Nearly everyone I meet, upon learning I’m a nutritionist, has some variation on one question:
"Is [insert fad diet here] really good for losing weight?"
The fad diet I’m most commonly asked about these days is the alkaline diet, something I don’t remember people talking about a few years ago.
Basically we, and all the foods we eat, have a pH score on a scale of 0-14, where 7 is neutral.
Anything below 7 is acidic, while anything above 7 is alkaline. A healthy pH balance in the blood is 7.35-7.45. The Alkaline diet is based on the belief that, by eating alkaline foods, we can affect our pH and measurably reduce the likelihood we’ll suffer from certain diseases and cancers.
The Alkaline diet calls for:
- Limiting foods that increase the body’s acidity to 20-25% of your daily caloric intake
- Dedicating 75% of your daily diet to high alkaline foods, such as leafy vegetables, fruit, lentils and nuts.
A brief glance at the list of high alkaline foods the diet advises you to eat shows that many of them are a perfect part of a healthy, balanced diet. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, grapefruit and lemons, avocados, lentils and almonds all have well known health benefits, and anyone trying to create a healthy eating plan would be wise to include them on their shopping list.
Unfortunately, the problems many dieters will face on an alkaline diet may outstrip the benefits.
- It doesn’t consider metabolism type: Just as the Atkins diet is counterproductive for carb metabolism types, the alkaline diet would be just as dangerous for protein and mixed types, both of which should get about 40% of their daily intake from protein. Animal proteins tend to be acidic, so the diet urges limiting them to 20% of your daily intake.
- It may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Another concern for Atkins dieters, the alkaline diet places severe restrictions on the types of food you can eat, which can lead to serious deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.
- No caffeine: At all. So if you enjoy—let alone need—a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, you’ll need to give it up.
- The science doesn’t support its effectiveness: Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital point out that the body is perfectly capable of regulating your pH balance on its own, and that there’s little indication that we are even capable of meaningfully affecting our pH. While cancer cells have grown faster in acidic environments in test tubes, those studies have never been performed on people.
There are certainly medical conditions that would warrant following the alkaline diet, and those decisions should be made in concert with your doctor. For anyone, eating the foods prescribed by the alkaline diet—with the exception of olive oil—will undoubtedly contribute to a healthier lifestyle. However, you need to make sure you’re tailoring your daily meals to your metabolism type. If you need 40% protein, a diet that only allows 20% will actually make your body less efficient. That’s why you want to move beyond diets, and create a meal plan that helps you succeed.