Increasing the amount of alkaline food in your diet, while reducing acidic options, could lead to a healthier body.
An alkaline diet works on the basis eating acidic food has a negative effect on your digestion, increasing bloating and generally making you feel lethargic because the kidneys are working overtime to break down the acids in food.
The aim of the diet is to balance out the pH level (opens in new tab) of the fluids in your body at between 7.35 and 7.45 because that’s when your body functions best. The diet suggests you eat 80 per cent non-acidic foods and then meat on top, making up the additional 20 per cent of your meal.
Nutritionist Nishtha Patel says: “An alkaline diet is one that is intended to balance the pH levels in the blood and urine. It is mainly plant based and includes whole foods. The aim is to make sure that you are taking enough alkalising whole foods rather than worrying about taking excess acidic foods.”
Just like clean eating, the alkaline diet avoids processed foods and encourages followers to reduce their meat intake and increase the amount of vegetables they consume.
However, the eating plan - also known as the alkaline ash diet - has been criticised by some for omitting certain acidic foods which are good for you.
Nishtha says it is important to include both.“We need both to be balanced,” she explains. “For example meat and fish or other protein sources like nuts are acidic, but essential to the diet too. Therefore rather than being totally eliminated, it is advisable to include small portions of these foods into a daily diet too.”
Others believe that this is more because it encourages healthy eating, through low calorie fruits (opens in new tab) and vegetables, rather than anything to do with their alkaline levels.
What is an alkaline diet?
An alkaline diet involves eating lots of highly alkaline food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables and whole foods. It also advises avoiding too many acidic foods, which can cause inflammation and disease.
The human body needs a delicate acid/alkaline balance in order to stay healthy. This number should be around 7.4 (on a scale of 0-14). Followers of the alkaline diet believe that nowadays our diets are too acidic, which can cause various diseases and lead to weight gain.
Naturopath Louise Westra (opens in new tab) explains: “The pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is, on a scale of 0-14. Something that is alkaline is on the basic end of the scale, or greater than 7. This school of thought believes changing the body’s pH level to be less acidic, and thus more alkaline, can improve your health and prevent certain diseases.”
There is some evidence (opens in new tab) to suggest that there may be some value in considering an alkaline diet in reducing morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases.
Plus, while more research is needed, other studies (opens in new tab) show that following an alkaline diet could be beneficial for people at risk of developing kidney stones. There are also suggestions that it can have a positive impact on muscle mass, bone health and cardiovascular risk.
However, it is not clear whether these findings are to do with changing pH levels in the body’s blood and urine, or rather because followers are eating a generally healthier diet, by increasing their intake of fruit and vegetables and lowering their consumption of processed foods and high-fat produce.
Critics of the alkaline diet also argue that there is not enough evidence to support these claims. For example, this research (opens in new tab) found that promotion of the alkaline diet to prevent calcium loss is not justified. Also, while some research (opens in new tab) suggests that following an alkaline diet might improve health in people with kidney disease, it found that it does not achieve this by changing blood pH.
Louise also warns that changes to alkaline levels in healthy people are usually minimal. She says: “It’s critical for our health that the pH of our blood remains constant. If it fell outside of the normal range, our cells would stop working and we would die very quickly if untreated. As such our body has many effective ways to closely regulate its pH balance. This is known as acid-base homeostasis. It is nearly impossible for food to change the pH value of blood in healthy people, although tiny fluctuations can occur within the normal range.”
As a result, it is important not to remove all acidic foods from your diet and to include some in each meal.
Nishtha, who runs The Gut Expert (opens in new tab), says: “Most experts believe that we should be aiming for a 7:3 ratio of alkaline to acidic foods.”
What can you eat on the alkaline diet?
The following foods are high or moderate in alkaline, so can be included freely in an alkaline diet:
- Fruit - Raspberries, strawberries, cherries, cranberries, blackcurrants, apples, avocados, figs, etc
- Vegetables - Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, peppers, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, etc
- Beans - Butter beans, soy beans, white haricot beans
- Nuts - Cashews, almonds, chestnuts
- Herbs - Coriander, parsley, dill, basil
- Seaweed - Spirulina, chlorella
- Grains - Quinoa, buckwheat, spelt
- Bone broth
- Chia seeds
- Avocado oil and coconut oil
When following an alkaline diet, it is advised to buy organic produce whenever possible.
Nishtha explains: “This is mainly the reason that it is healthy, it takes you back to basics. You eat a whole food diet, packed with fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked. This in turn helps curb cravings and increases your vitamins, minerals and phytonutrient status.”
What can you not eat on the alkaline diet?
While no foods should be completely removed from your diet, it is worth reducing the following acidic foods:
- Meat - Beef, pork, lamb, veal, etc (as well as processed meat such as ham, sausages, salami, corned beef, etc)
- Diary - Pasteurised milk, cheese (especially hard cheeses), yoghurt, etc
- Eggs (the yolk in particular)
- Grains - Rice, pasta, rolled oats, cereals, rye bread, whole wheat bread, etc
- Sugar - Ice cream, sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, etc
However, a small amount of natural fats such as olive oil, cream, butter and milk and protein, like chicken and fish should still be included in your diet.
Top 20 alkaline foods
While lots of different food is alkaline, these are 20 of the top alkaline foods:
- Swiss chard
- Green beans
How can I make my body alkaline quickly?
The human body is constantly trying to regulate its pH balance and it is therefore difficult to make your body alkaline quickly. However, by increasing your intake of alkaline foods and reducing your level of acidic foods, you may be able to change it slightly.
Nishtha also recommends reducing caffeine and replacing it with organic teas such as rooibos, ginger, lemongrass or nettle. Plus she suggests sticking to a schedule of eating meals at the same each day. However, she says: "Bear in mind that the body is very clever and it is regulating the pH balance consistently. So it is actually quite difficult to change it with just food, at least in your blood. Your urine will vary depending on what you have ingested.”
Louise agrees: “The idea that you can make your body more alkaline is currently contentious given what we know about the need to keep pH stable within such a narrow range.
"However, the recommendations to follow are to ease up on your consumption of at least some of the highly acid forming foods in your diet and to find ways to replace some of those acid forming foods with loads of veggies and fruits, which you should be eating in every meal."
Alkaline diet 7 day meal plan
Breakfast –Banana pancakes Lunch – Courgette, pea shoot and pomegranate salad (opens in new tab) (with olive oil and apple cider vinegar, sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds) Snack – Cucumber and carrot sticks Dinner –Root vegetable tagine
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Emily-Ann Elliott is an experienced online and print journalist, with a focus on health, travel, and parenting. After beginning her career as a health journalist at The Basingstoke Gazette, she worked at a number of regional newspapers before moving to BBC News online. She later worked as a journalist for Comic Relief, covering stories about health and international development, as well as The Independent, The i, The Guardian, and The Telegraph. Following the birth of her son with neonatal meningitis, Emily-Ann has a particular interest in neonatal health and parental support. Emily-Ann has a degree in English literature from the University of Newcastle and has NCTJ and NCE qualifications in newspaper journalism.
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