The Alkaline Diet: Balancing Acid and Base

If you thought fashion was subject to trends, you should take a look at diets. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the raw food diet. This week, I’ll focus on what’s called the “alkaline diet,” which is sometimes called the “alkaline acid diet.”


Getting Your “pH-acts” Straight
My guess is that most of you took chemistry at some point in your school career. Unless you completely tuned out, you may remember a discussion of acid-base balance, which is measured by something called “pH.” The human body has a particular range of pH that it needs to be at for good health. The pH is simply a measure of acid-base balance in the body. A pH of 0 is very acidic, 7 is neutral, and a 14 is very alkaline. In normal situations, the body likes to be at a pH of 7.35 to 7.45. The stomach, however, which is very acidic (thanks to hydrochloric acid), has a much lower pH of 1.35 to 3.50. In a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), ketones, which are acids, build up in the blood and urine. If DKA isn’t treated promptly, the condition may be life-threatening.

Why an Alkaline Diet?
The premise behind the alkaline diet dates back, not surprisingly, to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Way back then, the diet consisted largely of fresh fruit, roots, vegetables, and tubers. Things apparently went awry when grains, meats, sugars, and dairy foods were introduced, and the diet became more “acidic.”

Promoters of the alkaline diet believe that the typical Western diet (which definitely has its flaws) makes the blood more acidic and upsets the acid-base balance in the body. In addition, an acidic diet is believed (by proponents of the alkaline diet) to lead to a loss of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium from the body. Hence, the alkaline diet should be followed to restore the balance and prevent mineral loss.

In addition, some alkaline diet promoters believe that this way of eating can correct certain health conditions that may be triggered or caused by too much acid. Some of these conditions include:

• Cancer
• Headaches
• Ovarian cysts
• Congestion
• Colds and flu
• Excess mucous production
• Back pain

Researchers speculate that an alkaline diet could possibly slow the loss of bone (important in preventing osteoporosis) and muscle mass, as well as prevent kidney stones. But there are no credible studies, particularly large clinical trials, to back up these claims. What happens in test tubes in a lab or even in animals can’t automatically be extrapolated to humans.

What Do You Eat on an Alkaline Diet?
Fortunately, an alkaline diet isn’t really an unhealthy diet. In fact, it can be quite healthful if planned properly. This diet is mostly a vegetarian diet, consisting of a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, soy, some types of nuts and legumes, and olive oil. These foods are considered to be low acid-producing foods. It’s hard to argue with eating more of these foods.

What Don’t You Eat on an Alkaline Diet?
Meat, fish, poultry, dairy foods, processed foods, white sugar, white flour, yeast products, caffeine, and alcohol are discouraged on this diet, as these are the “acid producers.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with limiting or avoiding some of these foods, especially processed foods, white sugar and flour, and alcohol. But limiting fish, for example, means limiting your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are the good fats. Dairy foods are a source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Are There Any Benefits to an Alkaline Diet?
The alkaline diet may seem trendy, and the premise behind it is shaky, as the body does a pretty good job on its own of regulating acid-base balance. There are correction mechanisms in place when the balance is upset (for example, breathing more rapidly helps get rid of carbon dioxide, which is an acid). Eating an acid food is unlikely to affect the balance to any great extent. However, an alkaline diet, which is primarily plant-based, in many ways follows the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can be viewed as being heart healthy. And a small study indicated that a low-acid diet may be helpful in managing symptoms of laryngopharyngeal reflux.

What Are the Downsides of This Diet?
The major downside is that this diet isn’t backed by credible science. There just isn’t good evidence that changing one’s diet changes the acid-base balance in the body. Spurious claims (and you’ll see many of them on the Internet about this diet) should be viewed with some skepticism.

Bottom Line
If you think this is an eating plan that you’d like to try, let your physician or dietitian know, especially if you have kidney disease. It’s important that you receive the right amount of all nutrients in your eating plan, no matter which plan you choose to follow.

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  • Ferne

    No thank you to this way of eating. Might as well quit eating because I don’t see this would give all the minerals, vitamins,etc the body needs. Diabetic diets are challenging enough and this sounds way more challenging.

  • K Gilmour

    I have been using a modified form of this eating style for approximately two weeks. No soy though, as I take synthroid and had breast ca. It really agrees with remarkably better control of BG. I eat chicken with skin, veal, lamb, pork, beef, and have fish three or four times per week. However, the portion is small and accompanied by a double portion of cooked non starchy veggies and big salads with dark greens, radishes, onions, red cabbage, colored peppers, raw mushrooms and tomatoes. Salads are the fun part! Gorgeous color, amazing textural variety – just go crazy. And always make your own dressing; that way you know exactly what’s in it. This eating style has shown me a light at the end of the tunnel; and has been the greatest gift in my four-year endeavor to give my body everything it needs to heal itself.

    I have come to learn that lean, organic grass fed meat can be a wonderful protein source. It is a valuable source of omega 3’s and B12; a vitamin that is depleted or blocked by the diabetes drug, metformin. When I eat a variety of responsibly raised meat in a small portion ie. 3 or 4 ounces and keep it to 3 times a week, I consider this prudent and reasonable – not excessive. A sublingual B12 supplement is taken daily as well.

