Your body pH -- a measure of acidity or alkalinity -- plays a key role in your health because overly acidic or overly alkaline conditions can stop your enzymes from working properly, essentially stopping cellular function. The alkaline diet is based on the idea that the foods you eat can affect the pH of your body, and proponents claim focusing on alkaline-forming foods for at least 70 percent of your daily diet will combat disease and benefit your health. While not enough scientific evidence exists to back up the health claims associated with an alkaline diet, it does have some demonstrated health benefits, and it can be an enjoyable and sustainable plan.
Benefits of an Alkaline Diet Plan
Not all the benefits of the alkaline diet are backed by science. For example, no compelling evidence shows that an alkaline diet can prevent cancer -- a common purported health benefit -- according to a review paper published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2012.
However, the review notes that following an alkaline diet can increase the ratio of potassium to sodium in your body, which promotes bone and muscle health, and might also lower your risk of heart disease, the review explains. The typical alkaline diet is also high in magnesium, a mineral essential for cell function. Magnesium also helps your body use vitamin D -- a hormone essential for healthy bones -- so following an alkaline diet might help your body better use vitamin D. An alkaline diet might also increase your levels of growth hormone, a compound important for heart health, as well as cognitive function.
Alkaline Foods to Emphasize
At least 70 percent of your diet should come from alkaline-forming foods. This includes almost all vegetables -- with the exception of pickled veggies and sauerkraut. Focus on leafy greens for your alkaline diet, such as wheat grass, sprouts, kale, dandelion and barley grass. Eat alkaline root veggies, like beet root, kohlrabi and radishes. Several fruits are also alkaline-forming, with lime, lemon, avocado, cherries, watermelon and ripe bananas among your best options.
For healthy fat, reach for coconut, flaxseed, olive oil and sesame oil. Olive oil, especially, comes loaded with antioxidants and unsaturated fats beneficial for cardiovascular health, while flaxseed oil contains essential omega-3 fatty acids that lower inflammation and support brain function. You can also get healthy fat from alkaline nuts, like almonds and pine nuts.
Opt for whole grains like kamut, buckwheat, millet and spelt, and get alkaline-friendly carbs and protein with lentils. Lima beans, white beans and soybeans -- both mature seeds and edamame -- also work well in an alkaline diet. Other soy products, like tofu, offer an alkaline-forming source of protein.
Hydrate with water, as well as herbal and green teas, sweetened with an alkaline sweetener like stevia if needed. Add flavor to your meals with alkaline seasonings, including fennel seeds, cumin, caraway and sesame seeds.
Acidic Foods to Avoid
Up to 30 percent of your daily food intake can come from acid-forming foods if you're following an alkaline diet.
Limit refined grains such as white bread, and opt instead for whole-grain versions. While whole-wheat bread is still slightly acidic, it's a less acidic option than white bread, corn tortillas or sourdough bread. Eat acidic fruits -- a group that includes mandarins, pineapple, tangerine, raspberries and unripe bananas -- in moderation.
Most meat is highly acid-forming, with beef, sardines, pork, tuna and veal among the most acidic. Diet staples like chicken, salmon and freshwater fish still count as acidic foods, but they're less acidic than beef. You'll also need to cap your intake of dairy products -- with the exception of buttermilk, which is alkaline.
Avoid cooking with acid-forming oils, including butter, margarine, corn oil and sunflower oil, and steer clear of acid-forming nuts like peanuts and pistachios. Minimize your use of certain condiments, including ketchup, mustard, mayo and soy sauce.
Stay away from processed foods; canned food and microwave dinners are both highly acidic. You'll also need to limit acid-forming beverages like sugar-sweetened juice cocktails, coffee, beer, wine and liquor.
Alkaline Breakfast Options
Start your day with a high-protein, alkaline-forming tofu scramble. Simply crumble tofu into bite-size pieces -- so that it will resemble the texture of scrambled eggs -- and add your favorite alkalizing veggies. Add steamed kale, mushrooms and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a spicier scramble, or try bok choy, mustard greens and fresh grated ginger for an Asian-inspired dish featuring alkaline-forming ingredients.
If you'd prefer a breakfast with more carbohydrates, cook millet in unsweetened almond milk -- stirring continuously to prevent burning -- to make a healthy alkalizing porridge. Top your porridge with chopped almonds and sliced dried figs, or add sliced banana and a dash of cinnamon.
Lunches and Dinners for an Alkaline Diet
Use alkaline-forming ingredients to make healthy lunches and dinners. Because leafy greens are among the most alkaline veggies, enjoying a big green salad on the alkaline diet is a no-brainer. Add heft to your salad by adding a half-cup of cooked lentils, a few blocks of grilled tofu or a small serving of grilled chicken or salmon, and make your own healthy spicy buttermilk dressing with a mixture of buttermilk, olive oil, oregano and cayenne pepper. For an Asian-inspired salad, top your greens with edamame, shredded carrot and baked chunks of tofu; then make a dressing out of sesame oil and fresh-grated ginger.
Make a light, alkaline-friendly soup by cooking your favorite veggies in a low-sodium vegetable broth, then tossing in edamame, sea vegetables and tempeh for high-quality protein and added flavor. Make a heartier soup by adding a half-cup of cooked kamut or spelt pasta to your bowl before serving.
Pasta made with alkaline grains, like kamut, can also satisfy a carb craving at dinner. Make your own alkaline-friendly pasta sauces at home using a food processor; try one made with tomatoes, fresh garlic, olive oil and basil for a traditional tomato sauce, or puree roasted butternut squash with buttermilk and sage until it takes on a creamy consistency.
Make an alkaline chili featuring white kidney beans, lentils and your favorite vegetables, and serve it on a bed of steamed greens. If you're craving extra carbs or protein, eat your chili with a small portion of grilled chicken or a slice of whole-wheat or sprouted-grain bread.
Snack Servings and Suggestions
Snacks on the alkaline diet can be simple; enjoy a ripe banana, a few slices of watermelon or an ounce of almonds. If you have a little more time to prepare your snack, try a quarter-avocado topped with a spoonful of hulled sunflower seeds and a drizzle of honey. Alternatively, blend up an alkaline smoothie made with almond milk, a handful of chopped kale, a few fresh figs or a frozen banana and a spoonful of almond butter.
Keeping Your Perspective
The alkaline diet has several potential benefits. You'll likely be eating lots of alkaline-forming fruits and veggies each day, which can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. You'll emphasize plant-derived protein over red meat, which can also boost heart health.
However, the high number of restricted foods on the alkaline diet might make it hard to follow, especially if some of your former diet staples fall into the "highly acidic" category. And many acid-forming foods have real health benefits; for example, skinless chicken is a rich source of protein, while raspberries and pineapple supply essential fiber and vitamin C.
If you're struggling with the restrictions of the alkaline diet, consult a nutrition professional to help you develop a meal plan that incorporates the main concepts of the alkaline diet, but still suits your individual food preferences.