Examining the Alkaline Diet Fad
On one hand, the scientific basis for this diet is questionable. Our stomaches naturally produce extremely potent hydrochloric acid to help dissolve and break down food. Without this acid, efficient digestion would be virtually impossible. Meanwhile, the blood is ordinarily slightly alkaline. It’s utterly vital that the alkaline/acid balance of the blood (measured as pH) remain within a relatively narrow range. If the body becomes acidic, metabolic acidosis occurs. This can lead to acidic blood (acidemia), which is a dangerous and extreme condition that requires immediate intervention. Fortunately, acidemia is extremely uncommon; the body is very good at maintaining the blood’s pH within a narrow, normal range of about 7.35 - 7.45.
On the other hand, the alkaline diet, as it’s usually described, features lots of fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, and very little meat and dairy. The big emphasis on vegetables tends to encourage alkaline conditions in the body, and recent research suggests this may alleviate pressure on the kidneys, especially in people struggling with chronic kidney disease.
Given that this diet resembles the well-researched Mediterranean Diet, which has been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among people at high risk for the disease, it may not be a bad idea to follow this diet advice. But for most of us, there’s simply no evidence that we need to worry about the body’s pH balance; nature does a fine job of that already.
On the other hand, I’ve always encouraged people to eat a plant-rich diet, avoid processed and packaged foods, and limit intake of meat and dairy. Overwhelming research clearly shows that plant-based diets, featuring plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil and some fish, is exceptionally healthful.