It was Hippocrates who said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” and any medical or health expert would agree with this. The food you put into your body can make you strong, keep your weight under check, provide all the vitamins and minerals you need, and keep your organs functioning well. So where does the alkaline diet fit in?
In this article, we’ll discuss the alkaline diet and its benefits.
What is the alkaline diet?
The pH level is a way to measure the acidity or alkalinity of something. Our bodies need a blood pH level of 7.35 to 7.45 (which is slightly alkaline) to function at an optimum level, but modern diets usually lean toward more acidic food which can cause a build-up of acid in the body.
The alkaline diet prescribes more alkaline foods to prevent the build-up of acid in your body and works like a detox for your system.
What are alkaline and acidic foods?
Every food has a certain pH level that ranges from 1 (highly acidic) to 11 (highly alkaline). When we eat, the food is digested by the body and leaves behind an alkaline or acidic residue.
This can be complicated sometimes when a certain food may be alkaline but will leave behind an acidic residue, or the other way around. For example, lemons are highly acidic but have a post-digestive alkaline effect.
But why is acid so bad for the body?
Acid isn’t bad for the body per se. In fact, some organs like the stomach require a high level of acidity in order to function properly. But if we eat too much acidic food, our bodies build up acidic waste which can lead to a number of health conditions.
An acidic body has poor gut health, is vulnerable to joint pain, weight gain, and mental or physical fatigue. As acids build up, they damage the organs and lay the foundation for chronic diseases including osteoporosis, auto immune disorders and even cancer. It also forces the body to draw on important resources to buffer the pH levels weakening the systems and leading to inflammation.
What are the benefits of an alkaline diet?
By eating a more alkaline diet, you can experience improved energy, better immune system and a higher metabolism.
A study by the Journal of Environmental and Public Health published in 2012 showed that eating food with a higher alkaline quality has some definite health benefits.
The higher the amount of acidic foods in the diet, the higher the level of acidity in your blood. The higher the acidity, the worse the body fares. This state of acidosis can be buffered with alkalizing foods to some extent. This helps the body function at its preferred level of mild alkalinity and offers the following benefits:
- Stronger immune system
- Decreased chance of developing chronic diseases and other inflammatory conditions
- Balanced hormone levels
- Prevention of gallbladder and kidney stones
- Lowered body fat and weight along with improved muscle mass
- Boosting energy levels
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Improved cognition, perception and mood
Understanding the metabolism definition and knowing how your diet impacts your health is important to eating better. Spend some time observing how a more alkaline diet makes you feel so you can track any improvements.
Is it dangerous to follow an alkaline diet?
The primary argument against this diet is that no food can alter the pH of the blood. The body has its own systems in place for maintaining the desired pH level. Eating a diet of mostly alkaline foods can lead to development of a condition known as metabolic alkalosis, which brings on symptoms like vomiting, headaches, tremors and nausea.
The restrictive nature of the diet also means that you will be forced to cut out numerous food groups. This may negatively impact the gut microbiome, leading to worsened mental health and the start of inflammatory conditions. With an improved diet, you will enjoy the benefits of probiotics and better gut health.
While the diet claims to prevent depression, the lack of B vitamins in the diet could actually worsen or cause depression in the first place.
What should I eat to maintain healthy alkaline levels?
The alkaline diet recommends a balance of 70/30, which means 70% of one’s diet should be foods that are alkalizing in nature while 30% is acidic foods. Some versions of this diet claim that even the food should be ‘ionised’ in order to be alkalized.
In order to aim for this balance you need to restrict acid-producing foods such as:
- Meat and fish
- Eggs and dairy
- Bread and many other grain-based foods
- Alcoholic and soft drinks as well as caffeinated beverages
- Processed foods with additives, sugar and preservatives. Learn how anyone can quit sugar for better health.
- High protein supplement
You should instead focus on the following highly alkaline foods:
- Tofu and soy products
- Spinach, kale, broccoli and other fresh vegetables
- Apples, lemons, oranges and a number of other fruits
- Herbs such as parsley, basil, black pepper
The pros and cons of an alkaline diet
There is some debate around the alkaline diet. Many of the diseases or conditions that it is said to prevent or cure have a number of causes, so this diet may not be the way to treat them.
In addition, the diet calls for restrictions on many important food groups such as dairy products and certain grains which might lead to severe deficiencies. It has been said that it is not a balanced diet, and any diet that does not strike a balance between the food groups cannot be healthy.
