But First, What Is An Alkaline Diet, Anyway?
Before we get into my little experiment, you should understand what the alkaline diet is and what it claims to do.
The idea behind the alkaline diet, also known as the alkaline acid diet or alkaline ash diet, is that your food can affect pH levels in the body. Your pH level, in turn, affects your overall health and well-being.
What does pH level mean? Well, pH is actually a spectrum, measured from 0 to 14. On the one end (0.0-6.9), you have “acidic”. On the other (7.0-14.0), you have “alkaline” or “base”. But what does this have to do with your diet?
When you eat something and digest it, your body doesn’t absorb everything. You produce what is called “metabolic waste”, or as proponents of the alkaline diet plan call it, “ash”. If you eat high acid foods, the ash will be acidic. If you eat high alkaline foods, the ash will be alkaline.
Scientists do agree that it’s important to maintain the relatively alkaline pH of our blood, at 7.365-7.4. The acid-ash diet theory believes that you can better manage your blood pH levels through an alkaline diet.
Furthermore, there are supposedly lots other benefits of having an alkaline body. The diet claims to help you shed some pounds, improve energy levels, and prevent diseases like arthritis, osteoporosis, and diabetes. It also recommends alkaline foods for their cancer-busting properties.
The Alkaline Food Chart
The alkaline diet divides food into three categories: acidic, neutral, and alkaline. Acidic foods include red meat, chicken, fish, chocolate, wheat, and alcohol. Neutral foods include natural fats like butter, most oils, milk, and cream. Alkaline foods include most fruits and veggies.
It’s not always intuitive. Is vinegar acidic or alkaline? Acidic. Is lemon acidic or alkaline? Surprisingly, alkaline. You can check out alkaline food lists like the one below for guidance.
Hesitations, Hesitations, Hesitations
Starting out, I was worried a little. I’ve never had an easy time sticking to diets, especially super-restrictive ones that discourage pretty much all of my favourite things. I love a good steak and I snack pretty frequently throughout the day. I’m also pretty partial to the occasional glass of wine.
The alkaline diet also forbids coffee, which I imagine would be difficult for people who need caffeine to jump start their day. Thankfully, I’m not a big coffee person, but I do drink tea every morning. And yep, that’s out of the question too.
While following the alkaline diet was my #1 concern, I was also worried about getting all of the nutrients I needed. I know that protein is an important part of any diet, and I wasn’t 100% confident I could cut it with just tofu and beans.
The Challenge: One Month On The Alkaline Diet
Armed with all of this info, I felt like I was finally ready to take on the challenge. But before I started, I had to make sure I knew what my goals were so I could measure for it at the end of the month.
And why do most people go on diets if not to lose a little bit of weight? I had a few extra pounds I could afford to lose, and a lot of people do choose the alkaline diet for its weight loss benefits. I couldn’t possibly measure for its alleged long-term effects like preventing cancer, but I was curious to see if I would at least feel happier or healthier.
My Usual Diet
As I said, I’m a meat eater. My meals usually consist of meat (chicken, beef, or pork mostly), a starch (rice, bread, potatoes), and a small serving of veggies. I’m a notorious snacker, and I nibble on bits of cheese pretty often. I also have a few glasses of wine or beer a week and a cup of tea every morning.
So, it’s obviously going to be quite difficult to switch!
My Experience With The Alkaline Diet
The highly-anticipated (dreaded?) day has come. I started out the week pretty strong, with chia seeds, coconut milk, and sliced alkaline fruits for breakfast. Lunch was variations of salad or lettuce wraps. For dinner, I’d stir-fry some veggies, beans, and tofu – all high-alkaline foods, according to my research.
The first week was tough. I’ll admit I still felt like I wasn’t eating enough, and I was always super hungry by the end of the day. I usually work out two or three times a week with some mild cardio and weight lifting, but I didn’t go because I was scared I was too weak for it.
My friend – the genius that he is – recommended that I supplement the diet with a protein-packed green smoothie. This way, I could still get my energy, feel full, and stick to the diet. My go-to was blueberries, bananas, spinach, almond milk, coconut oil, and a scoop of organic plant-based protein powder.
As for food, I’ve gotten pretty used to the quinoa-chia seeds-salad trifecta of alkaline diets. I’ve also eaten more avocados in the last two weeks than I have in my entire life.
I’ve settled into the diet at this point. I haven’t checked the scales yet because I’m saving that for the end of the challenge, but I do feel lighter and leaner. I’ve also started going back to the gym, although I’m still not lifting or running as much as I used to.
In the spirit of honesty, I cheated a little bit. A close friend came over for dinner one night and wasn’t aware of this experiment, so guess what he brought over? Wagyu steak and wine.
At first, I felt a little guilty that I broke my two-week streak. Then I justified it to myself as a one-time cheat day. But I felt less bad when I saw this article that said you can still have some acid-forming foods, as long as you keep it to less than 20% of your total consumption.
The final stretch! I was a little more experimental in the last week of my alkaline diet. I had quinoa burrito bowls with beans, corn, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and a squeeze of lime. I kicked dinner up a notch with spelt (not wheat!) pasta, tomatoes, and homemade pesto. I treated myself to as many power smoothies as I wanted.
The Results: Does The Alkaline Diet Work?
Well, I can’t say what the alkaline diet does for cancer or other diseases, but I can say that I slimmed down quite a bit. In a month, I lost about 3kg, or slightly less than a kilogram a week.
My energy levels dipped a bit in the first week, especially since I wasn’t getting as many calories as I did on my old diet. But after tweaking it a little bit and adding protein powder into the mix (literally), I had more energy to go through the day and even hit the gym.
But was it because of the alkaline diet or something else?
Scientists agree that the alkaline diet comes with many benefits, but not because of a more alkalised blood pH level. Compared to most people’s diets, the alkaline diet has more fruits, veggies, and just overall healthier food. There’s just no proof that your diet can affect your body’s pH, or that an alkaline diet is inherently better than any other healthy, low-sugar, nutrient-rich diet.
And what about the alkaline diet’s side effects? While it’s good to reduce your intake of red meat and processed foods, restricting entire food groups like dairy or grains can negatively impact your body. There’s also a huge risk of malnutrition, especially if you’re not taking supplements or getting important nutrients like protein elsewhere.
Most of all, the alkaline diet just isn’t sustainable. For me and for most others. Shopping for fruits, veg, and protein powder can get quite expensive. And eating the same things over and over again can get boring in the long run.
So am I going to continue on the alkaline diet? And do I recommend it? Well, yes and no. Here are the facts: the alkaline diet just isn’t based on any scientific evidence. Eating healthy is a huge part of being healthy, but you don’t need to go on the restrictive alkaline diet to reap the benefits.
If there’s something I can give the alkaline diet credit for is that it inspired me to incorporate more fruit and veg into my regular diet. Who knows, I might even do one or two vegetarian days a week! If making healthier choices was the goal, then I think the alkaline diet helped me achieve it.