    It all boils down to basing my diet on plenty of cooked and raw veggies, a little fruit, a little dairy primarily yogurt or kefir,
    Beans, seeds, nuts and rolled oats. Olive oil and for cooking, coconut oil.

  • rob mansell-ward


    It’s rare to read a little common sense on the internet.

    I’m all for fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fish.

    But some very healthy peoples (historically) ate fairly extreme diets.

    I’m thinking of the Inuit. Heaps of fat and animal protein. And I think you’d be pushed to find an orange growing North of the Arctic Circle.

    As you say, I think rightly, the body adjusts.

    It’s worth keeping an eye on New Scientist etc. The research is there.

    For myself, I’ve sailed and travelled round the world and my observation is that “peasant foods’ are healthy. Indigenous peoples seem always to evolve a good diet from what is available.

    Kind regards,


  • Sherryc

    I started eating the alkaline diet about 6 wks ago when my adrenal gland and my rheumatoid arthritis had me to the point of barely being able to get off the couch….which was intolerable to me! I was in horrible pain and completely exhausted!! I started doing research online looking for healthier ways of getting better as pills sure weren’t working for me. I thought……ok I can stand anything as long as it works! And I was a fan of meat, potatoes and sweets. After a few days the craving for the sweets went away, and for me.,. That was a miracle all by itself! But then the real miracle happened and the pain almost completely stopped and my energy level went up to the roof for the first time in over 5 years. Every time I go back to my old way of eating (even for 1 meal), the pain and exhaustion are back the next day or two. It reinforced my eating by the plan completely! I DO NOT WANT TO HURT OR BE THAT TIRED AGAIN. My doctor does say that eventually I will probably be able to eat a small occasional amt of those foods again, but I will be moderate when I do.
    Best thing? My cortisol test for the adrenal gland came back this week in the normal range and my sugar level has never been so good! All my labs were great this week compared to lousy two months ago! Not an always easy choice on what I can choose to eat, but SO WORTH IT. Cheeseburgers..,,you’re just to have to be a temptation and not a reality … 🙂 And about my blood sugar, I have been hypoglycemic in my past.

  • Shirley

    Boy, I can really relate to your story!
    I had my left adrenal removed, a month ago, and after a CAT scan revealed after an emergency appendectomy removal, in early June, that the adrenal was the size of an avocado. Should be the size of a golden peanut.
    Fortunately my adrenal was done working, (dying) as the previous year and a half was giving me surges of crazy exhausting adrenaline rushes, even in the middle of night at times, the surgery would have been much more dangerous.
    I also was doctoring with world class bio-identical hormones replacement doctors that had no answers for me. I’d struggled with adrenal exhaustion off & on for 5 years, and thought being 55 yrs. old, I was doubting I’d make it to 70.
    I battled hypoglycemia in my late 20’s for a few yrs. too, while raising our 3 children.
    I’m grateful to be on the healing side of life, but have struggled with gas in my chest, and have a very full feeling a lot. I’m taking 2 antacids daily, and it is just keeping it at bay.
    The hormone doc’s, encouraged me to begin the Paleo diet last December to help with allergies, and fatique, but I know it’s not good to be on these antacids constantly.
    So, I’ve been eating alkaline the past 4 days, & feel less gas.
    I’m hopeful soon to be able to stop the antacids. Very different eating than Paleo, but glad I can embrace beans again! 😉
    I hope & pray, this is also a positive change in your health!

  • Donna

    I have been plagued with kidney infections all my life. three different homeopaths told me my both was too acidic. So I began drinking water with an ion and ph booster. I have NOT had a kidney infection since!!

    Crazy or not, it worked wonders for me and I will keep on doing it!

  • Chris Huntley

    Hey Amy,
    I love the article. Thank you.

    I would just add (since this is a diabetic site) that diabetics will obviously have a harder time eating an alkaline diet than others, since you want to eat a lot of fruit on the alkaline diet. So they may need to use an alkalizing agent (there are many on the market… drops, minerals, powders, etc.) which won’t hurt their sugar levels.

    I would also offer a counter argument to your statement about the body being pretty good at naturally balancing its pH. I recently interviewed a chiropractor (more into holistic treatments than your average chiro) and he said he tests his patients’ pH all the time with the pH strips and that a large majority of them are in fact, acidic.

    You’re right, though. A lot of the claims made about this diet are made by people who don’t have the proper credentials to be speaking about these things. That said, here are a couple reviews written by real doctors for your visitors.

    This first one appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition and was authored by 3 doctors:

    This second one deals with acidity and diabetes:

  • acampbell

    Hi Chris,

    Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for your comments. From what I’ve read about the alkaline diet, there just isn’t a whole lot of evidence to support it. The acidity of foods and beverages is regulated by the acids in the stomach. As I mentioned above, the body is designed to carefully regulate the acid-base balance. The first reference you cited is a credible one, but the conclusion states that there isn’t enough known about this and further research is needed. The second link you provided is one I’d highly question, as the “author” is not a physician, but a chiropractor.

  • Mel

    What’s likely to be a better choice for your body: vegetables, fruits, natural foods and liquids sourced from nature?

    Or stuff that you can eat and drink that are manufactured, changed and altered with chemicals and artificial additives?

    Hmm.. the human body knows what it really needs- it seems like a straight forward question with a straight forward answer, doesn’t it? Hard to believe that this question is actually seriously being asked ?