Alkaline diet: how does it work?

Siski Green / 07 September 2015

Find out whether it's just another fad or whether eating more alkaline foods does really help shed fat faster.



Celebrities rave about how an alkaline diet has transformed their bodies – from weight loss to glowing skin – but is this just another fad or could it be that adjusting your diet so you ingest more alkaline rather than acid-based foods can really make a big difference?

Your body’s pH level is intrinsically related to your health and because of this it works hard to ensure it’s always kept at the right level – between 7.35 to 7.45 pH, which is slightly alkaline. However, certain parts of your body require an acidic environment to function properly - inside the stomach, for example, at a pH level of 1.35 to 3.5, and even your skin (4-6.5) have a slightly acidic pH level.

So you might wonder how eating an alkaline-rich diet would help, given that your body already works hard to keep this level just right.

The idea is that today’s lifestyle with increased fat and sugar consumption, as well as high-carbohydrate intake, increases acid levels and so we actually need to eat more alkaline foods to balance it out.

However, research from various studies indicates that changes in diet don’t alter the body’s blood pH levels – they don’t make it more acid, nor do they make it more alkaline.

They do, however, alter the pH level of urine. So is it worth going to the effort of an alkaline diet to alter the pH level of your wee? Quite possibly, yes. But to find out why, you need to understand more about the diet itself.  

Eating more alkaline foods

Diets based on the alkaline-is-good-for-you idea consist of increasing the quantity of alkaline foods and reducing acid-producing ones. So this means dramatically increasing the quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat, as well as legumes, and dramatically cutting down or completely removing foods such as pasta, sugar, coffee, tea, alcohol and shellfish from your diet. Dairy products are also out or eaten in very small amounts. Protein and grains (meat, seeds, nuts, oats) also form part of the alkaline diet, but are eaten in far smaller proportions compared to fruit and veg. 

So, to sum up, an alkaline diet would likely involve you

  • eating a lot more fruit and vegetables
  • completely removing any processed foods from your diet
  • cutting down dramatically on carbohydrates and saturated fats and sugar

In other words, a very healthy diet. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why people might see great results with the diet – it’s very healthy! But the benefits from the diet are more likely to be a result of eating more healthily than eating alkaline foods.

The ‘most alkaline’ producing foods

Surprisingly, top of the list are foods that seem acidic - lemon and grapefruit, for example. But once ingested these citrus fruits become alkaline.

Other good foods are:

  • onions
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • beetroot
  • leafy greens such as spinach and rocket
  • coconut water
  • wheatgrass
  • almond milk

The most acid-producing foods

  • red meat
  • pork
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • coffee
  • tea
  • sugar
  • processed cereals
  • other processed foods

The benefits of an alkaline diet

A diet like the alkaline diet, with its large quantity of fruits and vegetables, means more minerals and vitamins in your diet.

So, in theory, this would improve bone health, reduce muscle wasting and also help prevent diseases such as hypertension, as well as give you more energy and better looking skin and hair.

Along with that, an increase in growth hormone, which would be a side effect of the diet, would also improve memory and cognition, as well as other health aspects such as heart health.

The bottom line

When researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, looked at available data on following an alkaline diet, they did find some benefits, as outlined above.

That said, they theorise that an alkaline diet isn’t a miracle diet, but that its effects stem from very basic healthy-eating principles. Specifically:

  • more fruit and vegetables to ensure a high intake of water, fibre, vitamins and minerals
  • a reduction or exclusion of processed foods especially high-salt and high-sugar foods
  • a reduced intake of meats and dairy
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.