Myth Busting: The Alkaline Diet
It can seem almost impossible to navigate the world of balanced eating when the internet is constantly telling us what is best for our health. Influencers, news anchors, actors, etc. are always raving about a new miracle diet that will help you lose weight and improve your wellbeing. The truth is… these diets never work because they are not sustainable. The alkaline diet is no different.
What is the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet is another emerging health trend that promises weight loss and lifestyle improvement. However, the alkaline diet has a unique component: the miracle of cancer prevention. Cancer cells have been shown to grow rapidly in highly acidic environments, also known as environments with a low pH.
This diet is based on the theory that the pH of food and beverages will affect the pH of your body. The belief behind the theory is that creating an alkaline environment will help prevent cancer and even help you lose weight. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well let’s find out.
The relationship between food pH and overall health
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is. This is based on a scale of 0-14, with anything lower than 7 being acidic and anything with a pH higher than 7 being alkaline, or basic. This begs the question: does food pH affect our body pH? The short answer is no.
The lungs and kidneys control our blood pH, which do an amazing job at keeping it consistently between 7.3 and 7.4. Since our pH needs to be at a very specific level to survive, it is heavily regulated so that food has no effect on the net pH of the body. Instead, food will influence the pH of our kidneys, known as the “potential renal acid load” or PRAL.
The alkaline diet uses effects that food has on the PRAL to determine if a substance has acidic or alkaline properties. This can be confusing, because foods that we think of being acidic, like citrus, are actually classified as alkaline based on their low-PRAL.
The alkaline diet considers these foods to be acidic:
Wheat and grains
Beef, pork, and chicken
While it considers these foods to be alkaline:
Nuts and seeds
Are the alkaline diet claims true?
So, what does the alkaline diet say about PRAL and cancer prevention? The rationale is that eating low-PRAL foods will require less compensation from the kidneys to maintain our optimal pH of 7.3 – 7.4. However, the consensus on possible lifetime effects of the alkaline diet are inconclusive.
The alkaline side of the pH scale mainly consists of fruits and vegetables, which are already known to have health benefits due to their high levels of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. A diet recommended for cancer prevention includes lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and lean meats, which are considered acidic. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, whole grains and proteins are an essential part of a balanced diet. Strictly following the alkaline diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies if other parts of the diet, like protein requirements, are neglected to focus on the pH of food.
When navigating the world of healthy eating, try to keep this in mind: the best diets are the ones that encourage us to consume a variety of foods, not eliminate them.
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Written by: Skyler Blevins, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern