Patients sometimes ask me about new diets that they’ve heard about. I recently spoke to a woman who told me how she had been feeling tired and lethargic all the time until she made some changes to her diet. She had read about the ways in which too much acid in the diet can upset the body’s natural balance, and how this could be redressed by eating more alkaline foods. Now she says she feels great and can tell me the pH level of any food or ingredient you would care to name! Today, I thought I would share with you, my thoughts on the benefits of a high alkaline diet.
For those of you who need a quick reminder of their high school chemistry, the pH (‘power of Hydrogen’) level tells you how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The scale runs from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). Processed cheeses, red meats, and peanuts are examples of acidic foods, whereas spinach, celery, and watermelon are alkaline. The human body needs a tightly controlled pH environment of about 7.4; this is slightly alkaline.
In a nutshell, the theory about the benefits of alkaline foods is that our diets include more and more foods that the body metabolizes as acidic. As a result, the body becomes overloaded with acidic foods and struggle to maintain its normal, optimal, alkaline state. It is believed that the body compensates by leaching nutrients from body tissue and bone to try to restore its alkaline pH balance. This can lead to a reduction in bone mass, the premature appearance of wrinkles and could increase your vulnerability to chronic illnesses.
So, what would a proper alkaline diet look like? It is not always straightforward to work out which foods are alkaline and which are acidic. For example, you might think that citrus fruits such as lemons, with their sharp, tart taste, are highly acidic. However, lemons are an alkaline food. This might seem counterintuitive, but medical professionals categorize foods as acidic and alkaline based on how the body metabolizes them (which is how an acidic lemon becomes an alkaline food).
Some argue that we can redress this modern imbalance in our diet by reducing the volume of food metabolized as acids and increase the amount of foods metabolized as alkaline. Proponents of the benefits of an alkaline diet recommended that to see the benefits and overcome the increase of acid in our diets, we should aim to ensure that our about 80% of the food we eat metabolize as alkaline. Avoiding acidic foodstuffs such as sugar, coffee, processed foods and red meat could have real benefits; people report feeling more energetic, sleeping deeper and longer and younger looking skin.
The following foods can form part of a high alkaline diet:
- Cauliflower, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.
- Foods spiced with ginger and cinnamon.
- Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons (obviously, I wouldn’t recommend eating a whole lemon, try squeezing the juice into a glass of cold water instead!).
- Herbal and green teas are also highly alkalizing.
- Whole grains and beans, particularly lentils and other pulses.
The science in supporting these claims is in its infancy, with more studies needed to understand the biological mechanisms behind the observed benefits. Even if scientists disagree about how the benefits of a high alkaline diet come about, there is no doubt that a long-term dietary change away from processed foods and towards healthy, natural ingredients will have significant health benefits for you and your family.