Fact or Fake: The Alkaline Diet
The Alkaline Diet
Same year, different fad. The Alkaline Diet. Although this diet was first borne several years ago, it is regaining its former popularity due to food and beverage products such as alkaline water becoming more prevalent in grocery stores and retail outlets.The purpose of the Alkaline Diet is to consume alkaline foods and beverages (which means those with a pH that falls in the range of 7-14) in order to decrease the build-up of acidic compounds in the body that may lead to negative health effects (3). Does this diet have merit, or is it all just a farce?
What Is It?
The theory behind the alkaline diet is that eating acidic foods causes our bodies to produce acid, thus creating an acidic environment in our blood (1). Proponents of this diet believe that this acidic environment is bad for us, whereas eating alkaline foods can protect us against what they consider to be harsh conditions, as well as providing additional benefits (3).
These claims mostly started in 2013 when Victoria Beckham tweeted about an alkaline diet cookbook, and many celebrities quickly followed suit by hopping on the Alkaline Diet bandwagon. Celebrities that publicly endorsed this diet include Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Kirsten Dunst and Jared Leto (4).
The Scale of Acidity/Alkalinity
To understand more about why the claims of the Alkaline Diet may or may not be valid, a basic understanding of bases and acids is necessary. A neutral pH is about 7. An acid is a compound with a pH of less than 7 (acidic), and a base is a compound with a pH of more than 7 (alkaline). The normal serum pH of humans consistently lies somewhere between 7.35-7.45 (5). This number stays steady throughout a number of buffer systems produced naturally by our body, such LDL binding acids from body fluids to be excreted into the urine, the lymphatic system removing toxic buildup from our tissues, and so on (2). With these checks and balances naturally occurring and consistently working, our pH level stays around this 7.35-7.45 range (5).
What You Can and Cannot Eat
As with any diet, there are limitations on what you can and cannot eat when following the guidelines of “eating alkaline.”
The foods allowed on this diet are somewhat limited. They include most fruits, all vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds. Citrus fruits, which are generally considered acidic, are considered alkaline-producing in this diet.
Foods not allowed include meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, most grains, and processed foods. More times than not, proponents of the diet say to eliminate caffeine and alcohol as well.
Foods to be considered neutral are natural fats, starches and sugars (1).
Because the Alkaline Diet can be considered a fad diet, there are health claims that come with it. The most common beliefs proponents of the alkaline diet believe include weight loss, a boost in effectiveness of chemotherapy, osteoporosis and arthritis prevention, and defense against chronic kidney disease (8). One website even boasts a claim that, “you can rid yourself of all the health woes brought on by an acidic diet” by following an alkaline one (6). Other health benefit claims include: clearer skin and healthier hair, increased energy levels and mental clarity, reduced risk of cancer, and a boosted immune system (1)(10).
What Science Says
There is little to no scientific evidence that fully supports or backs up any of these claims. As mentioned before, our optimal blood pH stays around 7.4, regardless of what we put into our bodies. Food that we consume does not have enough power to sway one way or another what our bodies were created to do, which is to tightly regulate itself (4). We maintain this pH through respiration, urination, and so many other bodily functions. In fact, we need acid-containing foods to survive, so eliminating them is more of a detriment than an assistance (2)(7). So although our pH can fluctuate slightly throughout the day (i.e. if we eat a large steak, a few hours later our urine will be more acidic as the body works to remove it from our system), it will always correct itself and go back to its original pH level (7).
To further prove the point that this diet is somewhat of a hoax, it should be noted that the originator of this diet, Dr. Robert Young, is facing jail time because he was caught practicing medicine without a license. He also allegedly was caught in a fraudulent scandal where he was treating terminally ill cancer patients with baking soda infusions rather than traditional medical treatments. His claim to fame in regard to the Alkaline Diet began in 2010 when he wrote a book titled The pH Miracle that claimed diseases are caused by acidity in the blood (9).
It’s Not All Bad
For the average person, there may be some benefits to following the Alkaline Diet, but not for the reasons that made it famous. The Alkaline Diet is a plant-based diet that cuts out things like high-fat protein, alcohol and processed foods. Eating a plant-based diets and avoiding the aforementioned foods will definitely aid in weight loss and will certainly have some health benefits. These benefits, however, are not created or taken away by their alkaline or acidic nature.
So What Does All of This Mean?
In general, health professionals need to be a proponent of a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet and physical activity, because there is no magic elixir for health. The public at large must be be weary of “fake news” and utilize their relationships with Primary Care Physicians and Clinical Dietitians, who will make sound decisions about health claims by using evidence-based research.
Staying up-to-date on nutrition trends such as this one can help stay informed about what information, or misinformation, is being spread to the public, and can help shape the decisions we make about our own diets in order to become more health-conscious.
A Comprehensive Review of the Alkaline Diet: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Eat | Everyday Health. (2018, July 06). Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition/diet/comprehensive-review-alkaline-diet-what-it-how-it-works-what-eat/
B. (n.d.). Boundless Anatomy and Physiology. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ap/chapter/acid-base-balance/
Sanders, L. (2017, October 12). A "Basic" Examination of the Alkaline Diet. Retrieved from https://www.foodinsight.org/alkaline-diet-science-myth
Caldwell, M. (2017, September 05). Why this diet praised by Jennifer Aniston could work for you. Retrieved from https://www.statesman.com/lifestyles/health/why-this-diet-praised-jennifer-aniston-could-work-for-you/reT2Gm89XrhgPQDo7U9XRJ/
Acids, bases, pH, and buffers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/water-acids-and-bases/acids-bases-and-ph/a/acids-bases-ph-and-bufffers
Marturana, A. (n.d.). What An Alkaline Diet Can-And Can't-Do For Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/what-the-alkaline-diet-can-and-cant-do
The Alkaline Diet: An Evidence-Based Review. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/the-alkaline-diet-myth
Is an Alkaline Diet the Key to Longevity? (2018, August 02). Retrieved from https://draxe.com/alkaline-diet/
Figueroa, T. (2017, July 07). Best-selling 'pH Miracle' author heads to jail. Retrieved from http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-phmiracle-sentence-20170628-story.html
Top Health Benefits of an Alkaline Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthandfitnesstravel.com/blog/top-health-benefits-of-an-alkaline-diet/