Bone health, heart health, memory, muscle mass and even helping chemotherapeutic agents do their cancer-fighting job more effectively have been ascribed to the benefits of an alkaline diet. Is it true? Would this diet benefit you? Read on.
Life depends on a balance of alkaline and acid, measured by pH. The pH level of our diet has undergone a huge change from the days when our ancestors lived by hunting and gathering.
According to the scientific article “The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence that an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?” published in the October edition of the Journal of Environmental Health, both the the agricultural and industrial revolutions have led to many nutrient changes that can affect the body’s acid-alkaline balance.
These include a decrease in potassium compared to sodium, an increase in chloride compared to bicarbonate, an inadequate intake of magnesium, potassium and fiber with an excess of fat, sugars and salt. Some say these dietary changes tend to favor the development of too much acid.
The assignment of a food as either alkaline or acid depends on the type of ash produced after a food is burned under laboratory conditions. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and grains produce acidic ash while alkaline-ash producing foods include most fruits (with the exception of prunes, plums and cranberries), green vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, spices, herbs, seasonings, seeds and nuts. In spite of what we eat, our bodies have a remarkable ability to maintain the pH of the blood in a very narrow and healthful range. Anything too far outside of this range can have life-threatening consequences.
However, some initial research indicated that an alkaline diet may play a role in curbing osteoporosis. According to a position paper on vegetarian diets published in 2009 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the high potassium and magnesium content of alkaline foods such as fruits and vegetables can help prevent bone loss.
Yet, the authors of the Journal of Environmental Health article mentioned earlier say that while there is no substantial evidence that an alkaline diet protects against osteoporosis, a diet with an ample amount of fruits and vegetables would improve the potassium-to-sodium ratio. This in turn may benefit bone health as well as reduce the muscle wasting found as we age and help to protect against other types of chronic diseases such as hypertension and strokes.
How much is ample? Current recommendations call for filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice, they all count.
Authors of the Journal of Environmental Health also came to a few other interesting conclusions about an alkaline diet. One is that an increase in growth hormone can improve heart health as well as memory. Two, that the increase in magnesium that comes from eating produce can benefit many of the body’s vital enzyme systems including activate vitamin D. Three, alkalinity may help chemotherapeutic agents that require a higher pH to work better.
The bottom line is that an alkaline diet is basically a healthful one. National nutrition organizations around the globe advise that we consume less animal foods and more plant foods such as fruits and vegetables. Since diet can’t substantially change blood pH, any sign of an irregularly high blood pH may signal bigger problems such as diabetes or kidney failure. In that case, it’s best to check with a doctor.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.