For some people, eating highly acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, chocolate, coffee and peppermint causes heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), says Cedars Sinai. Eating a diet of non-acidic foods may be helpful for managing such conditions.
If you have a burning sensation in the chest or throat upon eating, it may be an indication that stomach acid is backing up in the esophagus. If this happens, your doctor may recommend eating foods that reduce stomach acid.
Other people choose to eat non-acidic foods due to a popular belief that an alkaline diet plan — which includes mostly fruits and vegetables — can prevent or treat cancer.
While eating more plant-based meals can benefit your health in many ways, fruits and vegetables are only one part of a healthy eating pattern. Be sure you understand the complete picture for your individual health, and work with your doctor to decide if an alkaline diet is best for you.
Alkaline Diet Plan Basics
The alkaline diet plan is based on the concept that the body becomes acidic, alkaline or neutral in response to the mineral components of food. Note that a pH of zero indicates a high level of acidity, seven is considered neutral and 14 is the most basic, or alkaline.
The theory is that the modern diet of processed foods, saturated fats and added sugars acidifies the body. This acidity, the theory goes, is said to cause cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, among other health conditions.
In contrast, an alkaline diet plan, aka acid-ash diet, is promoted as both a preventive measure and a treatment for these diseases. The acid-ash hypothesis suggests that consuming more fruits and vegetables and only moderate protein allows the body to achieve a more alkaline load.
Proponents of the diet say that dietary changes will raise systemic pH. However, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) notes in a June 2016 review that foods can alter urine pH, but not blood pH. In addition, any excess acid or base from food is excreted in the urine to help maintain proper pH balance in the body, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
Read more: List of High Alkaline Vegetables
About Non-Acidic Foods
According to the BMJ review, there is no clear evidence that an alkaline diet plan can prevent or treat cancer — at least in terms of a food's acidity or alkalinity.
In reality, the human body tightly regulates the acid-base balance in the body via several mechanisms, including kidney and respiratory functions. These systems are always at work to keep blood pH levels in the neutral range, around 7.35 to 7.45, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). As such, the food you eat won't impact blood pH.
At the same time, eating an alkaline diet offers numerous health benefits. July 2012 research published in Advances in Nutrition touts the advantages of filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
It's the vitamin, mineral, fiber and phytochemical content of fruits and vegetables that work to reduce the risk of certain diseases, supply antioxidants and reduce inflammation. In other words, what you eat matters in terms of disease prevention, but perhaps not clearly so in terms of impacting your body's acidity or alkalinity.
Read more: What Is an Alkaline Diet?
Focus on Healthy Eating Patterns
The key to good health is not simply eating foods that reduce stomach acid, but eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Limit consumption of red meat and processed meats, and drink alcohol only in moderation.
Eating this way is considered a healthy eating pattern, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines further suggest eating low-fat or nonfat dairy, lean proteins and a small amount of healthy fats, with limited saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium.
The LLS concurs that your overall pattern of eating is more important than a single food in managing or preventing cancer. When you focus on eating foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, you ensure you are getting proper nutrition and meeting your daily calorie needs in the healthiest way.
If your doctor recommends eating more foods that reduce stomach acid, try incorporating the following low-acid foods into your diet:
- Most fresh vegetables and fruits
- Unsweetened, low-fat yogurt and milk
- Soy, including miso, soybeans, tofu and tempeh
- Beans and lentils
- Herbal teas
- Millet, quinoa and amaranth
- Certain healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil
- Select seasonings like fennel seeds, cumin, caraway and sesame seeds
Depending on your symptoms, you may need to avoid or limit higher-acid foods, such as:
- Processed foods
- Sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks
- Deli meats and other processed meats
- Beef, pork, sardines, tuna and veal
- Ketchup, mustard, mayo and soy sauce
- High-protein foods and supplements
- Highly acidic fruits like citrus and tomatoes
- Canned foods and microwave meals
The evidence linking a food's acid content with disease prevention and treatment is not definitive. However, the alkaline diet's focus on consuming more plants and fewer processed foods and refined sugars is a well-accepted measure toward greater health. Coupled with a healthy eating pattern and regular exercise, it can give you the energy you need for daily living.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: British Medical Journal: "Systematic Review of the Association Between Dietary Acid Load, Alkaline Water and Cancer"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Alkaline Diets"
- Cedars Sinai: "Heartburn and Acid Reflux: What You Need to Know"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "Breaking Down Food Fads: The Alkaline Diet"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: Advances in Nutrition: "Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables"