When a dieter is quoted as saying that “peeing and testing your urine to see if your diet is working can become addictive,” I know we, as a society, have really lost it. It’s one thing for individuals with risk of disease or active disease to be motivated, committing to daily testing regimens to monitor progress, but it’s a whole other discussion when dieting encourages competitive pee testing. The goal in this case is urine as clear as possible because the proponents of the Alkaline Diet say it’s an essential indicator of the amount of acid in the body.
On the positive side, the Alkaline Diet encourages eating fermented vegetables, most fruits, specific whole grains and tofu for protein. The theory is that alkaline foods are easier to digest, which means that nutrients and minerals are more easily absorbed. What are you not supposed to eat? Included on that list is alcohol, coffee, dairy, meat, starchy grains and refined sugar. Can I already point out that most healthy eating plans recommend that meat now be consumed far less frequently (if at all) and lean cuts should be the major choice; we know that if you drink moderate amounts of alcohol it can be beneficial, but if you don’t, many health experts suggest no need to start. Dairy currently plays a crucial role as a source of calcium in our diets (or we can turn to fortified soy milk and certain greens). Tofu is an excellent source of protein but so are nuts, seeds, legumes and fish, as well as the so-called banned Greek yogurt. Coffee, the subject of numerous studies, actually has benefits like antioxidants. I’m all for fermented vegetables, but I’m an equal opportunity consumer of all fruits and vegetables. I suggest strict portion control when it comes to the starchy peas, corn and potatoes.
You’re only supposed to drink alkaline water on this diet, loads of it. And of course you need to have those pesky pH test strips to test your urine every time you pee. Are you kidding me? And to what purpose? Please show me the very large, doubleblind science studies that showcase the stellar benefits of this diet. Of course, there are business mavens already cashing in on the craze, selling alkalizing supplements and elixirs. And there’s a restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, which has a pricey new alkaline water machine, dispensing this water to its patrons and highlighting the iodizing process that the machine uses to “raise the antioxidant level of the water.” Oh yes, they’re also making ice cubes for patrons exclusively from the water and offering alkaline-based menu selections.
Followers of the diet believe that “alkaline kills everything and anything,” germs, bacteria, so they are very motivated to adhere to this regimen. I have known about alkaline water for some time, but the uptick in this dietary craze first caught my eye when I was reading a local New York newspaper. Sure, I’ve been aware that some people in addition to drinking the alkaline water try to eat a diet heavy in alkaline foods, but the pH testing and the competitions to achieve the clearest urine were news to me.
The current facts:
- Our blood (if we are healthy) is always a bit alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45.
- The body is beautifully gifted, if we don’t abuse it with crazy diets, or if we’re not ill, to maintain that important pH balance range.
- If you eat with the focus of trying to change blood pH (which is really the parameter you would want to follow) your body will work to keep you in that safe pH range. Nothing you eat will dramatically alter that balance.
- Yes, avoiding highly processed foods, foods high in sugar, and avoiding high-fat meat, cheese, and also alcohol will support good health and possibly even weight loss. It may also help to lower risk of kidney stones and keep bones stronger. There is ongoing research looking at the impact of low-acid foods on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. There is no viable information yet on that specific research.
- Removing eggs, fish, beans and peas mean you lose out on some very healthy protein sources.
- If you follow this diet obsessively and do nudge your pH on a regular daily basis, there may actually be a small long-term shift and a possible negative health outcome. We don’t really know. I can tell you that when patients present to the emergency room with a pH that deviates from 7.35 – 7.45, they receive immediate treatment. Doctors do not want to see dramatic alkaline or acidic shifts in the blood.
Is it too much to ask that we finally get sensible, and follow an intuitively healthy diet without spending our precious time and money on these trends? Maybe it is.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”