In recent years nutritionists and health professionals have heralded alkaline diets as a way to promote ultimate health. Knowing what an alkaline diet is and who it is suitable for is essential before restocking your entire kitchen to follow this new lifestyle. Here, we give you the lowdown on the claims being made.
The principle of this diet is that the foods and liquids we consume have a direct impact on our body’s pH state. When we consume and digest food, our body is extracting energy by burning the product. The residue ‘ash’ of the food is deemed either acidic or alkaline depending on how it is metabolised rather than on the food itself. For example, citrus fruits although acidic, often leave behind an alkaline residue in the blood.
Advocates of alkaline based diets make undeterred claims that an acidic pH in the blood is a shortcut to life-threatening diseases such as cancer. They argue that foods with an alkaline residue will protect the body and revitalise us internally. The problem is that it is almost impossible to change the pH levels in our blood drastically. The pH levels in our blood are governed by the proper functioning of our kidneys and lungs and not by our stomach or intestines.
Our lungs regulate pH by breathing in oxygen and eradicating acidic carbon dioxide when we breathe out. Meanwhile, our kidneys choose to release either bicarbonate or acid based on whether our pH is becoming lower or higher. Therefore, our digestive system has virtually no impact on the overall pH environment in our body.
Although we can test the pH of our urine very quickly, it is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how healthy our internal system is. The bladder stores only urine and is entirely separate to our blood. Urine and saliva are the only bodily fluids that can have their pH manipulated by dietary choices.
DEBUNKING MYTHS – CANCER
Alkaline diet fanatics claim that cancer is caused by an acidic state in the body that we can eliminate by eating only alkaline foods. While it is true that foods high in acidic ash are more likely to increase inflammation in the body and contribute to our susceptibility to disease, it is not true that acidic food causes cancer. It is not acid in the body that causes cancer, rather, it is the other way round; cancer causes more acid to be present in the body.
In essence, the reason an alkaline diet may assist in the treatment of cancer is little to do with the changes to the pH of our blood and more to do with the treatment of inflammation in the body. Alkaline foods are more apt to promote healthy gut bacteria. In turn, healthy gut bacteria wards off inflammation and thus, illness. Eliminating acidic foods from our diet altogether will not rule cancer out in its entirety.
However, this does not mean that nutrition as a whole isn’t important for preventing cancer. There are many studies that promote the use of certain vitamins, minerals, food types and antioxidants in cancer prevention. It is important that when considering such a complicated issue we do not take on any reductionist beliefs about the root cause of a disease.
DEBUNKING MYTHS – OSTEOPOROSIS
Another claim made by Alkaline Diet enthusiasts is that alkaline foods will reduce the chances of osteoporosis. This claim is founded upon the biological processes our body initiates when we consume too much protein.
Our body breaks down protein and converts it into acid when we ingest it in higher quantities than we otherwise need. Our bones subsequently release calcium to neutralise this acid. Ambassadors of an alkaline diet, therefore, believe that restricting protein absorption through acidic foods will minimise the risk of osteoporosis by reducing bone loss incurred when calcium is released into the body as a neutraliser.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be true., Studies have found that calcium alone is not at the root of maximum bone health. Scientists are beginning to find positive results in studies that combine protein with calcium to build bone health and density. It appears from the results of these studies that although an uptake of protein does lead to more calcium secreted in the urine; dietary protein increased intestinal absorption of calcium and that most of the calcium excreted in the urine of the high-protein group was from the diet, not from the bones.
Similarly to other ailments, osteoporosis is probably at more risk of being exacerbated by levels of inflammation rather than levels of alkalinity. As such, consuming alkaline foods may go some way to alleviating pain and symptoms that increase when the body is inflamed.
DEBUNKING MYTHS – WEIGHT LOSS
Weight loss is another reason people may turn to an alkaline diet. While there may be some truth to this, the fundamental cause of weight loss is likely to be linked to a healthier lifestyle.
A high number of acidic foods come from animals, and despite lean protein being relatively fat-free, cheese, milk and select animal meats can be rich in fats we should avoid. Cutting dairy, fatty meats, processed foods and refined sugar (acid-forming foods) from your diet will ultimately result in some weight loss.
However, restricting access to acidic foods as a whole may also cause other health problems that have more severe consequences than the benefits you will gain from weight loss. For example, foods which are deemed acidic can be very healthy; examples of which are fresh fish, lean proteins, beans, peas and nuts. Restricting your diet by eliminating these foods would be detrimental in the longer term.
ADOPTING THE RIGHT DIET
Balance is they key to life whether we are speaking about health, wellbeing or juggling our busy lifestyles. Regarding choosing alkaline over acidic foods, the best approach you can take is a constant monitoring of your body responses to changes in your diet. We are all very different despite wanting the same thing, a happy and healthy life. Our dietary needs should be tailored towards the health issues we have, have had and that have presented themselves in our families.
At Rejuva HQ we advocate eating 80% alkaline foods and 20% acidic foods. Consuming proteins at your evening meal will help your body repair and rejuvenate throughout the night while the alkaline foods throughout the day will leave you feeling full, nourished and energised. A diet balanced like this will not leave you deprived or hungry, but it will certainly leave you healthy.
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