However while many of its benefits may be debated, this diet focusses on the basic good principles of any diet, whether it is the best plant based diet or a more inclusive diet:
- Increasing vegetarian meals
- Eliminating excess sugar
- Reducing processed foods and bad fat
- Eating more vegetables and fruit
- Adding legumes, nuts and seeds to the diet
All of the above would be considered good habits by any medical professional and can safely be implemented by anyone.
How do you know if your body is more acidic or alkaline?
We all know how important it is to keep our bodies in a balanced state as much as possible, which means monitoring the acidic levels of your body and trying to follow an alkaline diet. As we discussed above, higher acidic levels can lead to multiple health problems, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis and obesity. If you have an autoimmune disorder or chronic pain, the acidic levels in your body can trigger inflammation and lead to the flare-ups that you experience.
The best way to know if your body is more acidic or alkaline is to do a test. A simple urine test will measure the pH levels in your body. This can be done at home with strips that you can get from your pharmacy or even online. Do this test in the morning before you eat or drink anything for the most accurate results.
It is recommended that you should follow an alkaline diet to remain between 6.5 and 7.5 in terms of pH level. If you are lower than 6.5, you are acidic. If you are above 7.5, you are considered alkaline.
Do remember if you have existing health conditions or are taking prescription medication, you should check with your doctor before beginning a new diet. You may also want to consult a nutritionist online to find a diet plan that suits your health conditions.
Symptoms of high acidity in the body
You don’t always have to do the tests to know if your body is acidic. If you are alert to what your body tells you, you will be able to see the signs. When your pH level drops to below 6.5, you may notice the following symptoms in the early stages:
- Feeling lethargic often
- Skin trouble like acne or dull skin
- Weight seems to pile on
- Looking older and more tired
If you don’t start following an alkaline diet at this stage to balance the pH levels, you might even experience more advanced symptoms like:
- Frequent headaches
- Digestive trouble like diarrhoea or nausea
- Constant cough and shortness of breath
- Vulnerability to coughs and colds
- More frequent UTIs or yeast infections
Easy ways to move towards a more alkaline diet
It might be confusing to read through all the information online and try to figure out how to eat a more alkaline diet, but here are some easy hacks.
Add more greens to your diet. Whether you like spinach, cabbage, lettuce, kale, or broccoli, start using greens more frequently in your diet. It helps to always have some on hand to steam and add to your plate. You can always toss a salad for dinner or add some leaves in your sandwiches, but you could also get all your greens in one glass, with a green smoothie in the morning.
Eat less meat, fish and eggs and plan meals around products like tofu, soy, or plant-based meat substitutes. A good ratio is to eat vegetarian or vegan meals during the week and enjoy a nonvegetarian meal or two on the weekend.
Avoid stocking up processed food like instant noodles, biscuits, chips or canned fruit juices. Instead, replace with healthier options like veggie sticks with dips, baked or sundried chips made from veggies, and homemade shakes or flavoured water.
Choose your sweet treats. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s hard to give up that scoop of ice-cream at night or that cinnamon roll you enjoy with your coffee. But sugary food can be a high contributing factor to the acid levels of your body so it is important to find ways to reduce the amount of sugar for an effective alkaline diet. Try allowing yourself a treat that you really enjoy and cutting out the rest of it.
Choose homemade. A good way to reduce sugar in your diet is to eat or drink more homemade food and beverages. Canned, pre-packed and store-bought items are usually filled with all kinds of sugar, even if you can’t taste the sweetness. Making your own vanilla latte at home gives you more control over what goes in it.
Eat more citrus fruit: Just because lemons or oranges taste sour, it doesn’t mean they contribute to the acid levels in your body. You can add sweet limes or oranges to your salads or make a refreshing juice or infused water to sip on during the day. You might also like to use lemon juice as a flavour enhancer for roasts, bakes, salads and beverages.
Our modern diet is rife with over-processed foods and junk food. It has been found that many Aussies do not get the recommended daily intake of fruit and veggies, and over 42% of our recommended calorie requirement is met by processed food. Following any version of a better diet can only lead to better health.
Do I need to find a dietician near me or get a consultant to plan my diet? If you have existing health are confused about a diet plan that is right for you, it is best to rely on the advice of your doctor or a nutrition expert. If you would like to consult a nutritionist, Avaana can help you find one.