Following the Alkaline Diet is a Balancing Act. Literally!4 weeks ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
When it comes to getting information on dieting, we sometimes look at the eating habits of those healthy individuals we admire so we can see how they manage to maintain their health. Such individuals may include family members, our favorite teacher or doctor or even a celebrity.
And there’s nothing wrong with looking into the diets that our favorite people use to stay healthy.
However, it is up to us to be proactive and do our due diligence by researching these diets to determine whether they will work for us. Because, after all, what may work for Jennifer Lopez may not work for us!
One diet that has been embraced by many people is the alkaline diet. It is a diet that has even caught the attention of celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Kelly Ripa. But in my opinion it is a diet that should be embraced by most people, because it isn’t a fad diet and is necessary for the proper functioning of our bodies.
So what exactly is the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet is also referred to as the alkaline-acid diet or alkaline ash diet. It encourages heavy consumption of vegetables, fruits and other plant-based foods while at the same time restricting processed or junk foods. In other words, it encourages the consumption of whole, natural and unprocessed foods. Proponents of this diet suggest that it reduces excess acidity in our bodies.
To better understand the alkaline diet, it is important to understand its counterpart - the acidic diet. The acidic diet usually involves heavy consumption of certain foods like sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, fried foods, red meat, white bread, coffee, sodas, boxed cereals and dairy. Excessive consumption of these foods are reported to create an acidic condition in the body.
The body needs a good balance of acid and alkaline conditions in order to do its job of maintaining our health. To survive, the human body transports hormones and nutrients, like protein, in a liquid called blood plasma. This plasma has to maintain the right amount of acidity and alkalinity in order to to keep our cells healthy. Under normal conditions, the body does a very good job of regulating this acid/alkaline balance of blood plasma - a pH range of approximately 7.35 to 7.45.
The body generally uses the lungs to get rid of carbon dioxide, and the kidneys to regulate the acid and alkaline levels.
However as we age our organs, including our kidneys and lungs may experience a decline in efficiency and functional ability. For example, our lungs reach maturity by around age 25, and from then on we may experience an increasing decline in lung function. These include changes in the size and shape of our lungs as well as how efficiently they work. Kidneys suffer multiple effects of aging (from age 30 onward) including a decrease in mass of about 25 to 30 percent. The reduced functioning of the kidneys may contribute to metabolic acidosis by reducing the conservation of alkaline substances and excretion of acid.
“With advanced age and reduced renal capacity, the tendency for people to suffer from low-grade acidosis increases, which might explain the rapid, overall health deterioration that comes with greater age,” according to a recent and extensive report on the health effects of an alkaline diet.
In addition to age, acid forming western diets (which usually include sodas, processed sugars and meats), may induce low-grade metabolic acidosis. Sufficient amounts of nutrient-rich foods, which contain essential vitamins and minerals, are usually not consumed in sufficient amounts in the western diet. These nutrients must be present in our bodies in certain amounts to preserve optimal alkaline/acid balance.
This combination of aging and diet may cause small, however meaningful, changes in this alkaline/acid balance and make us less healthy.
Prolonged, chronic acidosis may lead to chronic diseases like fatigue, bone disease and kidney stones due to “repeated borrowing of the body’s alkaline reserves," reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
And even healthy younger adults who typically consume western, acid-forming diets are susceptible to low-grade metabolic acidosis, which worsens with age as a result of the declining kidney function.
“With metabolic acidosis, the body’s ability to excrete toxins also declines. To overcome those defects, it is recommended that people consume foods that are higher in alkaline substances and as well as avoid an acidic diet and acidic water (ie, water low in minerals) as they grow older,” according to the report on the health effects of the alkaline diet.
Even more concerning are the studies which suggest that an acidic environment may encourage the growth of cancer cells.
One study found that the acidic environment helps tumor cells produce proteins that make them more aggressive. Researchers showed that they could reverse this process in mice by making the tumor environment less acidic.
“Scientists have long known that tumors have many pockets of high acidity, usually found deep within the tumor where little oxygen is available,” according to this report discussing the study.
More research is needed, and the study did not say anything about diet, however, avoiding acidosis and maintaining pH balance in the body may very well be key in maintaining overall health and helping prevent devastating diseases like cancer.
Some examples of alkaline foods:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
- Sulfur-containing veggies such as onions, radish and cabbage
- Vegetables in general
Some examples of acidic foods:
- Sugar and processed foods
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Meat or animal based proteins (some sources say this includes fish)
- Carbonated waters and sodas
And, to be clear, an alkaline diet is not based on the acidity or alkalinity of the foods themselves.
For example, lemons are high in acid with a pH between 2 and 3. This makes it at least 10,000 times more acidic than water. However, fruits like lemons also produce alkaline byproducts when they are metabolized in the body. Metabolization brings out bicarbonate which creates a net alkaline effect. This is called the Fruit Juice Paradox (Vander’s Renal Physiology 8th Edition). This is why lemons are often considered to be alkaline even though they have an acidic pH before they are digested.
So what’s the verdict on the alkaline diet?
There are not many downsides to diets that stress eating nutrient-dense, plant-based foods and steering clear of processed foods that are void of nutrients we all need to stay healthy. However, I don’t believe that eliminating whole food groups or highly restricting certain foods, like dairy and meat, is necessarily a beneficial way of eating for everyone.
Balance is important. Excess dietary protein may decrease bone density if not buffered by ingestion of supplements or foods that are alkaline-rich. But at the same time, we need adequate protein for the prevention of osteoporosis and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).
The diet you should follow really depends on a variety of factors: age, sex, existing health conditions, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, activity level (e.g. if you are an athlete), if you have any existing medical issues or are overweight or obese, if you prefer or have to be dairy-free or gluten-free, if you are vegan or vegetarian - the list goes on!
But most people can benefit from loading up their plates with nutrient-dense fruits and veggies and limiting processed foods. So I certainly embrace an alkaline diet. And, of course, remember you can also drink alkaline water.
Finally, along with having balanced alkaline and acid levels, maintaining nutritional balance in the body is extremely important. So it is imperative that you take routine comprehensive nutrient tests to determine if you have any nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. If you do, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and possibly recommend quality supplements you can take.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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