Do you have questions about the alkaline diet? You've come to the right place. The following list of frequently asked questions explains the scientific background of the alkaline diet, how foods affect your body's acid-alkaline balance, and other aspects. It also includes extensive lists of popular and scientific works about the alkaline diet.
- What is the alkaline diet?
- What is the pH scale?
- How can pH be measured?
- Which method of measuring pH is most accurate?
- What is a normal pH?
- How does the body maintain acid-alkaline balance?
- If the body is capable of maintaining acid-alkaline balance, why is it necessary to follow an alkaline diet?
- What are the harmful effects of low-grade metabolic acidosis?
- What are the benefits of the alkaline diet?
- Does the alkaline diet mean I have to give up all acidifying foods?
- Does the alkaline diet require me to become a vegan or vegetarian?
- Further Reading
The alkaline diet is also known by a number of other names, including the acid alkaline diet, the acid alkaline balance diet, and the alkaline ash diet. Despite the diverse terminology, all of these names refer to the alkaline diet, which was given this name because it emphasizes foods that are believed to cause the human body to become more alkaline.
Of the various names for this diet, the alkaline diet is the most popular. As some authorities have noted, however, it may be more appropriate to refer to the alkaline diet as the "acid alkaline balance diet," since the goal of the alkaline diet is not to produce an extreme of alkalinity, but rather to achieve an optimal balance between acid-forming and alkaline-forming elements in the diet.
The pH scale was invented in 1909 by a Danish chemist named Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen, who probably had no idea how useful it would be to practitioners of the alkaline diet. The term pH stands for "potential for hydrogen," and refers to the number of hydrogen ions in a standard quantity of liquid. The more hydrogen ions a liquid contains, the more acidic it is. Conversely, liquids that are capable of absorbing a lot of hydrogen ions are alkaline.
More precisely, pH is measured on a scale from 0 to 15. It is worth noting that a one-point increase in pH equals a ten-fold decrease in hydrogen ion concentration. Accordingly, even a seemingly strong change in pH can have a profound effect on biological activity.
Because 7 is in the middle of the scale, it is considered neutral. Any substance with a pH lower than 7 is an acid, and any substance with a pH higher than 7 is an alkali, or base. The alkaline diet emphasizes foods that move the body toward a pH of slightly above 7.
Doctors assess the health of critically ill patients by measuring the pH of arterial blood, glood gases, and blood uric and lactic acid. However, these tests are not of much use to those who are following the alkaline diet, since they are too inconvenient, expensive, and uncomfortable to perform on a regular basis.
Fortunately, acid-alkaline balance can also be assessed by measuring the pH of other bodily fluids, including saliva and urine. Both methods have been used by alkaline diet adherents.
In The pH Miracle, alkaline diet proponent Dr. Robert O. Young states that he considers blood testing to be the most accurate method of measuring pH. In contrast, another alkaline diet authority, Dr. Susan Brown, writes in The Acid Alkaline Food Guide that "Because the kidneys are responsible for the handling of metabolic acids, the best test for low-level acidosis is a specific sample of urine" (41). By "specific," Dr. Brown is referring to first morning urine, taken at least six hours after the previous urination. She also states that saliva testing can be a useful alternative for alkaline diet followers who find it difficult to go six hours without urinating.
There are two reasons why it is difficult to give a useful answer to this question. The first reason is that "normal" does not necessarily mean "optimal." If you were to measure the internal pH of 1,000 randomly selected people, you would most likely find that the average person had a rather acidic internal pH. It would be is to conclude that it is full to have an acidic internal pH. After all, the average person does not consume an alkaline diet, nor does he or she get enough exercise, practice regular stress management, or enjoy optimal health.
The second reason is that normal pH varies significantly among different organ systems and bodily fluids. For example, normal blood has a slightly alkaline pH of between 7.34 and 7.43. The normal pH of saliva ranges from 5.5 to 7.5. Urine pH varies even more widely, from as low as 5.0 to as high as 8.0. With a pH of between 4.5 and 6.0, our skin is on the acidic side. The skin's "acid mantle" functions as an important barrier against bacterial infection. Gastric juices are even more acidic, with a pH of around 2.5. Like your skin's acid mantle, stomach acid helps to destroy microbial invaders. It also helps you to digest the food you eat, especially protein.
