An alkaline diet, aka the alkaline ash diet, claims to prevent diseases like cancer and osteoporosis. Let’s start by saying the science is… iffy. But that doesn’t mean you should write off alkaline foods just yet.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with the facts to help you understand the alkaline diet and we’ll sift through the science, too, so you don’t have to.
We know that sometimes the wellness world can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many diets out there being promoted out there by people promising the world. It’s hard to know what to trust.
So, what about an “alkaline diet?”
The basis behind an alkaline diet is the belief that you can change your body’s pH through your diet. Essentially, the idea is that you eat more alkaline and less acidic foods to balance out the pH in your body.
Supporters of an alkaline diet claim that by adjusting your body’s pH through your diet, you gain several health advantages like:
Promote weight loss
Prevent cancer and heart disease
Improve back pain and aches
The problem is that there is currently no evidence to support the claims of the alkaline diet. The whole diet focuses on the acid-ash hypothesis, which says that a diet high in fruits and veggies with a moderate protein intake supports an alkaline load.
The theory was initially published in the early 1900s. It talks about how certain foods, when burned, give off either a more alkaline or acidic ash. The theory was that this would also happen in the body. So, a diet high in alkaline foods would produce more alkaline ash. It’s this alkaline environment that offers health benefits. But the hypothesis remains unproven.
When we talk about the alkaline diet, we have to discuss pH. You may be getting flashbacks to chemistry class at this point, but we promise to keep it short.
The pH is a scale of how acidic or alkaline something is:
Acidic - 0.0 - 6.9
Neutral - 7.0
Alkaline - 7.1-14.0
When you follow an alkaline diet, the idea is that you would monitor the pH of your urine to check if it’s alkaline or acidic. By eating more high alkaline foods, the theory is that your urine pH would be more alkaline. Don’t worry; even if you’re interested in trying something like this out, you probably don’t need to do this.
In reality, the pH in your body can vary massively. For example, your stomach is full of hydrochloric acid with a pH of about 2-3.5, which is acidic. Hydroalcoholic acid is a digestive enzyme your body needs to break down food and absorb nutrients.
But if we leave the stomach and head to the blood, the pH level changes again. Human blood is always alkaline, with an average pH of 7.40. There’s no one perfect pH level that you will find in all parts of the body.
The idea of an alkaline diet is built around the pH of foods. There is some variation, even within an alkaline diet. Sometimes the diet includes grains despite the acidic pH. You would generally include a list of high alkaline foods while avoiding or limiting neutral and acidic foods.
Remember: the evidence isn’t there to support this diet. But if you wanted to test it out of curiosity, here are the loose guidelines.
An alkaline diet discourages acidic foods to keep your body’s pH at an alkaline level. In this style of eating, acidic foods include:
Carbonated drinks and soda
Meat (including turkey, beef, and chicken)
Canned and packaged snacks
Grains (rye bread and white rice)
Some food groups are considered neutral, so they have a steady pH of about 7.0. With that in mind, an alkaline diet would limit neutral foods. So, you wouldn’t remove these entirely, but moderation is key.
Neutral foods include:
Natural fat (olive oil, butter, and milk)
Starches (quinoa, oats, and brown rice)
High alkaline foods you can include in this diet include:
Fruit (berries, blackcurrants, and apples)
Vegetables (spinach, kale, cauliflower, and carrots)
Soybeans and tofu
Mineral soda water
Unsweetened fruit juices
There isn’t a specific meal plan to follow with the alkaline diet. Instead, you can find recipes online or buy alkaline diet cooking books. The simplest way to eat an alkaline diet would be to create your own recipes using the list of alkaline foods.
So, does the alkaline diet work? Maybe, but it’s nothing to do with pH.
Let’s talk about pH again. We know that pH levels in the body vary depending on where you are. The stomach is acidic to break down food, while your blood is slightly alkaline. Our lungs and kidneys are largely responsible for maintaining a neutral pH in the blood. The pH of blood must remain neutral for our survival.
The pH of your urine changes depending on what you eat. This is how your body keeps pH levels in the blood steady. Your kidneys eliminate anything they don’t need through urine.
The basis of the alkaline diet is that eating alkaline foods helps you to maintain the pH of your blood. The truth is that the pH of food doesn’t determine the overall effect on the body. Alkaline foods will not make any massive changes in the blood. The human body is complex and already so clever that it maintains a neutral pH without effort from you.
But that doesn’t mean you should write off alkaline foods just yet. We can see that this style of eating encourages us to eat plenty of fruit and veggies and stay hydrated. And at the same time, avoid sugar, alcohol, and processed foods. All of these things tend to benefit overall health. It’s not unimaginable to think that eating more vegetables and less processed foods is good for you.
In terms of scientific evidence, there’s some initial evidence supporting the benefits of the alkaline diet. Some research suggests a diet low in highly acidic foods like animal protein and bread and high in alkaline foods like fruit and veggies could help the following:
Prevent kidney stones
Reduce low back pain
Keep muscles and bones strong
Support heart and brain health
The problem is that researchers are just not sold on these claims yet. It’s a little up in the air, and there simply isn’t enough scientific evidence to say that the alkaline diet offers these specific health benefits.
A high alkaline diet may be beneficial, but the idea that what you eat can shift your body’s pH level isn’t proven. In reality, your body needs to have different pH levels depending on the area. Your stomach needs to remain a more acidic environment to absorb those nutrients and break down food.
An alkaline diet is naturally full of fruits and vegetables while low in high-fat and processed foods. You tend to avoid pre-prepared foods that usually contain a lot of salt.
Excess sodium in the diet can increase the risk of stroke and hypertension. A high-salt diet can also magnify some bone and muscle loss. Research shows that an increase in fruits and vegetables may benefit bone health and reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables that limits high salt and cholesterol foods is naturally beneficial for your heart health. These are the steps you would take to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which are major risk factors for heart disease.
The alkaline diet encourages eating lots of fruit, vegetables, and plant foods while limiting processed and sugary junk foods. That’s the basis of most healthy eating patterns. But, the idea that the benefits of an alkaline diet come from its ability to alkalize the pH of the body is where the science is lacking. Reliable human studies to prove this are just not available.
Some studies suggest there are positive effects of an alkaline diet in a small number of people. The research specifically focuses on how a low-protein alkalizing diet may benefit those with chronic kidney disease.
The bottom line is that the alkaline diet promotes eating whole and unprocessed foods, which we fully support. Limiting overly processed foods that are high in salt sets a good foundation for a healthy lifestyle. However, no reliable evidence shows that the diet benefits come from a shift in pH levels.
So, while what you’re eating on an alkaline diet is healthy, the theory it’s based on isn’t proven yet. That’s not to say that research won’t come to light. But in the meantime, eating a diet with plenty of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables can only be a good idea.