Alkaline Diet: The Key to Longevity and Fighting Chronic Disease?
January 3, 2023
There are all types of diets out there — some good, some bad — but there is perhaps no diet better for longevity and staving off disease than a mostly plant-based alkaline diet.
Don’t just take my word for it. A 2012 review published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that achieving pH balance by eating an alkaline diet can be helpful in reducing morbidity and mortality from numerous chronic diseases and ailments — such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, vitamin D deficiency and low bone density, just to name a few.
How do alkaline diets work? Research shows that diets consisting of highly alkaline foods — fresh vegetables, fruits and unprocessed plant-based sources of protein, for example — result in a more alkaline urine pH level, which helps protect healthy cells and balance essential mineral levels. This can be especially important for women doing intermittent fasting and/or following the keto diet, as hormone levels can be altered.
Alkaline diets (also known as the alkaline ash diets) have been shown to help:
What Is An Alkaline Diet?
An alkaline diet is one that is intended to help balance the blood pH level of the fluids in your body, including your blood and urine.
This diet goes by several different names, including:
Your pH is partially determined by the mineral density of the foods you eat. All living organisms and life forms on Earth depend on maintaining appropriate pH levels, and it’s often said that disease and disorder cannot take root in a body that has a balanced pH.
The principles of the acid ash hypothesis help make up the tenets of the alkaline diet. According to research published in Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, “The acid-ash hypothesis posits that protein and grain foods, with a low potassium intake, produce a diet acid load, net acid excretion (NAE), increased urine calcium, and release of calcium from the skeleton, leading to osteoporosis.”
The alkaline diet aims to prevent this from happening by carefully taking food pH levels into consideration in an attempt to limit dietary acid intake.
Although some experts might not totally agree with this statement, nearly all agree that human life requires a very tightly controlled pH level of the blood of about 7.365–7.4. As Forbe’s Magazine puts it, “Our bodies go to extraordinary lengths to maintain safe pH levels.”
Your pH can range between 7.35 to 7.45 depending on the time of day, your diet, what you last ate and when you last went to the bathroom. If you develop electrolyte imbalances and frequently consume too many acidic foods — aka acid ash foods — your body’s changing pH level can result in increased “acidosis.”
What Does “pH Level” Mean?
What we call pH is short for the potential of hydrogen. It’s a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the body’s fluids and tissues.
It’s measured on a scale from 0 to 14. The more acidic a solution is, the lower its pH. The more alkaline, the higher the number is.
A pH of around 7 is considered neutral, but since the optimal human body tends to be around 7.4, we consider the healthiest pH to be one that’s slightly alkaline.
These levels also vary throughout the body, with the stomach the most acidic region. Even very tiny alterations in the pH level of various organisms can cause major problems.
For example, due to environmental concerns, such as increasing CO2 deposition, the pH of the ocean has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, and various life forms living in the ocean have greatly suffered.
The pH level is also crucial for growing plants, and therefore it greatly affects the mineral content of the foods we eat. Minerals in the ocean, soil and human body are used as buffers to maintain optimal pH levels, so when acidity rises, minerals fall.
How an Alkaline Diet Works
Here’s some background on acid/alkalinity in the human diet, plus key points about how alkaline diets can be beneficial:
Why is an alkaline diet good for you? Alkaline foods supply important nutrients that help stop accelerated signs of aging and a gradual loss of organ and cellular functions.
As explained more below, alkaline diet benefits may include helping slow down degeneration of tissues and bone mass, which can be compromised when too much acidity robs us of key minerals.
1. Protects Bone Density and Muscle Mass
Your intake of minerals plays an important role in the development and maintenance of bone structures. Research suggests that the more alkalizing fruits and vegetables someone eats, the better protection that person might have from experiencing decreased bone strength and muscle wasting as she ages, known as sarcopenia.
An alkaline diet can support bone health by balancing the ratio of minerals that are important for building bones and maintaining lean muscle mass, including calcium, magnesium and phosphate.
The diet may also help improve production of growth hormones and vitamin D absorption, which further protects bones in addition to mitigating many other chronic diseases.
2. Lowers Risk for Hypertension and Stroke
One of the anti-aging effects of an alkaline diet is that it decreases inflammation and causes an increase in growth hormone production.
This has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and offer protection against common problems like high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney stones, stroke and even memory loss.
3. Lowers Chronic Pain and Inflammation
Studies have found a connection between an alkaline diet and reduced levels of chronic pain. Chronic acidosis has been found to contribute to chronic back pain, headaches, muscle spasms, menstrual symptoms, inflammation and joint pain.
One study conducted by the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements in Germany found that when patients with chronic back pain were given an alkaline supplement daily for four weeks, 76 of 82 patients reported significant decreases in pain as measured by the “Arhus low back pain rating scale.”
