Based on a high consumption of fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed, whole foods, the Acid Alkaline diet began to attract more attention in 2013.
The theory behind the plan is that choosing more foods with pH values on the alkaline side of the scale (and limiting acid-forming foods) can help keep the body’s pH balance in a desirable, alkaline range. Believers in the diet say it helps drop extra pounds and protect against disease.
Another potential benefit is lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. (1)
Proponents of the Acid Alkaline diet say excess acidic foods may also compromise the body’s ability to retain essential minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium. This approach is billed as a balancing tool for the modern diet, which has become weighted toward foods that are primarily acidic, like grains, animal protein, and refined sugar. (2)
A little chemistry background helps with understanding the aim of this diet. When the body metabolizes food, it’s actually a “burning” process that extracts energy; just like with any fire, there’s an ash residue. This ash can be alkaline, acid, or neutral on the pH scale, depending on the source.
There are 14 points on the pH scale, with 0 representing a fully acid value, and 14, a fully alkaline value. The neutral position is 7, and our blood runs slightly alkaline, usually between 7.35 and 7.45. The Acid Alkaline diet is heavy on foods with alkaline values, and recommends restricting or eliminating acidic foods, depending on physical condition and health goals.
The stomach is acidic (between 2 and 3.5), which is necessary for breaking down food. Our bodies are designed to constantly correct and balance pH levels. When we eat or drink something acidic, excess acid is expelled in the urine or released through respiration in the form of carbon dioxide. (3)
In addition to the stomach, other parts of the body are also more acidic, which can protect against the overgrowth of harmful microbes. For example, skin usually has pH values between 4 and 6.5, while normal levels in the vagina are expected to measure less than 5. The blood stays constant at around 7.4, and various bodily processes work to keep that value in balance. (4)
There’s no scientific evidence that choosing alkaline foods actually alters the body’s pH balance. In fact, data gathered by the National Institutes of Health clearly demonstrates that acidic foods in general, and specifically dairy products like milk, cheese and butter, do not make the body acidic. (5)
Much of the research on the effect of acid and alkaline levels is focused on bone health; the body’s ability to maintain bone density and provide structural integrity is determined by a number of factors, including genetics and the mineral content. (6)
Participants in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study (men between the ages of 69 and 97) who ate more fruits and vegetables, along with higher levels of potassium and magnesium, had better bone density readings over a four-year period; eating more protein also resulted in favorable levels of bone density. (7)
Another study examining the relationship between the amount of dietary acid and bone mineral density concluded there was no connection between the two factors. (8)
A Canadian trial also found no association between the excretion of acid or urine pH levels, and an increased risk of fractures or developing osteoporosis. (9)
An analysis of data from several studies, compiled into a report published in “The Journal of Nutrition,” states that an acidic diet does not have negative effects on bone mineral density, except in older men. The authors believe that adequate calcium intake could neutralize this effect. (10)
The Dividing Line
Choosing plenty of alkalizing foods can be classified as a generally healthy direction to go with your diet, and many fruits and vegetables fall on the alkaline side of the scale. Most animal protein is acidic, so anyone looking at the Acid Alkaline diet will need to consider the question of whether or not they want to eliminate or restrict foods like meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
The range of both alkaline and acid values varies greatly between foods; for example, beef is highly acidic and fish is on the other end of the scale, tagged as a very low acidic choice. Lemons and limes are a highly alkaline food, while blueberries are only slightly alkaline. (11)
Here’s a better overview of alkaline-friendly foods, according to precisionfitpb.com:
Besides protein from animal sources, here are some other foods on the acid list:
- alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine and hard liquor
- sugar and anything sweetened with sugar, as well as corn syrup
- wheat and other grains, including kamut, amaranth, quinoa, rice, barley, rye, oats and others commonly considered “healthy”
- beans and legumes, including lentils, green peas, black beans, kidney beans, etc.
- alternative milk products (rice milk, almond milk, soy milk)
- cashews, pecans, peanuts, walnuts and tahini
- cheese, butter and ice cream
- soft drinks, coffee, cocoa, vinegar
- lard and oils made from olive, safflower, canola, corn, flax, sunflower, and other vegetables
- corn, olives and winter squash
- canned fruits, cranberries and currants
Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline in value. The list of alkalizing proteins is short and includes fermented soy products, almonds and chestnuts, whey powder and millet. Stevia is the only sweetener with an alkaline value. Mineral water, bee pollen, probiotics, and soured dairy products like yogurt and kefir are alkalizing; count seasoning herbs like oregano, basil, and tarragon on the alkaline list, as well as Tamari, sea salt, curry, ginger and cinnamon. (12)
Many successful diets in both the weight-loss arena and those targeting specific health issues like heart disease have a strong focus on generous amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, so it seems feasible that the Acid Alkaline diet could have beneficial effects on multiple levels.
Anyone considering a vegetarian approach to utilizing the Acid Alkaline diet may want to gather information on including the necessary nutrients for overall health and wellness. With any diet that restricts or eliminates food groups, planning can help in making wise choices. (13)
Supporters of the Acid Alkaline diet claim it can prevent disease, including cancer, and perhaps even extend your lifespan. Further studies may shed light on whether these ideas have any scientific merit.