While body weight and fat percentage tend to take center stage when you want to measure your health, maintaining a healthy body pH is important, too. Each of your cells (and the enzymes that help those cells function) work best at a neutral pH, which is why your body works hard to ensure your tissues aren't too acidic or too alkaline.
But that doesn't mean that your body can't become slightly too acidic. High acid levels (a condition called chronic acidosis) can slowly leach calcium from your bones, both weakening your skeleton and upping your risk of kidney stones (see ref 1).
Trying to make your body more alkaline likely won't work — the celebrity-endorsed alkaline diet hasn't been scientifically proven to change your body chemistry. However, dietary habits promoted by the alkaline diet do have legit health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and better bone health.
Interested in following the diet? Read on to learn which foods to emphasize — and how to reap all the heath benefits.
Load Up on Vegetables
You already know veggies are a staple in any healthy diet. The alkaline diet recommends these healthy options:
- Alfalfa grass
These veggies tend to be low in calories, and they're packed with vitamin K for healthy blood clotting, as well as vitamin C for immune, skin and bone health. Keep in mind, though, that while the alkaline diet points to these veggies specifically, virtually any vegetable is healthy. Include at least one serving of vegetables at each meal, and "eat the rainbow" every day to get the nutrients you need.
Select Your Fruits Strategically
Fruits have a place in any healthy diet, since they're a fantastic source of vitamin C and also supply antioxidants, a class of nutrients that protects your tissues from damage. The alkaline diet points to these fruits as the most beneficial:
- Sour cherries
- Figs (fresh or dried)
- Lemons and limes
While these fruits certainly offer plenty of health benefits — watermelon, for example, is packed with lycopene, a natural "sunscreen" — virtually any fruit offers health benefits. Eat 3 to 4 half-cup servings of fruit each day to benefit your heart health.
Choose Plant-Based Proteins
The alkaline diet lists plant-based proteins as highly alkaline-forming. And while plant-based protein won't change your body chemistry, subbing in plant-based proteins for animal-based ones offers some health benefits. A diet rich in these healthy proteins helps you live longer, and lowers your risk of fatal cardiovascular disease.
To enjoy these benefits, get your protein from a mix of healthy sources including:
- Brown rice
Round out your plant-based protein intake by eating the right whole grains, including brown rice, spelt, millet and kamut. Eat meat in moderation, opting for leaner cuts — like skinless poultry and lean beef — or meats high in healthy fats, like salmon.
Eat Right With Healthy Fat
Fat not only adds flavor to your foods, but choosing the right sources can help increase the nutrition you get from your food. Certain nutrients, like vitamins A and E, can only be absorbed in the presence of fat, so adding a little oil to your meals can increase their nutritional value.
The alkaline diet emphasizes minimally-processed oils — like extra virgin olive oil, unrefined (raw) coconut oil, sesame oil and flaxseed oil — and discourages processed or refined oils, like margarine and corn oil. While neither group of fat will make your body more acidic or alkaline, opting for less processed oils helps you avoid artery-clogging trans fat, which is found in some refined oil products, including margarine.
Drink Healthy Beverages
The alkaline diet keeps it simple when it comes to beverages, and recommends water, green tea and herbal tea are the best options. All three options can boost your hydration levels, and both herbal and green teas come packed with antioxidants to protect your cells. The diet also recommends stevia, a natural sweetener found in some health food drinks, as highly alkaline-forming. And while stevia won't change your pH, some research suggests it might help regulate your blood sugar levels.
The diet also recommends avoiding fruit juice, citing its supposed acid-forming effects. While the science might be shaky, the advice is sound. Fruit juice can easily add hundreds of calories to your daily intake — virtually all of them from carbohydrates — without the filling effects you'd get from real food. And drinks containing artificial sweeteners, which are highly discouraged on the diet, may trigger sugar cravings.
While you don't need to think of your foods as "acidic" or "alkaline," the alkaline diet boils down to good common sense: eating plenty of minimally processed foods and avoiding the highly processed ones. So while you can't change your pH by adjusting your lifestyle, you'll still get the health benefits of a balanced diet, including improved cardiovascular health, better blood sugar control and a longer, healthier life overall.