One of the newest diet fads is the alkaline diet, which focuses on eating foods that keep the body at an alkaline pH level. The alkaline diet doesn't actually focus on weight loss, it is more concerned with reducing inflammation and risk of diseases such as cancer. Advocates of the diet say that it promotes optimal functionality to the body, and that these eating habits oppose the typical Western diet which tends to be more acidic.
But here’s the real question: does it actually work? The answer might surprise you.
Acid or Alkaline?
The idea around the alkaline diet is that metabolized foods can either be acidic or alkaline, and proponents of the diet follow an 80% alkaline-forming food and 20% acid-forming food ratio. Alkaline dieters believe that acid-forming foods aren’t beneficial to the body as they result in metabolic imbalance which contribute to illness and disease.
But it is the food by-product’s pH levels that are examined, and not the food itself. For example, a lemon which has a pH of 2 (which is acidic), is actually considered alkaline according to this diet. Because of the way that lemons are broken down, they give urine a basic pH reading. Therefore a lemon would also have a negative PRAL score. PRAL, which stands for Potential Renal Acid Load, refers to how acidic foods make your urine.
Most fruits and vegetables have a negative PRAL score, making them free game for the alkaline diet. Others foods such as grains, animal proteins and dairy, have a positive PRAL score, making them off limits for alkaline dieters.
However, the pH level of urine is a poor indicator of body health due to its ability to change so quickly and easily. The alkaline diet also claims that acidic foods affect the body’s blood pH levels; but this does not account for the body’s rigourous buffering system. The body is designed to correct blood pH levels on its own and stay at a range of 7.35 - 7.45, without the need for dietary restrictions. After eating certain foods, your blood may become slightly alkaline or acidic, but it will naturally maintain the aforementioned healthy pH range.
But the alkaline diet isn’t all bad.
The alkaline diet is mainly plant-based and is generally low in sodium, added sugar and fat. For these reasons, it may promote cardiovascular health and prevent obesity; although this is not related to a change in blood or urine pH. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake has also been shown to reduce your risk of developing cancer. However, to be clear, there is no evidence to prove that the alkaline diet itself prevents cancer.