how the diet is supposed to work, as well as whether there is unbiased proof of its success.
The Basics of the Alkaline Diet
Summed up, the alkaline diet is a diet in which acid-forming foods are replaced with alkaline foods. The idea is that by doing this, people can reduce the acidity of their body and either help heal certain health concerns or simply achieve better health overall. The alkaline diet is also sometimes referred to as the acid-alkaline diet or the alkaline ash diet, though these names are more rare to see.
The proponents of alkaline diet suggest that the acidity or alkalinity of foods leave a residue, or ash, in the body during the digestive process. They suggest that when your body metabolizes foods it is burning them, and just like you'll find ash when you burn wood, there is ash/residue leftover during the digestive process as well. According to them this ash or residue is what can raise or lower the pH of the body. Thus, by eating more alkaline foods, either alkaline or neutral, ash/residue is leftover. Please remember that these are unproven claims, however no one will dispute that alkaline foods itself (fruits and vegetables) are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Some different categories of acidic, alkaline and neutral foods include:
Acidic- Meats (poultry, red meat, fish, etc), dairy products, eggs, grains, alcohol, etc
Alkaline- Produce (fruits and vegetables), nuts, legumes, etc
Neutral- Natural fats, starches, sugars, etc
Another way to think about the pH of foods is to consider what type of nutrients they offer the body. For example:
Acidic Residue- Includes food sources high in protein, phosphates, and sulfur.
Alkaline Residue- Includes food sources high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Keep in mind that nearly all animal food sources are in the acidic category however. Even though dairy is clearly a great source of calcium, it is still in the acidic category.
Living an Alkaline Diet Lifestyle
As mentioned above, the alkaline diet isn't really in the category of a "fad diet," in the sense that it is starving the body or unable to be done safely on a long-term basis. The alkaline diet is a lifestyle diet that can be followed for a length of time, usually very safely (depending on current health status). It is a restrictive diet, however.
Restrictive diets are diets that restrict or even completely eliminate certain food groups. Two examples of these would be a strict vegetarian diet and a strict paleo diet. A strict paleo diet restricts grains, legumes, and dairy. A strict vegetarian diet completely eliminates any animal food sources. In the case of a strict alkaline diet, acidic food groups are restricted. Restrictive diets are naturally more difficult to adhere to, especially when you have a love for off-limit foods. In the case of the alkaline diet, there are many restrictions that can be tough. Not only will you have to give up your cheeseburgers and yogurt, but giving up grains can be incredibly difficult. Another thing to think about is non-food sources of acidity that you will need to avoid.
Some examples of non-food sources that raise acidity include:
Food additives (artificial sweeteners, food coloring, preservatives, etc)
Alcohol and drug use
Caffeine (coffee, soda, etc)
Overuse of antibiotics
Sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise)
Excessive/abuse of exercise (over-exercising)
Untreated anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
Exposure to chemicals in cleaners, household products, beauty products, etc
Exposure to pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc
Untreated sleep apnea or snoring
What is interesting to note about the non-food items that raise acidity in the body is that nearly all are easily recognized as being bad for mental and physical health. By avoiding these types of issues or working to treat them with professional help (i.e. a therapist for chronic stress) you will obviously see positive results in the your life.
For this reason, there are skeptics of the alkaline diet that claim the positive results from such a lifestyle change are merely coincidental, with the reduction of alkaline foods itself having a very neutral affect.
Those that praise the alkaline diet claim they've seen incredible health improvements, and it isn't just a couple random people pushing the diet. Even well-known health authorities, such as Dr. Oz, do recognize that there might be benefits to eating less acidic foods.
Anecdotal advice shouldn't be ignored, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. There are certainly people that have achieved incredible results with diets that haven't been totally backed by science, but researching any major diet from a scientific perspective is always the safest route to go.
Studies and Research on the Alkaline Diet
Like many diets, it is difficult to find repetitive studies that prove (or disprove) benefits of the alkaline diet. Many of the studies that do dive into finding out whether the alkaline diet does work usually result in findings that are fairly neutral.
An analytic study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that consuming an alkaline diet resulted in lowered acidity in urine samples and possibly lowered calcium in the urine, but this wasn't an accurate means of determining overall calcium levels in the body. They also didn't find anything that proved an alkaline diet of improving bone health. However, this study did find that the foods within the alkaline diet were beneficial. This mean that researchers found that it wasn't really the alkaline diet that improve participant health, but rather the increase in nutrients gained from eating more vegetable and fruits that showed health advantages.
Another thing about the alkaline diet that isn't mentioned much in other diets is the change of water type in the diet. Alkaline diets typically promote the drinking of alkaline water for improved health. Advocates claim that drinking alkaline water boosts the immune system, aids in mental health, and can help prevent or treat certain health issues.
A systematic review published in the BMJ Open found that drinking alkaline water (and the alkaline diet) wasn't found to be beneficial or detrimental to health. Individual studies were either positive or neutral, leaving researchers unable to say whether it offered certain health benefits or not. They did conclude, however, that reliance on alkaline water or the alkaline diet as a mean of preventing or treating cancer is not backed by anything scientific.
Should You Try the Alkaline Diet?
Yes and no.
More specifically, if you want to positively change your lifestyle for better physical and mental health, then following an alkaline diet can have many benefits. While it is a restrictive diet, for the most part it is still nutritionally sound and some studies do some that eating greater amounts of certain foods (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables) offers many health benefits.
If you expect a miracle cure from the alkaline diet or are trying to specifically heal a certain condition like osteoporosis or cancer, then no, the alkaline diet is not going to give you what you need. Anyone with preexisting health conditions should always consult their doctor prior to trying any new diet, especially any type of restrictive diet like this one. It is important that if you aren't 100% healthy that any major change in diet, even if it actually is a positive one, be entered slowly and with caution.
All in all, the alkaline diet isn't going to affect blood pH, and studies still can't accurately prove whether it will or will not affect urine pH. There is no study to date that outrightly proves the alkaline diet is a miracle cure or that is will heal dangerous health ailments.
That being said, there is plenty of proof supporting practices within the diet, such as treating chronic stress, adopting a more active lifestyle, eating more produce, and reducing non-organic animal proteins.
Zoey is a part-time blogger and a full-time nurse. She is the founder and editor of leanrecipes.com an avenue for sharing her passion about juicing, plant-based diet and living a healthier lifestyle.
Main Photo Credit & Second Photo Credit: Elena Schweitzer/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: margouillat photo/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Alexander Prokopenko/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Elena Veselova/shutterstock.com; Sixth Photo Credit: Elena Elisseeva/shutterstock.com