The alkaline diet has been around forever, although I’m not entirely sure why. It was first popularized by Robert Young, who wrote The pH Miracle in 2010, and who is now facing jail time for practicing medicine without a licence.
Now, there are plenty of licenced doctors who promote crazy and unscientific plans, but this guy was a real winner who actually killed a woman by injecting baking soda into her veins. Nice.
Lots of celebrities have promoted the alkaline diet, including Kate Hudson, Victoria Beckham, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Not exactly an honor roll list of legitimate diet advocates. And the grift keeps going and going.
Reading garbage like this claim by some ‘guru’ on an alkaline diet site really shows me the idiocy going on out there:
High acid-forming diets that cannot be properly digested acidify body tissue and eventually lead to Low Chronic Acidosis that will drain and weaken the health and energy of every human cell in the body.
Got cells other than human ones in your body? Didn’t think so.
Clearly, someone fell asleep in physiology class on the day kidney function and acid-base balance was covered. Incredible.
But people continue to buy the ‘science’ behind the alkaline diet (even though there really isn’t any), so let’s take a look at what it’s all about.
What is the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet is based on the premise that the foods we eat can affect the pH of our bodies. The pH of our blood is between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline (for reference, a pH of 7 is neutral).
When we eat food, it breaks down into ash (sort of like a campfire, but that’s a gross oversimplification). This ash is acidic, alkaline, or neutral, depending on the foods we eat. All of this normal.
Supporters of this diet believe that eating acidic food, which breaks down into acidic ash, can cause our bodies to become acidic. They believe that when our bodies are acidic, this can cause all sorts of horrible diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Alkaline diet foods.
Foods on this diet are categorized as the following:
Acidic foods include: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and grains (what a shock), walnuts, cocoa, snow peas, and chickpeas.
Neutral foods are mostly oils and fats.
Alkaline foods include: avocado, grapes, white rice, tahini, oranges, rice syrup, and garlic, along with many vegetables and other fruits.
It’s important to note that to find foods to represent the above categories, I looked at multiple acid-alkaline food charts, and they were all somewhat different. It seems no one can agree on which foods are acid and which ones are alkaline. That’s a red flag if fans of this diet can’t get their act together enough to agree on which foods they should and shouldn’t eat.
But in the end, none of that matters. You’ll see why in a moment.
Does the alkaline diet work?
Does the alkaline diet work? Not in the way proponents of it want you to believe.
I mean, first off, the diet makes a total mockery of basic physiology. Our blood pH is tightly regulated by our kidneys, lungs, and our buffer system, and isn’t affected at all by what we eat.
Blood pH is UNRELATED to our diets. PERIOD.
There’s absolutely zero evidence that an alkaline diet ‘alkalizes’ anything. Sure, alkaline foods are healthy. But so are many of the foods under the ‘acidic’ umbrella. It’s absurd to think that nuts, beans, or cocoa (among other foods) aren’t good for us because they’re ‘acidic.’ Plus, coffee is considered to be acidic. Screw that!
There is no real way to measure blood pH, unless you’re drawing blood and measuring either electrolytes or arterial blood.
Measuring urine for its pH level is a part of this diet. Someone following an alkaline diet is looking for their urine to be alkaline. This supposedly means that their body is alkaline, but nope, nope, nope. Totally false.
The pH of our urine changes, and that’s normal. If you eat an acidic food, your body dumps the acid in your urine, so your urine will be temporarily acidic (and urine normally has a pH of between 4.5 and 8).
But food isn’t the only thing that changes the pH of your urine. Medications, diseases, and even the time of day – morning urine is more acidic than later on in the day – can affect it. So the fact that people are dipping their urine believing that this is an accurate test for anything at all is a total waste of time.
The alkaline diet and your body.
We have three mechanisms for controlling the acid-base balance of our bodies: our lungs, our kidneys, and our buffer system. You can read all about how these mechanisms keep a really tight rein on our blood pH.
Eat a steak?
The kidneys will get rid of that excess acid in the urine, and they’ll also release bicarb to regulate the acidity of your blood.
If the body worked like this diet says it does, you’d die from eating an apple. You’d actually be dead right now. Or, you’d feel really, really sick all the time. But no, your body has you covered. And P.S.: it doesn’t need your help with an alkaline diet.
People who talk about chronic acidosis leave out the fact that 99.9% of us aren’t walking around with it. Metabolic acidosis is a serious acid-base disorder that’s often a result of poorly controlled kidney disease or diabetes, severe diarrhea, or poisoning (like if you drank antifreeze).
Got none of those? Are you generally healthy? Then you’re probably just fine.
As far as the claims about blood acidity and cancer go, it’s all fear tactics by people who don’t understand science (or, who are hiding the facts from you in order to sell you something).
Cancer does thrive in an acidic environment, but cancer also causes this acidic environment. Cancer can also grow all over the body, even in less-acidic environments. Plus, remember – diet doesn’t affect the pH of your blood.
As far as heart disease, acid-base balance of your body as the alkaline diet describes, doesn’t cause issues with your heart. For that, we look at your overall diet and lifestyle. People who are on the alkaline diet might eat fewer ultra-processed foods, but you don’t need to be on this diet to cut down on those.
Following this diet will likely lead you to eat a lot more fruits, vegetables, and whole or minimally processed foods. That is what’s right about this diet (pretty much the only thing, mind you), although it does cut out some healthy foods (nuts, whole grains, dairy) that you can certainly live without but really don’t have to.
And really shouldn’t, unless you have a compelling reason not to eat them. The alkaline diet is not compelling.
Wait, what if you eat an alkaline food with a really acidic one? Do you get a neutral food? Sheesh.
Please don’t go on this diet to ‘alkalize’ yourself, or to prevent diseases because some guru told you to. Don’t buy into the nonsensical idea of your food affecting your blood pH.
Remember: You don’t eat acid or alkaline, good or bad. You eat FOOD. And your body is well-equipped to deal with that.
Thinking of getting Everlywell Food Sensitivity testing? Read my review of it here.