The alkaline diet is more of a dietary approach than a stringent, harsh “diet.” It focuses on eating foods that alkalize the body and reduce inflammation. Alkalizing foods are the opposite of acidic foods, which can be associated with chronic disease and other health problems.
So how does the alkaline diet work? What do you eat on an alkaline diet? And does research support this way of life?
What is an Alkaline Diet?
An alkaline diet focuses on consuming foods that have an alkalizing effect on the body, which means that it has the opposite effect of acidity. The theory is that disease processes cannot form in a body with a proper pH balance and that when the body slips to the acidic side, that disease and cellular breakdowns occur.
“Potential of hydrogen” is what pH stands for and is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the body’s tissues and fluids, measured on a scale of 0 to 14.
Alkaline items have higher numbers, while acidic items have lower numbers. A pH number of 7 is considered to be pH neutral.
Foods on an alkaline diet include plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed plant-based sources of protein and fats.
Does Research Support Alkaline Eating?
Research has shown that the alkaline diet can be helpful because it balances the body’s pH levels, and can have benefits that include: (source)
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved diabetes
- Alleviated symptoms of arthritis
- Lowered inflammation levels
- Improved bone density
- Weight loss
- Decrease plaque formation in arteries
- Reduce calcium deposits in kidneys and urine
- Improve muscle health
- Reduce cramps and spasms
What Foods to Eat and Not Eat on the Alkaline Diet
While all foods are on a scale between completely acidic and completely alkaline, but most fall into one side of the spectrum or another. While it’s okay to eat acidic foods at times, it’s essential to aim for a majority of alkalizing foods to balance out the overall acidic nature of modern lifestyles.
Highly acidic foods that should be avoided or rarely eaten on an alkaline diet:
- Black tea
- Sweetened beverages, including juice
- Chocolate and cocoa
- Honey, rice syrup, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners
- Dairy products
- White rice, brown rice, and wild rice
Alkaline foods that should be eaten often include:
- Himalayan sea salt
- Brussels sprouts
- Lemons and limes
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
The Top 10 Worst Acidic Foods to Avoid
Even if you’re not following the alkaline diet, these 10 foods are so acidic that they’re best eaten in extreme moderation, if at all:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Wheat products
- Processed cereals
- Refined sugars
- Dairy products
- Deli cold cuts
The Top 10 Best Alkaline Foods to Eat
The following foods are highly alkalizing and help to fight inflammation within the body. They’re a healthy part of any diet.
- Raw garlic
How to Get Started on an Alkaline Diet
If you want to know where your current acid levels are, you can purchase pH strips and test before you begin changing your diet. These can be purchased at health food stores, pharmacies, or online.
Testing strips will measure acid levels via saliva or urine. If testing saliva, you need to wait at least 20 minutes after eating, or better yet, test first thing in the morning before eating any food or drinking anything.
If measuring urine, use your second urination of the day, and not the first. Optimal results are between 6.8 and 7.2, although testing kits might have different ranges. Follow the recommended ranges on the product that you purchase.
Use the following tips to get started on an alkaline diet. Remember that even dietary protocols that are designed around specific principles should serve your dietary needs, so it’s essential to listen to your body first and foremost.
If you ever have questions about your health or food intake, consult with a nutrition or medical professional to ensure that you’re getting what you need.
Step One: Buy organic whenever possible.
While it’s not essential if you can afford organic foods and they’re available, it’s ideal to consume these. Organic foods are grown in soil that is richer and healthier than conventional soil because of the avoidance of harsh chemicals and pesticides.
Organic foods are not only cleaner but richer in nutrients and more alkaline.
Step Two: Focus on fresh.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most alkaline. While frozen versions of these foods would still fall into the alkaline category, some nutrients are lost in the preserving process.
Canned and dried fruits and vegetables are often significantly more acidic than fresh versions, so it’s important to focus on fresh and unprocessed ingredients.
Eating produce raw will also provide the most nutrient benefits. If you’re cooking fruits and vegetables, ensure that they’re cooked on low to medium heat since high heat can destroy nutrients.
Step Three: Boost your diet with alkalizing supplements.
While supplements can’t correct a poor diet, they can be used to boost a good one. A few supplements are highly alkalizing and have numerous health benefits of their own.
These include turmeric, chlorophyll, spirulina, and wheatgrass powder. These can be taken daily and added to things like smoothies, green juices, and smoothie bowls.
The biggest benefit of these is that not only are they anti-inflammatory, but they’re rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation and work to reduce the toxic load in the body. They can also promote natural detox.
Step Four: Drink alkalized water.
Oddly enough, some water can be more acidic than others. Alkaline water has a pH ranging from 9 to 11. Tap water is the most acidic. Reverse osmosis filtered water is still slightly acidic but is better than straight from the tap.