4. Boosts Vitamin Absorption and Helps Prevent Magnesium Deficiency
An increase in magnesium is required for the function of hundreds of enzyme systems and bodily processes. Many people are deficient in magnesium and as a result experience heart complications, muscle pains, headaches, sleep troubles and anxiety.
Available magnesium is also required to activate vitamin D and prevent vitamin D deficiency, which is important for overall immune and endocrine functioning.
5. Helps Improve Immune Function and Possibly Cancer Protection
When cells lack enough minerals to properly dispose of waste or oxygenate the body fully, the whole body suffers. Vitamin absorption is compromised by mineral loss, while toxins and pathogens accumulate in the body and weaken the immune system.
Can an alkaline diet help prevent cancer? While the topic is controversial and still unproven, research published in the British Journal of Radiology found evidence that cancerous cell death (apoptosis) was more likely to occur in an alkaline body.
Cancer prevention is believed to be associated with an alkaline shift in pH due to an alteration in electric charges and the release of basic components of proteins. Alkalinity can help decrease inflammation and the risk for diseases like cancer — plus an alkaline diet has been shown to be more beneficial for some chemotherapeutic agents that require a higher pH to work appropriately.
6. Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Although the diet isn’t solely focused on fat loss, following an alkaline diet meal plan for weight loss can certainly help protect against obesity.
Limiting consumption of acid-forming foods and eating more alkaline-forming foods may make it easier to lose weight due to the diet’s ability to decrease leptin levels and inflammation. This affects both your hunger and fat-burning abilities.
Since alkaline-forming foods are anti-inflammatory foods, consuming an alkaline diet gives your body a chance to achieve normal leptin levels and feel satisfied from eating the amount of calories you really need.
If weight loss is one of your main goals, one of the best approaches to try is a keto alkaline diet, which is low in carbs and high in healthy fats.
How to Follow
How do you keep your body alkaline? Here are some key tips for following an alkaline diet:
1. Buy Organic Alkaline Foods
Experts feel that one important consideration in regard to eating an alkaline diet is to become knowledgeable about what type of soil your produce was grown in — since fruits and vegetables that are grown in organic, mineral-dense soil tend to be more alkalizing. Research shows that the type of soil that plants are grown in can significantly influence their vitamin and mineral content, which means not all “alkaline foods” are created equally.
The ideal pH of soil for the best overall availability of essential nutrients in plants is between 6 and 7. Acidic soils below a pH of 6 may have reduced calcium and magnesium, and soil above a pH of 7 may result in chemically unavailable iron, manganese, copper and zinc.
Soil that’s well-rotated, organically sustained and exposed to wildlife/grazing cattle tends to be the healthiest.
2. Eat More Alkaline Foods and a Lot Fewer Acidic Foods
See the list below of the best alkaline diet foods, plus those to avoid.
3. Drink Alkaline Water
Alkaline water has a pH of 9 to 11. Distilled water is just fine to drink. Water filtered with a reverse osmosis filter is slightly acidic, but it’s still a far better option than tap water or purified bottled water.
Adding pH drops, lemon or lime, or baking soda to your water can also boosts its alkalinity.
4. (Optional) Test Your pH Level
If you’re curious to know your pH level before implementing the tips below, you can test your pH by purchasing strips at your local health food store or pharmacy. You can measure your pH with saliva or urine.
Your second urination of the morning will give you the best results. You compare the colors on your test strip to a chart that comes with your test strip kit.
During the day, the best time to test your pH is one hour before a meal and two hours after a meal. If you test with your saliva, you want to try to stay between 6.8 and 7.2.
Best Alkaline Foods
Although you don’t have to be strict vegetarian to eat a high-alkaline diet, the diet is mostly plant-based. Here is a list of foods to emphasize most:
What foods should you avoid when following an alkaline diet eating plan? Acidic foods such as the following:
What other kinds of habits can cause acidity in your body? The biggest offenders include:
Vs. Paleo Diet
What might an alkaline diet menu look like? Using the shopping list above, here are some simple and delicious alkaline diet recipes to try:
Risk and Side Effects
Certain foods on the “highly acidic list” might surprise you, such as eggs and walnuts. These might be acidic in your body, but don’t let that scare you away from eating them. They contain a host of other health benefits, like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which still makes them valuable.
The bottom line is that a healthy balance is what we’re shooting for. As far as your pH is concerned, it’s possible to become too alkaline, and having some acidic foods is both expected and healthy.
Our problem is more a matter of not taking in enough alkaline-promoting foods rather than taking in too many acids from healthy, whole foods. Eat a variety of real, whole foods (especially vegetables and fruit) and limit consumption of packaged items, and you’ll be on your way.