Alkaline Diet: Is It really Worth The Hype?

Following Kelly Ripa’s proclamation on her morning talk-show that the alkaline diet helped turn her health around, many individuals are looking to adopt it. However, with so little evidence backing up the supposed health benefits that the diet can provide, it’s important to uncover whether this diet is all fad or fact.

What is the alkaline diet?

According to Monique Piderit, a registered dietitian from Nutritional Solutions, the alkaline diet – also known as the acid-ash diet, acid-alkaline diet or alkaline ash diet – is based on the belief that certain foods can affect the acidity levels of the body. In chemistry, the pH is used to measure acidity levels on a scale of 1 – 14. Water has a pH of 7 and this is considered neutral; anything less than 7 is acidic and anything greater than 7 is alkaline.

“The idea behind this is that our blood is slightly alkaline (with a pH between 7.35-7.45), and thus our diet should be mainly comprised of alkaline-forming foods to match this” explains Piderit.

A healthy, pH balanced atmosphere within the body can produce health benefits that include boosted heart health, a stronger immune system and much stronger bones. When our body metabolizes the foods we eat, it is actually and burning the foods in a slow and controlled fashion. Once this occurs, the foods leave an ash residue that may be acidic, alkaline or neutral. According to the proponents of the diet, this ash is either beneficial or detrimental to your health with acidic ash leaving you more prone to disease. Alkaline ash, on the other hand, provides protection and neutral ash has little to no effect.

Piderit states that the diet is based on the theory that certain foods like dairy, meat, grains, egg yolks and processed foods cause a multitude of health problems as proponents of these diets say these foods are ‘acid-forming’, and so should be avoided. Instead, the diet recommends ‘alkaline-forming’ foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and some grains like quinoa and buckwheat. As promising as this may sound, there’s just one important fact that needs to be remembered – foods cannot influence the pH levels within the body.

The human body and pH

It’s important for our bodies to maintain a pH level range-between 7.35 and 7.45 – in order to properly function, as the wrong pH may cause serious health issues. Piderit better explains the pH levels in our bodies.

“If we take it all the way back to basics with human physiology, the pH in our body may vary considerably from one area to another with the highest acidity in the stomach (pH of 1.35 to 3.5) due to stomach acid and digestive enzymes helping with digestion, whereas the pH of the skin is about 6.5. In the blood, the human body requires a very tightly controlled pH level in the blood of about 7.4 (a slightly alkaline range of 7.35 to 7.45) in order to survive.”

Therefore it’s imperative that the pH level of our blood remains constant as any change can be fatal if left untreated. However, an altered pH often occurs as a result of a disease and not due to diet choices.

pH levels and health

Due to the necessity of keeping its blood pH neutral, the body uses acid-base homeostasis to closely regulate its pH balance. Alkalosis, for one, occurs when the body’s fluids – including blood- become too alkaline. It often occurs as a result of liver or lung disease, low oxygen levels, or a sudden loss of electrolytes. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness and seizures.

Acidosis, alternatively, occurs as a result of a high level of acid within the body’s fluids. Metabolic acidosis is often the form of acidosis linked with the alkaline diet as diet-induced metabolic acidosis results from an excessive consumption of animal products and a low intake of fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include confusion, fatigue and lethargy.

The human body and unbalanced pH

When it comes to balancing its pH levels, the body looks to the kidneys to help handle its acid load. The kidneys filter acid by sending it to your bladder where it can be removed from your system through urine. This act does indeed alter the pH level in your urine. However, a urine test would only reveal how much acid you’ve just removed from your body thus the level of urine pH is a poor indicator of overall body pH.

Carbon dioxide is another form of acid in the body that, when at high levels, can become toxic. It is filtered out by the lungs.

So, does the alkaline diet work?

At the end of the day, the alkaline diet is healthy because it encourages healthy eating, not because of its ability to influence pH levels.  The diet encourages the intake of nutrient-dense, organic plant-based foods and it restricts processed and refined foods as well as alcohol. Regardless, adopting this style of eating will not adjust your body’s internal pH levels, which is the entire point of the alkaline diet. In addition, Piderit believes that excluding certain foods might be detrimental to your health.

“Because the alkaline diet promotes excluding certain food, it may result in deficiencies in nutrients like essential fatty acids, phytonutrients, as well as protein and calcium. Also, do not be fooled by the taste of the food itself. Some very acidic tasting foods, such as oranges and other citrus fruit are broken down in the body to form products that actually make the body less acidic. Due to complicated body chemistry, acid tasting foods do not necessarily create acid in the body.”

Furthermore, there is little to no evidence that supports the claims about the mechanism behind the diet. One such claim is the fact that the alkaline diet can reduce the risk of cancer as cancer only grows in an acidic environment. Aside from the fact food cannot influence pH levels, cancer cells can grow in body tissue with a pH level of 7.4. Additionally, it’s the cancer that creates an acidic environment. Click here to find out what studies show on this topic.

As Piderit explains, “Let’s not overlook that results have nothing to do with reducing your body’s acidity, but everything to do with the fact that you’re eating so much healthier”.

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