In all my years as a nutritionist, I have seen fad diets come and go. The rise and fall of these diets are typical. Someone makes some huge bogus claim, people fall for the claim, and finally the tides turn when scientific research shows it was all non-sense. When I first heard about the alkaline diet, I sort of chuckled at the idea. After all, the diet required some harsh high maintenance macro restrictions and made claims that were clearly not supported by science. But the alkaline diet isn’t all fad, it seems. There actually are some benefits to this type of dieting. Before we get into all that, let’s get you up to speed on some biology and pH levels.
What exactly does alkaline mean?
Lets try and remember those annoying chemistry classes we all had to take in high school. pH is the measurement of how acidic or alkaline any one thing is. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, 0 being totally acidic, while 14 being totally alkaline and 7 being neutral.
The pH in your body varies from place to place. For example, the ph of the acid in your stomach is about a 3 or below and the pH of your blood is always slightly alkaline between 7.3 and 7.4.
Requirements of the alkaline diet
The alkaline diet requires that you remove all meat, eggs, poultry, fish, gluten and dairy. Instead, it requires you fill your diet full of fruits and vegetables, with the exception of cranberries, prunes, and plums. Modifying your diet this way changes the pH of your urine towards the alkaline end of the pH spectrum. (1)
The theory of the alkaline diet is that foods that are high in acid would cause the body to counteract the additional acid by breaking down bone, Further claims have been made that an alkaline diet would promote weight loss, healing, and recovery. The initial sentiment is that an alkaline diet will affect the pH of your blood. But nothing is further from the truth. These numbers stay constant regardless of whether your diet is acidic or alkaline. (1) The truth is, your body does an amazing job of regulating your pH. So the intake of acidic foods will not change the pH of your blood. What an alkaline diet will do is change the pH of your urine, and this has benefits to one’s health.
One of the major benefits of an alkaline diet is the supposed promotion of bone health. Though one study did have mixed reviews of the claim that an alkaline diet would help osteoarthritis, it did show benefits to bone growth itself, though inconclusively. (2)
I actually put this claim to the test not so long ago. I suffered a pretty bad rib injury training jiu Jitsu, what we call the “twisted rib.” More or less I had a hairline fracture in my rib and had torn cartilage in the process. Having studied alkaline diets I started removing any and all acidic foods like chicken, beef, dairy, gluten, and the such. I only drank alkaline water and ate foods that were low in acidity. A twisted rib statistically takes 2-3 months to heal. Mine took 3 weeks. So I am a believer in the alkaline diet for that purpose specifically.
1. Cunningham E (October 2009). “What impact does pH have on food and nutrition?”. J Am Diet Assoc. 109 (10): 1816.doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.08.028. PMID 19782182.
2. Lambert H, Frassetto L, Moore JB, Torgerson D, Gannon R, Burckhardt P, Lanham-New S (2015). “The effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism: a meta-analysis”. Osteoporos Int. 26 (4): 1311–8.doi:10.1007/s00198-014-3006-9. PMID 25572045.
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