Distilled water is more alkaline, and certain types of water have been alkalized by having minerals added. You can alkalize water by adding a pinch of baking soda or specially formulated pH drops, which typically contain electrolytes and minerals. You can also add a pinch of Himalayan sea salt to water.
Step Five: Avoid acidic lifestyle choices and behaviors.
An alkaline diet focuses on boosting alkaline food intake but should also seek to minimize behaviors that contribute to acid-alkaline imbalances in the body. These habits can include any of the following, and should be avoided when possible:
- Chronic stress and lack of healthy coping abilities for stress
- Regular alcohol consumption
- Regular caffeine or coffee consumption
- Drug use
- Not exercising
- Not sleeping well
- Excessive use of antibiotics
- Eating too little fiber
- Drinking too little water (aim for half body weight in ounces each day of alkaline water)
- Artificial flavorings, colorings, preservatives, and sweeteners
- Conventional cosmetics, body care, and hair products
- Exposure to conventional household cleaners
- Exposure to artificial fragrance
- Constant cell phone, laptop, tablet, or technology exposure or connectivity
- Use or exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- Exercising too much
Step Six: Practice alkalizing behavior.
Much like an alkaline diet can be impacted by acid-causing lifestyle factors, so it can be boosted by behaviors and practices that increase alkalinity within the body and promote reduced inflammation, lowered stress levels, and a more balanced level of health.
Living an alkalizing lifestyle means drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated, but it also involves focusing on self-care behaviors. Practicing yoga regularly, for example, and deep breathing exercises can help increase the body’s oxygen levels and reduce stress.
Meditation can improve brain function and boost mood, and even has a positive effect on gut health. Regular exercise, even if it is not yoga, can promote a healthy attitude and balanced biomarkers like healthy cholesterol, liver enzymes, kidney enzymes, triglycerides, and blood.
Focusing on habits and activities that make you feel creative, joyful, and energized have a detoxing effect on the body and can improve overall health because they activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the constant “fight or flight” instincts that seem to be a natural side effect of today’s busy and chaotic way of life.
Finally, having a healthy sleep routine is vital for ensuring that the body has time to repair itself, boost hormone levels, naturally regulate appetite and mood, and more. Without enough sleep, your body cannot be healthy, no matter how well you eat.
Step Seven: Focus on balance.
It can be easy to go overboard and obsess over the acid or alkaline ratings for foods when you get started on an alkaline diet. Don’t only focus on the numbers but look at the big picture of your diet.
Many charts on the internet break down foods into categories that range from being extremely acidic to extremely alkaline, with several categories in between. You don’t only have to eat alkaline foods, and you don’t have to keep score of your alkaline number throughout the day.
Choose more foods that fall into the alkaline category than the acid category and listen to what your body is saying. Making a change to an alkaline lifestyle can be a dramatic shift for some and might require a few weeks or months to naturally transition.
Step Eight: Decrease stress.
Even if you’re living an alkalizing lifestyle and eating alkalizing foods, if your head is constantly stressed from work, family life, relationships, or health problems, then you’re going to have a hard time turning your body into an alkaline environment.
The gut and the brain are intimately connected via the enteric nervous system, and the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut can influence the brain in many ways, including neurotransmitter levels, moods, emotions, and decision making. An alkaline diet is gut healthy and promotes good gut bacteria, but it can take a while for the gut bacteria to shift.
Additionally, not all mental health issues are firmly rooted in the gut, and so transitioning to a new way of life might also benefit from professional support whether it’s a counselor, therapist, life coach, nutritionist, or other support team person. Decreasing stress is a different path for everyone but should be addressed in a healthy and proactive way.
Step Nine: Listen to your body.
The alkaline diet is rich in antioxidant foods that promote a balanced pH, but sometimes foods won’t agree with you no matter how alkaline they are. Don’t force yourself to eat foods that are causing digestive upset or other unpleasant symptoms even if they’re alkaline.
The body really does know best and learning to listen to what it’s telling you is the best way to take your health to the next level. Some seasons of life will have different nutritional requirements than others. Pregnancy, for example, will have a higher demand for protein and fat, and trying to adhere to a strict alkaline diet may not be possible.
It’s always essential to make sure that your diet is meeting your health needs, and not that you’re conforming to the demands of a diet.
The alkaline diet is a pH balanced approach to eating that focuses on alkalizing foods to combat the inflammatory and acidic nature of the modern way of life.
Alkaline foods tend to be vegetables and fruits, with some plant-based protein and fats. Acidic foods don’t have to be avoided entirely but should be eaten in balance with alkalizing foods.
Research supports the benefits of an alkaline diet. It can improve health, reduce chronic disease, and be preventive for many conditions, including diabetes, heart problems, and more.
There is no single right way to approach an alkaline way of eating. It is a spectrum of foods and the goal is to end up on the alkaline side of things in both foods and lifestyle choices.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.