This week I want to rant about alkaline and acidic diets, and what this means for our health. Many of you will likely know what I mean when I use the terms ‘alkaline diet’ or ‘acidic diet’, but for those who are yet to come across this celebrity diet fad, often called ‘the alkaline diet’ or ‘the acid alkaline diet’, then I’ll break it down for you:
- An acidic diet is one mainly composed of foods and drinks which supposedly increase the acidity of our bodily fluids, by decreasing our bodies natural pH levels. Acidic foods include meats, grains, and dairy.
- An alkaline diet is one mainly composed of foods and drink which supposedly increase the alkalinity of our bodily fluids, by increasing our bodies natural pH levels. Alkaline foods tend to be leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.
It is the end product produced after digestion that determines whether or not a food or drink is acidic or alkaline. For examples, lemons are highly acidic but create alkaline products after digestion. Not all fruits and vegetables are alkaline, and likewise not all animal products are acidic. (Google alkaline foods and .you’ll surely find a comprehensive list).
It is a common belief that a diet high in alkaline foods will prevent disease and ill health. I don’t believe that is true. Although it is a fact that many alkaline foods are extremely good for you, but so are many acidic foods. So why do many people believe that alkaline diets are literally saving them from disease? In my opinion, it is because they are simply a victim of yet another great marketing ploy. But wait! Alkaline diets are heavily endorsed by celebrities! And celebrities look fantastic! Hmmmm….could it not be that celebrities are endorsing something in which they are getting paid to endorse by those clever brands?
Anyway, I’ll let you form your own opinion on that, but here is my reasoning for having an opinion that an alkaline diet will not prevent disease.
Our bodies are very sensitive to pH (pH being a level of acidity and alkalinity on a measure from 1 to 14, with 1 being very acidic and 14 being highly alkaline). Our bodies are highly effective and efficient at maintaining a pH level between 7.38 and 7.42 (part of a process called homeostasis). Anything above or below this can have serious side effects on our health.
Given that our bodies maintain bodily pH at an optimum of 7.4 through homeostasis, and it being true that food can leave its (albeit very minor) mark on our bodies pH levels, this means there is one thing that health food and supplement marketers have completely overplayed, and no doubt suckered you into believing. That is the belief that you can alter your blood pH through your diet. I am yet to read any compelling evidence that our diets can alter our bodies pH levels, but if you do know of any journals or clinical trials which conclude that eating certain foods regularly can alter our pH then do let me know!
For our bodies pH to dramatically change then we would need to either speed up or slow down the rate of respiration (in other words, the rate at which we remove carbon dioxide from the blood, which is done through breathing). Our Kidneys would also need to be inhibited from producing the buffering agents that also help regulate our pH. If either of these happened then we would become seriously ill.
This leads on to another marketing ploy, in that it is believed that an acidic diet causes bone demineralisation (and some believe an acidic diet can cause osteoporosis), and other diseases. The belief that an acidic diet causes osteoporosis or bone demineralisation comes from the fact that bones store calcium, and the belief that bones will release their calcium (an alkaline metal) to buffer out our blood if it is too acidic. This is highly flawed because it makes the assumption that both our respiration and a major function of the kidneys has been heavily inhibited. If you want to know more about this side of the scientific argument then check out this published journal: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24094472
3. Marketing Ploys and Self Medication
Where the marketers successfully achieve their goal is in the selling of products (alkaline products and supplements) that claim to counteract an increase in acidity due to our poor diets. Just to clarify, I am not referring to any clinical conditions such as acidosis or alkalosis (which does cause serious health problems). I am solely referring to the belief that a diet which contains more alkaline foods than acidic foods will prevent serious health problems.
One problem here is that many people are spending over £20 for a bottle of 90 capsules which apparently alkalise the body, believing that an alkaline diet will prevent disease. To put this straight, neither a diet that is highly acidic or highly alkaline will prevent disease. Why waste your money on this stuff? If you’re that determined to have an alkaline diet then why wouldn’t you spend that money on great alkaline food, which is rich in nutrients and minerals?
Another problem is that this is all yet another marketing ploy to fuel our innate fears of becoming ill by providing us with another way to self medicate. We are naturally afraid of an undesirable self perceived future self, whether that be a fear in becoming ill, poor, lonely, overweight, or in some way unable to live up to societies heavy and outrageous demands for us to be as near perfect and desirable as possible. Not that there is anything wrong in wanting to be the best and strongest version of yourself, but there is a problem when you are spending money on something which you believe is helping when it’s not. There is a problem when you buy into a product which is sold through capitalising on your anxiety, rather than a product which is genuinely good for you.
I’m not saying that all supplementation is bad either. I like raw vegan-friendly supplements (mainly protein) because they have so few chemicals, preservatives or additives.
4. Finally, your Body is not this Fragile!
Finally, the other main problem is really believing an alkaline diet will prevent disease. Could it not be that a diet which is rich in nutrients and minerals is the cause for improved health and increased vitality? Alkaline foods are highly nutritious, they’re great for you! But does that mean that eating a steak will be detrimental to your health? Or that if you eat wholemeal pasta, or even go as far as eating a pizza or a burger, that you then need to quickly supplement it with alkaline rich foods or you will surely suffer the consequences? Is any of this sounding a little too…drastic? Is your body so fragile that it cannot handle the odd croissant here and there? No it’s not!
As always, if you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle or even an athletic level of health, then I always always always recommend a balanced diet and keeping well hydrated. Increase your greens by all means if you want to increase the amount of nutrients and minerals in your diet. But don’t buy into diet fads without really digging deep into where they came from (and as always, go and speak with your local GP!)
Don’t waste your money on something which has not been proven to work and is currently being pushed and promoted as if it were made of unicorn horns. Go for healthy foods and recipes that taste great and make your health routines enjoyable! Who ever enjoyed or looked forward to swallowing supplement pills anyway???
So what about toxins? free radicals? oxidative stress? antioxidants? detox? and all these terms which are thrown around every day? What are these about? Check out next weeks blog for more on these! Are they also fads? or do we genuinely need to detox once in a while?