Alkaline diets follow the principle that you should promote an alkaline (ie high pH) environment. In theory this can be done with diets high in fruits and veges, which are high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Whereas foods such as grains, meat, dairy, and eggs are high in protein and phosphorous, may lead to acidity.
Proponents of the alkaline diet feel that long term following of this diet can help prevent various diseases. Interestingly for the fitness community, there is evidence to suggest that alkaline diets may help prevent muscle loss in older men and women.
Alkaline Diets Latest Research
A recent publication performed by a predominantly Finnish team, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at putting different groups of healthy people on the alkaline diet or an acidic diet. The researchers recruited groups of teens, young adults, and the elderly and gave them either a diet to promote alkalinity or a diet to promote acidity for 7 days, and then the treatments were reversed.
The results showed that after just 7 days of following the alkaline diet, young adults and the elderly experienced statistically significant higher levels of blood and urine alkalinity compared to those who followed a highly acid inducing diet. Interestingly though, dietary changes did not affect teenagers, and may suggest that only older individuals are susceptible.
The researchers go on to point out that that although the results were statistically significant, they are not clinically significant. This is an important point to consider before jumping on the alkaline diet bandwagon. Furthermore, the study is comparing two very extreme diets. The group consuming the alkaline diet almost completely eliminated grains, diary, red meat, and eggs from their diet. While the acidic diet almost completely eliminated all fruits and veges. In other words, the acid diet was very very acid inducing, and the alkaline diet was very very alkaline inducing.
If we take a close look at the data, it seems that individuals consuming the alkaline diet do not actually experience increases in alkalinity. The difference is really only high compared to the acid diet, which was very extreme in this study. Whether this leads to any long term benefits is still unknown.
Practical Applications & Implications
There is no doubt that fruits and veges are good for you. Greens supplements are hugely popular these days and are a great addition to your stack. However, we should not forget that meat, eggs, and dairy also contain valuable nutrients, including protein. Simply blindly eliminating these food groups is not necessarily the way to go. This is especially true when we consider from the above results that sacrificing these food groups does not actually increase alkalinity. Rather, the decrease in alkalinity seems to be caused by a ridiculously unbalanced diet that was completely devoid of all fruits and vegetables. Beyond this, the study also does not take many other factors and nutrients into consideration, so it should not be considered a dietary guideline. Rather, it is an experiment to explore the effects of a alkaline vs acidic diet.
The take home message is that you don’t need to give up your steak to be healthy. Yes, diets high in acid inducing foods can cause a measurable decrease in alkalinity. Although not clinically important in the short term, it may or may not lead to something more serious in the future. However this may no longer be the case if your diet is well balanced and you also eat plenty of fruits and veges. Just don’t have purely carnivorous diets and you should be more than fine.
Hietavala et (2014), Effect of diet composition on acid-base balance I adolescents, young adults and elderly at rest and during exercise. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 1-6