Many celebrities and lifestyle bloggers tout the benefits of an alkaline diet to balance acidity in the body. But is your diet really just one big chemistry experiment? Shayna Komar, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness, weighs in on the debate.
Some background: The alkaline diet is based around the idea that the foods you eat can alter the acidity or alkalinity (the pH value) of your body, explains Komar. On a scale of 0 to 14, a pH of 0 to 6 is considered acidic, while a pH of 7 to 14 is considered alkaline.
"There is some early evidence that eating a more alkaline food plan can help with weight loss, prevent kidney stones, keep bones and muscles strong, improve cardiovascular health and brain function, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes," she says.
The benefits of eating alkaline foods
Some experts say balancing your body's pH level by increasing alkalinity and decreasing acidity can have major health benefits, particularly related to cancer prevention and treatment. However, researchers are still unsure if eating alkaline-promoting foods makes a long-term difference.
Regardless, alkaline foods are some of the healthiest foods we can eat, which likely explains the suggested health benefits of an alkaline diet. They include:
Most fruits and vegetables
Many legumes and beans
Some nuts and seeds
How acidic foods affect the body
"Highly acidic foods cause a state of acidosis in the body, in which illness and disease can manifest," explains Komar. "If you consume a Standard American Diet (SAD) lacking in vitamins and minerals that are found abundantly in raw fruits and vegetables, then your diet is not going to help your body stay strong to fight off infection and disease."
The following are considered acidic:
Meat and fish
Processed or packaged foods
While Komar agrees that following a plant-based, whole food meal plan and restricting processed foods is the best approach, she does not believe that food can change your body's pH for long. In addition, many foods that are considered acidic can be part of a healthy meal plan in moderation, including whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
"Your body will balance itself out. If it didn't, your cells would stop working and you would die very quickly if left untreated," she explains. "For this reason, the body has many effective mechanisms to closely regulate the pH balance."
How to incorporate alkaline foods into your diet
Focus on adding whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, to your diet, while cutting back on processed, sugary or fried foods.
"There is general agreement that improving a cancer patient's diet by cutting out fat, sugar and processed foods is extremely helpful," says Komar. "It can help them stay stronger, stay out of the hospital, keep weight stable and heal more quickly from surgery."
For the best results, she recommends making small changes in your diet over time.
"Start with one meal per day and begin to cut out the acidic foods in it," suggests Komar. "Sometimes breakfast or lunch is easier to modify rather than changing a whole meal for the family. For example, make a healthy smoothie for yourself for breakfast, or have soup or salad for lunch. Or think about having one meatless meal per week and work up to going meatless for an entire day each week."
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