In light of these facts, a more useful question for alkaline diet practitioners may be, "What is the optimal internal pH for the promotion of health?" Overall, the human body works best in a slightly alkaline state, indicated by a pH of slightly above 7.0.
The most useful indicator of your body's overall acid-alkaline balance is your first-morning urine, which should usually have a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. An occasional higher reading is also acceptable.
The body's metabolic processes result in the constant creation of acid. For life to continue, those acids must be eliminated from your body so that proper acid-alkaline balance can be maintained. Fortunately, the human body comes equipped with several mechanisms that work together to keep pH at an optimal level.
First, your body's bicarbonate, phosphate, and protein buffer systems neutralize acids within your blood and cells by combining them with alkaline minerals. If these systems did not exist, strong acids would build up in your body's tissues, quickly leading to serious harm, and even death.
Second, there are several organs that work to eliminate acid from your body. The kidneys neutralize acids by combining them with bicarbonate and other alkalis before eliminating them with urine. Various metabolic processes create carbon dioxide, which combines with water in the blood to form carbonic acid. This acid is transported to your lungs, which expel it each time you exhale. (When you inhale, you breathe in oxygen, which is alkalizing.) Finally, your skin eliminates acids through sweat.
When it comes to eliminating the acids created by acid-forming foods, your kidneys are particularly important. As I have already mentioned, the acid which your lungs eliminate is carbonic acid. This acid is not created by the processes related to digesting and metabolizing your food. And your skin, though important, is unable to eliminate as much acid as your kidneys or lungs. This means that your kidneys are your most important defense against the accumulation of excess dietary acids.
If the body is capable of maintaining acid-alkaline balance, why is it necessary to follow an alkaline diet? [Back to Top]
I just explained that the human body includes a number of organ systems which are adept at neutralizing and eliminating excess acid. In this case, you might reasonably ask why it is necessary to follow the alkaline diet. Why can't you simply eat whatever you want, and rely on your lungs, skin, and kidneys to remove the excess acid? This in fact is the position of conventional medicine, which still does not recognize the need for an alkaline diet, the widespread prevalence of low-grade metabolic acidosis caused by an acid-forming diet.
It is true that your body is able to neutralize and eliminate excess acid--but this ability has its limits. For one thing, illness and aging frequently lead to diminished kidney function and a decreased ability to eliminate acid. Secondly, there is a limit to how much acid even a healthy body can cope with effectively. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the human body is capable of maintaining a proper acid-alkaline balance. Instead we should qualify this statement by saying that the body is capable of maintaining acid-alkaline balance, provided that the organs are functioning properly, that a well-balanced alkaline diet is being consumed, and that other acid-producing factors, such as tobacco use, are avoided.
Unfortunately, how many Westerners today follow a healthy diet and regularly engage in other health-promoting activities? According to one study, the percentage of Americans aged 40 to 74 who engaged in all of five healthy behaviors dropped from 15 percent in the period from 1988 to 1994 to just 8 percent in the period from 2001 to 2006.
The Standard American Diet (or Western diet generally) is highly acid-forming, overwhelming the body's mechanisms for removing excess acid. The staples of the Western diet are meat, dairy, corn, wheat, and refined sugars--all acidifying foods. At the same time, the Western diet is notably deficient in alkalizing fruits and vegetables.
In contrast, the alkaline diet greatly reduces this acid load, helping to reduce the strain on the body's acid-detoxification systems.
Severe metabolic acidosis is a serious, even life-threatening condition, the symptoms of which can include chest pain, palpitations, vomiting, abdominal pain, coma, and death.
When we are discussing the alkaline diet, we are not concerned with this acute form of acidosis, but with a milder form known as chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis. There are two reasons that this condition can be harmful to your health. The first reason is that chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis leads to the depletion of your body's alkaline mineral reserves. Although this loss of minerals has negative consequences, it is actually the result of your body's drive toward self-preservation. Mineral depletion can become a serious long-term problem, but acidosis is an immediate threat to your survival.
Your body attempts to solve the crisis by using alkaline minerals to neutralize the excess acid. Some of these minerals are continually circulated in your blood, but the majority are found in your teeth and bones. In addition, the minerals in your blood perform many vital functions, and cannot be depleted too much without leading to serious or even fatal problems. In the absence of a proper alkaline diet, your body's only option for staving off acidosis is to draw minerals from your bones.
