Is the Alkaline Diet the Right Eating Plan for You?

Jars of nuts
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The alkaline diet is a popular eating plan often used to enhance health and promote weight loss. With an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and legumes, it's based on the idea that almost all foods release either an acid or an alkaline base into the blood after being digested, absorbed, and metabolized. According to the principles of the alkaline diet, foods such as grains, fish, meat, poultry, shellfish, cheese, milk, and salt all produce acid after being consumed.

Our blood is slightly alkaline, with a normal pH level of 7.35 to 7.45. Proponents of the alkaline diet suggest that a diet high in acid-producing foods disrupts the blood's normal pH level and, in turn, triggers the loss of essential minerals (such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium) as the body attempts to restore equilibrium. This imbalance is said to increase susceptibility to illness.

Why Do People Follow the Alkaline Diet?

Not only thought to improve health and help with weight loss, the alkaline diet is said to slow the aging process and protect against a variety of health problems, ranging from headaches and the common cold to diabetes and osteoporosis.

Proponents also claim that the alkaline diet can boost energy levels, as well as support detox efforts.

Which Foods Are Included in the Alkaline Diet?

The following foods are commonly recommended as part of the alkaline diet: apples, apricots, almonds, asparagus, avocados, bananas, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, chestnuts, garlic, green beans, hazelnuts, kale, lemon, lentils, miso, pineapple, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, radishes, seaweed, spinach, sprouts, sweet potatoes, tempeh, tofu, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini.

Which Foods Are Considered Acidic?

Proponents of the alkaline diet typically suggest avoiding red meat, processed meats, fried foods, fatty foods, whole dairy products, wheat products, and sugary foods. All of these foods are considered acidic.

In addition, soda and other sugary beverages are thought to be acid-forming.

Research on the Alkaline Diet

So far, there's little scientific support for claims that the alkaline diet can promote weight loss and fight disease. However, some research has shown that the diet may offer certain health benefits.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, for instance, found that alkaline diet may help preserve muscle mass as you age (an important factor in preventing falls and fractures). In a three-year-long clinical trial involving 384 men and women (ages 65 and up), the study's authors determined that a high intake of potassium-rich foods (such as the fruits and vegetables recommended as the foundation of the alkaline diet) may help older adults maintain muscle mass as they get older.

In a more recent study (published in Osteoporosis International in 2013), researchers analyzed data on 2,689 women ages 18 to 79 and found a "small but significant" association between adherence to the alkaline diet and maintenance of muscle mass.

There's also some evidence that the alkaline diet may protect against diabetes.

In a study published in the German journal Diabetologia in 2014, for example, 66,485 women were followed for 14 years. During that time, 1,372 new cases of diabetes had occurred. In their analysis of the participants' food intake, researchers determined that those with the most acid-forming diets had a significantly greater risk of developing diabetes.

The study's authors suggest that a high intake of acid-forming foods may be linked to insulin resistance, an issue closely linked to diabetes.

Safety

The alkaline diet should not be used by individuals with heart disease, kidney failure, or cancer, unless under a doctor's supervision. Additionally, people on medications that affect the body's potassium levels should check with their doctor before trying the alkaline diet.

Should You Try the Alkaline Diet?

Although it's too soon to recommend the alkaline diet for weight loss or for any health-related purpose, adopting a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods, sugar, and salt may help you achieve overall wellness.

If you're thinking of using the alkaline diet to manage a specific health condition, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources

Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Ceglia L. "Alkaline diets favor lean tissue mass in older adults." Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):662-5.

Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Bonnet F, Lajous M, Balkau B, Boutron-Rualt MC, Clavel-Chapelon F. "Dietary acid load and risk of type 2 diabetes: the E3N-EPIC cohort study." Diabetologia. 2014 Feb;57(2):313-20.

Minich DM, Bland JS. "Acid-alkaline balance: role in chronic disease and detoxification." Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Jul-Aug;13(4):62-5.

Schwalfenberg GK. "The alkaline diet: is there evidence that an alkaline pH diet benefits health?" J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:727630.

Welch AA, MacGregor AJ, Skinner J, Spector TD, Moayyeri A, Cassidy A. "A higher alkaline dietary load is associated with greater indexes of skeletal muscle mass in women." Osteoporos Int. 2013 Jun;24(6):1899-908.

Williams RS, Kozan P, Samocha-Bonet D. "The role of dietary acid load and mild metabolic acidosis in insulin resistance in humans." Biochimie. 2016 May;124:171-7.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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