Should You Follow an Acid-Alkaline Diet?
Should you follow an acid-alkaline diet? This question was the hot topic at the last cocktail party I attended. The answer, however, isn't as straightforward as it's made out to be.
The theory behind this plan is that if you consume loads of acid-producing foods it will lead to a metabolic imbalance. The body will try very hard to regain its equilibrium, making you sick in the process.
The diet claims that if you eat more alkaline and less acid-forming foods, it will help reduce inflammation and increase your resistance to disease.
According to the diet, you should be eating 80% alkaline-forming foods and 20% acid-forming foods. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association determined how different foods affect the urine's acidity. The results found that the most acid-forming foods included poultry, fish, dairy products, meat, caffeine, sugar and salt. Grains were found to be slightly acid forming. The most alkaline-forming foods were fruits and vegetables.
Under normal conditions your cells and blood maintain a pretty neutral pH of about 7.4 in order to survive. Your body does a good job neutralizing acidic and alkaline foods, making sure it always maintains the correct pH. Although you may hear folks claim that food can change the body’s pH, the biochemical reactions occurring are VERY complex (college biochemistry, anyone?).
To touch on some of the science, studies do suggest that if you overdose on acid-forming foods, your body will need to release minerals in order to neutralize it. If your diet is low on these minerals, it will have to delve into minerals stored in your bones. This, in turn, can affect bone health and may be a risk factor in osteoporosis (a disease that causes brittle bones in older folks). Furthermore, a 2008 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that an alkaline diet, with plenty of fruits and veggies, helped older folks retain their muscle mass.
To make things even more complicated, the claim that high-protein foods are most acid-producing isn't necessarily true. Protein helps the body get rid of acid. In addition, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that plant proteins have a more protective effect than animal proteins (like chicken and meat)—so it's really the type of protein that matters.
The Bottom Line: There's really a lack of strong scientific research to back up the health claims being made about eating a primarily alkaline-based diet. However, many of the studies examining the effect certain foods have on your body's mineral balance do show that fruits and veggies can be beneficial. So if you're looking to become healthier, start by adding more fruits and veggies to your diet.