In some cases, the acid-alkaline imbalance is a temporary problem caused, for example, when a person who normally follows the alkaline diet binges on junk food. In this event, your body will be able to start rebuilding the lost bone tissue as soon as you return to an alkaline diet.
Unfortunately, for most Westerners, an acid-forming diet is not a temporary aberration, but a way of life. Most people never follow an alkaline diet. Therefore, the depletion of alkaline mineral reserves continues unabated, ultimately leading to bone loss and muscle wasting.
The second reason that low-grade metabolic acidosis harms your body is that there is a limit to how much acid your kidneys can effectively remove. If you consume a highly acidifying diet, your kidneys may not be able to eliminate all the excess acid, with the result that acids build up in your body and contribute to chronic health problems. This scenario is very common in the United States and other Western nations, particularly among older adults whose kidney function is less than optimal.
In The pH Miracle for Weight Loss, author Robert O. Young suggests that obesity is caused by excessive acidity. He explains that the body reacts to overacidity by increasing fat storage in order to buffer the excess acid. Accordingly, when you follow an alkaline diet, the excess fat will no longer be needed, and you will effortlessly lose weight without having to reduce your caloric intake.
There is another reason to believe that the alkaline diet can assist with weight loss. The basic truth about weight loss is that people lose weight when they consume fewer calories from food and beverages than they expend through metabolic and physical activity. The alkaline diet emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables and certain whole grains, which are low in caloric density. At the same time, this diet requires adherents to reduce consumption of many foods that are convenient, calorie-dense, and compulsively eatable, including corn and potato chips, candies, and desserts.
A common misconception about the alkaline diet is that all is that it implies that all acidifying foods are bad for you. In fact, acidifying and alkalizing foods are neither inherently helpful nor inherently harmful. Instead, a healthy alkaline diet involves an ideal balance between these two types of foods, while, on the other hand, a diet that is skewed too far in either the acidic or the alkaline direction is unhealthful. As an analogy, think of other elements in your diet, such as fat, protein, and carbohydrates. All three of these components are nutrients, which means that they are essential for health. But at the same time, each of these nutrients can become harmful if it is not consumed in balanced proportions to the other nutrients.
For the reasons mentioned above, it is neither necessary nor desirable to eliminate all acid-forming foods from your diet. A diet that consisted entirely of alkaline-forming foods would be highly restrictive, because many foods are at least somewhat acid-forming.
Another reason not to eliminate all acidifying foods from your diet is that these foods sometimes contain valuable nutrients that it would be difficult to obtain from alkalizing foods. For example, tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant phytochemical that has been shown to help prevent prostate cancer. As another example, many studies have shown the health benefits of walnuts for improving cardiovascular health. Yet both of these foods are acidifying. The healthiest approach is not to eliminate these foods entirely, but to consume them in moderation as part of an overall alkaline diet.
Finally, a third reason to continue to consume some acidifying foods is that an excessively alkalizing diet could lead to a condition of overalkalinity, or alkalosis. (Practically speaking, however, alkalosis is unlikely to result solely from the consumption of alkaline foods. It is more often caused by the overuse of over-the-counter antacids, or by certain prescription drugs that have an alkalizing effect on the body.
Many people believe that in order to follow the alkaline diet, it is necessary to give up all animal products. It is true that is easier for vegans and vegetarians to attain an optimal acid-alkaline balance than it is for people who consume large amounts of animal products. The reason for this is that animal products are high in protein, which in turn is rich in phosphorus- and sulfur-containing amino acids. Once these foods have been digested and assimilated, the phosphorus and sulfur are released, adding to the overall acid load.
However, this does not mean that it is necessary to eliminate all animal products in order to have an alkaline diet. As I discussed above, the alkaline diet does not require you to eliminate all acidifying foods. Instead, your goal should be to achieve a proper balance between acid-forming and alkaline-forming elements in your diet. Whether or not you consume any specific acidifying food is less important than the overall ratio of acidifying foods to alkalizing foods in your diet. Therefore, it is possible to include some animal products as part of an overall alkaline diet, but you may need to compensate by eating more highly alkalizing foods, such as lentils, sweet potatoes, and sea vegetables, and by further reducing your consumption of acidifying foods, especially corn, rice, wheat, and sugar.
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