Following on from our recent post Myth Busting: Pure Water, pH and alkalisers, nutritional therapist and guest blogger Eve Kalinik asks The Alkaline Diet – Myth or Merit?
“Popular amongst many, the alkaline diet – aka the acid-alkaline diet – has retained its notoriety amongst a wide variety of people supported by ambassadors for quite some time now. But what is it exactly and is it actually beneficial for our health?
In a nutshell, the core principal to follow is eating alkaline foods as much as possible, whilst shunning those high in acid. This means having plenty of veggies, fruits, nuts, pulses and legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans. Foods that are reportedly acidic in their nature such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains and alcohol are a complete no-go. Anything processed or refined can also be included in this group but good natural fats such as coconut oil however pass the mark.
The concept centres around the fact that these acid-forming foods create a more acidic environment in the body which means a lower pH (more on this later), whereas alkaline foods create a higher pH and as such a less acidic environment. Proponents of the diet believe that higher acidity in the body comes from taking in too many high acid-forming foods. This, they say, leaves us more open to disease and eventually a condition referred to as chronic acidosis which means having not enough oxygen within cells, eventually depleting immunity and leading to disease processes.
But how much of this is actually correct? Firstly the main point to understand here is the acid-alkaline balance, which is measured on a pH scale that ranges from 0-14. The lower denotes higher acidity and the higher the more alkaline the environment. According to the alkaline diet you should be aiming for a score of 7 or over to cultivate the right balance.
Now obviously the mere thought that our bodies are brimming with acid is certainly not a pleasant one but the major point here is that different areas of the body need a very different pH. For instance, the stomach needs to be highly acidic to kill off pathogens and to efficiently break down food so it scores on average around 2-3 on the pH scale. In contrast blood needs to be slightly more alkaline at around a PH of 7.35-7.45 and its pretty much game over if you fall out of this.
Thankfully the body is very clever and already has highly developed process called the acid base balance that prevents this from happening. Having this makes it almost impossible to fall out of this range for obvious reasons, so really what we eat has zero impact on the blood pH. It can, however, adjust things like the acidity of urine but that’s not really an accurate measure of the overall body pH as this can be affected by other variables. The kidneys are in fact fundamental for eliminating acids and for keeping the body in a balanced pH as is the respiratory system which also negates the alkaline diet hypothesis that bone health is compromised to “buffer” these acids.
The other area of concern related to the alkaline diet theory is in the acceleration of cancer cells – which isn’t necessarily the case as these cells can also develop in alkaline environments too. Of course a more acidic one will mean faster growth but its not always that straight forward. Other lifestyle and genetic factors also play a very significant role too.
However, like everything in nutrition, there is always the flip reverse argument and whilst there is no real evidence to support the alkaline diet theory, encouraging someone to eat more vegetables, removing processed foods and being mindful of meat consumption is unequivocally going to be a good thing.
But we do also need acids that come from proteins (amino acids) and fatty acids too and some of the best sources of these come from animal foods. It really comes back down to having a balance in our diet to create a balanced pH and to support general good health.
Be conscious of where your food comes from. Opt for organic as much as possible, wash your vegetables in clean water (reverse osmosis ideally!) and enjoy that omega grass fed steak from time to time. Just make sure you have a decent serving of broccoli on the side!