THE ALKALINE DIET: A DIET WHICH MAKES SENSE
You could probably spend hours just making a list of the different diet plans which are touted by various doctors, diet plan companies, alternative practitioners and grandmothers. There's one diet, however, which is not only quite popular among the crunchy granola set but is solidly grounded in science – even though traditional and alternative medicine experts disagree somewhat on exactly why it is good for you. It's called the alkaline diet, and largely consists of fresh produce (especially green vegetables), nuts and different seeds also.
What Does Alkaline Mean, And Why Is It Important?
You probably remember the concepts "acid" and "base" (or at least the terms) from high school chemistry. It's obvious what "acidic" means; "alkaline" is often the way a substance that's more of a base than an acid is described. The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline something is, with 0 completely acidic and 14 completely alkaline. A pH of 7 is considered "neutral."
There are different pH levels throughout the body; for example, the stomach is quite acidic (so it can break down food) while blood is slightly alkaline, at a little under 7.5 for most people. The theory behind the alkaline diet is that maintaining the body's pH levels not only helps with weight loss, but also helps prevent common illnesses as well as cancer and other serious diseases.
Proponents of the alkaline diet looked at history in order to develop this theory. Long ago, people ate animal and plant food which were natural, not processed. Over time, new foods were introduced into, and became staples of, the human diet. These included refined grains, salt, sugar, dairy products (once livestock became domesticated), and processed meat. Most of these foods are acidic (they create acid when digested) while natural foods are primarily alkaline.
The theory is largely based (no pun intended) on the belief that any diet high in acidic foods upsets the body's natural pH balance, meaning that important minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium are lost while the body tries to maintain or regain its pH equilibrium. Proponents feel that imbalance also results in the breakdown of bone, making people more susceptible to bone disease as well as weight gain, illness and serious diseases like cancer and heart disease. In particular, it is known that cancer grows in an acidic environment, so proponents believe body pH levels are an important reason why cancer is much more prevalent than it used to be.
An alkaline diet primarily includes foods which are naturally and slightly alkaline, in order to keep the body's pH levels stable and proper.
Do Doctors Agree?
The answer to this question is "Not exactly, but close enough."
The alternative medical establishment sees great benefit to an alkaline diet for the reasons mentioned above. Most in traditional medicine believe that it's not possible to artificially "manipulate" the body's pH level, and that cancer actually creates the acidic environment in which it grows.
There's a "but," though – and it's a big one. Most medical experts agree that a diet heavy in alkaline foods such as fruits, nuts and vegetables (plus water) is indeed very good for you, and that consuming a lot of acidic foods like processed animal protein and carbohydrates is bad. A few critics go as far as to say the alkaline diet can be harmful, yet there's growing evidence that the foundation of the diet can be beneficial for everything from heart health and brain function, to the prevention of kidney stones, diabetes and colon cancer.
The bottom line: the basic principles of the alkaline diet – eating lots of vegetables and nuts, avoiding highly acidic foods – are endorsed by the majority of medical experts.
Looking At The Alkaline Diet
Undertaking an alkaline diet calls for a lot of changes in the way most people are accustomed to eating. At its basic level, it's close to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Almost all vegetables, fruits and legumes, and most seeds and nuts (but no peanuts, cashews or walnuts) are a large part of this diet. Some foods are "encouraged," some are only to be eaten in moderation (most fresh fruits are in this category), and some are completely forbidden.
A sample list:
In Moderation Only
•Meat, chicken and pork
•Walnuts, peanuts and cashews
There are some relaxed forms of the diet which place brown rice, fresh water fish and small amounts of wheat on the "in moderation" list. Some variations of the alkaline diet prohibit caffeine, chocolate (sorry about that) and alcohol, with water the preferred beverage.
Another variation on the alkaline diet allows you to use charts to determine where foods fall on a pH scale. This approach allows some consumption of acidic foods, but calls on the dieter to maintain a 70/30 balance between acidic and alkaline foods and monitor their pH level regularly.
You may also see the alkaline diet referred to as the alkaline ash diet, the acid ash diet, the acid alkaline diet or the alkaline acid diet; they're all basically the same (the "ash" refers to what's left over after food is digested, since that's what is crucial for pH levels).
Benefits and Cautions
Proponents of the alkaline diet in the alternative medicine field say they've seen it work wonders for a large variety of common illnesses and complaints including frequent colds and mucus production, anxiety, headaches, female issues such as polycystic ovaries and ovarian cysts, and overall low energy. It's also led to major weight loss in a number of those who have tried it, which intuitively makes sense because of the preponderance of vegetables and fruits and lack of processed food in the diet.
The alkaline diet is not recommended for children; those with heart disease, kidney failure, or women who are pregnant or nursing should consult their doctor first.
How To Try the Alkaline Diet
There are currently no clinics or "programs" (like Weight Watchers) for those starting the alkaline diet. The best way to learn more about it is by reading one of the many books or websites devoted to the subject.
More on alkaline diet and foods: alkalinedietplans.net