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.
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 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
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. 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
- 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 some basic good principles:
- 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.
Our modern diet is rife with over-processed foods and junk food. It has been shown that only in 20 Australians get their daily intake of fruits and veggies, and over 42% of calorie requirement is met by processed food consumption. Following any version of a better diet can only lead to better health.
If you 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.