Celebrities like Kate Hudson, Jennifer Anistion, and Gwyneth Paltrow have all raved about the alkaline diet for keeping them looking young and feeling good. But does loading your plate with primarily alkaline foods really have any legitimate health benefits? Here’s what you need to know before trying this diet for yourself.
What is the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet was inspired by Robert Young, PhD, who wrote the book The pH Miracle in 2010 (and would later go on to be convicted of practicing medicine without a license in 2016).
In his book, Young claims that diseases are caused by acidity in the blood. By avoiding foods that produce acid in the body—like meat, refined sugar, and processed foods—and eating mostly alkaline foods—like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes—you could change the pH of your blood, which, in turn, would protect you from cancer and other diseases. You could even potentially lose weight in the process.
What does pH have to do with it?
pH levels measure how acidic or alkaline something is. pH can range from 0-14, with 0 being completely acidic and 14 being completely basic, or alkaline. Your blood falls somewhere between 7.35-7.45, making it slightly alkaline. Your stomach, on the other hand, typically has a pH of 3.5 or below, making it very acidic, which is necessary to break down food.
The thing is, the central claim of the alkaline diet, that you can change the pH of your blood by eating primarily alkaline foods, is not true, says Lauren O’Connor, RD, author of The Healthy Alkaline Diet Guide. Research bears that out: Studies show food has no significant effect on blood pH. (The pH of your urine does change based on what you eat—that’s one of the main ways your body regulates your blood’s pH level.)
Does the alkaline diet have any benefits?
Just because you can’t change the pH level of your blood through what you eat doesn’t mean the alkaline diet doesn’t have any health benefits.
“In its very nature, this is a plant-based diet because most of your fruits and vegetables are alkaline,” says O’Connor. “So it’s really a way of encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables.” (Her book has extensive charts that identify acid- and alkaline-forming foods.)
Plant foods contain nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that are essential for helping your body operate optimally and keeping your systems functioning effectively, explains O’Connor. “Following this very whole food, plant-based approach can improve your energy and mental focus,” she adds.
What about weight loss? While the alkaline diet isn’t a direct weight loss diet, you may lose some weight because you’re cutting out added sugars and highly processed foods, says O’Connor.
Should you try the alkaline diet?
Most people can benefit from the alkaline diet.
“If you focus on a variety and plenitude of fruits and veggies—and include some quality protein-rich foods—an alkaline diet can be part of an optimally healthy lifestyle,” says O’Connor. And any dietary plan (the alkaline diet included) should extend beyond what you eat: It’s also about practicing portion control, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly, O’Connor adds, all of which can contribute to your health.
Keep in mind that while the alkaline diet is plant-forward, it’s not restrictive—and you don’t have to give up healthy foods that are a little more on the acidic side.
“With the alkaline diet, there is the 80/20 rule, which allows for flexibility and nutritional balance,” says O’Connor. “You can still include foods that may not be so alkaline. In fact, there are some very nutritious foods that fall within the acidic spectrum such as pistachios, pinto beans, oats, and salmon.”
The bottom line on the alkaline diet
With its focus on fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, the alkaline diet is certainly a healthy eating plan—even if it’s “pH promise” is bogus.