By Erik Bustillo

The human body has its way of doing this special thing called survival (insert the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”). It does what it must to keep us alive, with the best part being that we do not have to think about it. Imagine if we had to think about breathing, pumping our heart to spread blood throughout our bodies, think about the kidneys filtering out waste/by products of foods & beverages consumed, so on and so forth. Our bodies are quite amazing. All that being said, we should be able to say, “our body has got this!” with full-on confidence; however, this is not the case. It’s important to help our bodies do their job. What I like to tell patients and clients is, “when you take care of your body, your body takes care of you.” There’s obviously more to it than that, but the gist of the statement is to do what is best for our body with hopes that doing what is optimal will allow the body to function optimally in return. 

In the search for health and being “optimal,” there has been an increase of information/content on the internet. Part of this information around health and trends in search of health has been the increase in proponents of alkaline associated diet trends. The idea behind an alkaline diet and/or consuming alkaline water is that it will cause a shift in pH in the human body, particularly the pH of blood. There are pros and cons to the pursuit and thought process of alkalinity in the diet. After discussing pros & cons, there will be some "false or facts" points offered.

Pros

The premise of an alkaline diet is to increase consumption of more basic foods (basic means more alkaline and acidic means… acidic) because the pH of our blood is a bit more alkaline (~7.4, where 7 is neutral, below 7 is acidic and above 7 is more basic). Why would this diet promote basic foods? Because the idea here is that this will prevent or even cure diseases *insert CAUTION signs*. Which foods are more basic and not particularly acidic? Generally speaking, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes are the ones promoted as alkaline. Safe to say, unless there is a specific reason that an individual should not eat any of those foods (allergy, choking hazard, etc.) they’re a good idea to consume if one has access to them. Another positive association with the suggestions of an alkaline diet is decreased alcohol consumption. Alcohol registers as a poison in our body, but it is safe to consume in moderation (1 drink for women, 2 for men-- 1 drink is 5 oz of wine… not a 10 oz glass). This is an example of things not living in the “black & white,” but somewhere in the gray. 

Cons

The alkaline diet is often promoted by individuals making claims not founded in science, for example:

  • “Acidic” foods are bad for our bones
  • An alkaline environment cures diseases
  • Making your body more alkaline/increasing its pH is good for health

These claims, although they sound nice and promising, do not have studies which support them. The changing of the body’s pH is one that is TIGHTLY controlled mostly by our kidneys (filtering waste products) and our lungs (controlling blood gases). Another con associated with the alkaline diet/water is the causing of fear of certain foods categorized as “acidic” such as eggs, dairy, and fish. There is already enough confusion behind diets and these claims do not help the folks who are “fighting the good fight.”

False or Facts

Claim: Alkaline diet and/or water cures cancer: FALSE.

There are zero studies showing an alkaline diet or drinking alkaline water can be a viable treatment for cancer, or other diseases for that matter. It is crucial to follow up with a medical doctor and a respective team of qualified health professionals.

ClaimHigh protein foods are acidic and leach calcium from our bones, therefore an alkaline diet is BEST: FALSE.

Protein is essential and may help in PREVENTING osteoporosis. Protecting muscle and bone mass is key for long term, high quality aging.

Conclusion

Eating more alkaline-type foods is certainly not a bad idea (if you’re not allergic). Remember, these are vegetables, fruits, legumes, amd nuts. It is also important for us to remember that our bodies do an excellent job (in healthy individuals) of managing our pH levels (kidneys and lungs are the main factors here). If someone is ever diagnosed with an illness, they should certainly follow up with qualified, professional care and not just an alkaline diet change.

References

  1. Fenton, T. R., & Huang, T. (2016). Systematic review of the association between dietary acid load, alkaline water and cancer. BMJ open, 6(6), e010438. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010438
  2. Heaney, R. P., & Layman, D. K. (2008). Amount and type of protein influences bone health. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87(5), 1567S–1570S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1567S

About:
Erik Bustillo is a Registered Dietitian. Erik is also a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition- ISSN, a Certified Strength Coach through the National Council on Strength & Fitness, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association - NSCA. He also specializes in reading and understanding blood/lab values that have a direct effect on human physiology and one’s ability to perform. Several fields of expertise are energy improvement, performance recovery, weight loss, working with professional/elite athletes, stress management, inspirational communication. 

Erik has studied the science of nutrition for many years because he understands that nutrition is an elemental factor with the state of well-being. His mission is to make this world a better place and he strives to accomplish this by helping others achieve their health and life goals. He believes that with hard work and determination, everyone is capable of accomplishing what they set their mind to. Erik is passionate about making his patients/clients push themselves harder and further than they ever imagined. His practical approach puts exercise and nutritional science into easy-to-follow steps for action. Keep up with Erik by following @erikbustillo on Instagram.

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