Decoding the Alkaline Diet: Here Are the Facts You Need to Know

When seriously fit celebrities like Elle Macpherson and Jennifer Aniston praise a particular way of eating, most of us sit up a little straighter. They must be doing something right in order to stay so svelte, and smart food choices play a big role. According to these celebs, and plenty of other famous faces, the alkaline diet is secret to staying slim and feeling great.

Though there’s a bit of wiggle room, alkaline diet practitioners generally aim to get 80% of their calories from alkaline-promoting foods and the remaining 20% from acid-promoting foods. In simple terms: lots of plants, not much of anything else. It all sounds a little clinical, so it’s worth taking a closer look at this diet.

1. The acidity of the actual food doesn’t necessarily matter

Peeling an orange

Oranges are acidic, but they’re totally acceptable for this diet. | iStock.com

One of the most important things to note about the alkaline diet is it’s concerned with how food affects your body’s acidity, not the pH level of the actual food. Many fruits are highly acidic, such as oranges and tomatoes, but this diet gives them the green light. Camembert cheese definitely falls on the acid-promoting list, even though Ohio State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center lists the funky dairy at a slightly basic pH of 7.44. That being said, some acidic foods are off limits.

2. Your body’s pH won’t actually change

Litmus paper and beaker

Your body doesn’t quite work that way. | iStock.com

The biggest problem with this diet is it’s basic premise doesn’t actually make much sense. Our bodies contain complex systems that work to keep the acidity of our blood right where it should be. Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times, “No matter what you eat, the pH of your blood is going to stay the same.” Your body works to maintain this balance between acid and base, so it always adjusts accordingly.

What’s really peculiar about the methodology is most proponents talk about checking your urine or saliva to measure your pH, but those bodily fluids have nothing to do with how acidic your blood is. One doctor-penned article published in 2009 outlines the role kidneys play in balancing our body’s pH, explaining they excrete excess acid. This means your urine may indeed be quite acidic, but it doesn’t mean anything as far as your blood’s pH.

3. You’ll probably eat a lot healthier

Happy woman eating green apple

There’s no denying it — you really will eat well on this diet. | iStock.com

Because the alkaline diet is so centered around plant-based eating, it basically cuts out processed foods and other eats we know aren’t particularly good for us. If you adopt this diet, you’re pretty much forced to eat well. And for many, this mostly or completely vegetarian diet will likely lead to weight loss. One review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found prescribing a vegetarian diet to people who formerly ate meat led to weight loss, particularly for men. If it’s a leaner frame your after, the alkaline diet could be a good choice.

4. It won’t reduce your risk of osteoporosis

x-ray of a broken collarbone

It won’t do much to protect your bones. | iStock.com

Along with balancing your body’s pH, many alkaline diet advocates claim the eating plan greatly diminishes the risk of developing osteoporosis. Once again, acid is the supposed villain that renders your bones weak. But research doesn’t support this idea. One review from 2013 took a look at the evidence to draw a more concrete conclusion. According to the authors, a more alkaline diet does nothing to support better bone health. Furthermore, they revealed cutting protein levels so low could spell trouble for your bones.

5. It may boost heart health

hands showing red heart

You could really benefit your heart by sticking to a plan with so many veggies. | iStock.com

Though the methodology behind the alkaline diet might not have much scientific support, it could help keep your ticker healthy. As with weight loss, the reason for this is about eating a diet rich in produce. A group of physicians published an overview of plant-based diets in The Permanente Journal, highlighting their ability to reduce the risk of various types of heart disease and lower blood pressure. It’s worth noting most of these diets involve a fair amount of whole grains, which is where they differ from the alkaline diet.

6. You may miss out on key nutrients

Selection of meat, fish, eggs, and nuts

It can be tough to get enough of the nutrients you typically find in animal protein. | iStock.com

Since protein is mostly limited to plant sources, depending on the specific model you follow, it can be difficult to get enough. The same is also true for calcium and potassium. In fact, U.S. News & World Report had panel of nutrition experts review the diet, finding many of them worried it wasn’t a nutritionally balanced plan.

7. It’s tough to maintain

Man trying to make proper decisions

Like any restrictive eating plan, this one is really tough to stick with. | iStock.com

What have we learned so far? The alkaline diet has some definite upsides as well as a number of shortcomings. But the biggest hurdle of them all is adherence. Because it’s so strict, it’s hard to accommodate an alkaline diet when traveling. If you can’t find the time to pack your own food, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find much more than a piece of fruit or a salad to meet your dietary needs at an airport. Dining out with friends can also be tricky since your options for most menus are so limited.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

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