Mythbusting: Alkaline Diets


Many promotions of the alkaline diet stretch the integrity of science into the realm of quackery. The frame of quackery, though, relegates them to the marginal and leads to the sensible consumer dismissing them out of hand. Don’t! Those diets are founded on wonderful, healthy foods and were originally based on some serious science.

1. Alkaline diets are just another crazy trend. FALSE.

Alkaline diets have been shown to be beneficial in double-blind placebo-controlled trials. It’s particularly well established that a higher plant balance greatly benefits the musculoskeletal system. The basic clinical values studied are equivalent to eating seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables. However, there is no research showing that they will solve all your health problems! Do not expect it to heal MS, cure cancer, or keep you from dying.

2. To achieve an alkaline diet, you need very specific instructions and must eat a limited diet. FALSE

In short, to implement the diet, all you have to do is replace some of your meat and grains with fruit and vegetables. There are fruits/vegetables that have different acid and alkaline effects but simply switching the categories that you eat is highly effective.

You do need a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants from many foods to be healthy. Eliminating an option merely because it’s alkaline/acid balance is not sensible. Furthermore, there are benefits to cooking many foods, so you can eat cooked alkaline foods while retaining the alkaline nature and even gaining nutrients that are less or not digestible when raw.

3. The alkaline balance should be the deciding factor in determining what you eat. FALSE

Eating produce has many health benefits from the many different nutrients and compounds. Citrus may have vitamin C (acid), but you need vitamin C and there are additional helpful antioxidants in citrus. So, if you faithfully eat 4-5 cups of mixed produce per day, you will benefit from normalizing blood pressure, decreased risk for diabetes/better blood sugar control, potential prevention of weight gain and/or weight loss, healthier eyes, healthier skin, decreased risk of cancer, and less loss of bone and muscle strength. Is it entirely because of alkalinity? No, it’s because of the alkalinity, the potassium, the magnesium, the calcium, the fiber (yeah, eat the whole food not the juice), the reservatol, the limonene, the beta carotene, the catechins, the vitamin E, the lutein, the quercertin, etc. Those various compounds are why you want a variety of items. All colors, all plant parts, all flavors.

4. You can determine the alkalinity of the food based on its pH. FALSE

To clarify, the “alkaline” and “acid” nature comes from the way the body digests your food, and the particles that enter your bloodstream. Protein, for example, is broken into amino acids which are acidic. Vegetables are typically digested into mineral compounds that are alkaline. Too much of either is difficult for your body to deal with because your body has to adjust the pH of your blood to stay within a narrow range.

The ash factor, as it is typically used, it the non-carbon, non-water, non-carbon portion of the food. In other words, the total amount of minerals. Minerals can be beneficial (calcium, magnesium) in reasonable doses or harmful (lead, mercury). The lack of differentiation makes that number less valuable than it is given in the pseudo-science version of the alkaline diet. It does not reflect on the type or quality of carbon-based compounds, fats, or fluids which are also vital to good health. It does not consider whether your body can digest the minerals. (In some foods there are compounds that tightly bind minerals so we can’t digest the minerals from that food.)

5. It’s easy to switch to an alkaline diet. TRUE

Switch your meals so that half your plate/bowl/meal is vegetables and your dessert is fruit. (No cheating by adding food; you must decrease the protein and complex carb sections.) Ta-da, alkaline diet. You may need some help making it into a habit, or ideas for how to prepare and enjoy produce, but an “alkaline coach”? Check out some blogs, keep a food diary, read your favorite vegetable cookbook. What matters in the end is that you EAT YOUR VEGETABLES. It’s not sexy, and it’s not well marketed. But it just requires that you grocery shop for them, prepare, and eat them.

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3 thoughts on “Mythbusting: Alkaline Diets

  1. Great post! When I began eating more this way, I didn’t even know that it was alkaline. Then when I began experimenting with raw, I started hearing the term. Sending this link to a few friends.

  2. I hadn’t heard of the alkaline diet before, but still found this very interesting. I’ve never doubted that variety is a critical element in the best diet. Unfortunately, I’m content to eat the same thing for days on end.
    A question for you. Vinegar has got to be my favorite condiment. It’s acidic. Is it processed by the body in the acidic way? How much does the viniegar in a dish cancel the alkalinity of the vegetables?

    • I would predict that vinegar is probably metabolized into acidic components, but I’d have to actually look at it closer to be sure. Sugars and simple carbohydrates are, and I think that vinegar is primarily from sugars. How much? Would depend on the dish! Probably a good bit more than you would add to most dishes.

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