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Alkacadabra: The Myth of the Alkaline Diet


Our coral reefs are dying. The main culprit appears to be acid in our oceans- a slow downward creep in pH as ocean water absorbs increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. As carbonic acid builds, the ocean water’s pH decreases, and the acid stress leaches minerals from the reef, which is mostly calcium carbonate.


Your bone is comprised of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus- alkaline minerals. Does your bone act like the reef if your fluids become more acidic? Is the story similar? Proponents of an alkaline diet make this claim- that not only does diet affect your internal pH, but also that acidity can damage your bones and lead to other chronic illnesses like cancer.


But, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and in the case of the alkaline diet theory, the evidence is less than extraordinary. Read on to learn more about the myth of the alkaline diet- and why so-called acid-forming foods are the least of your bone-health concerns.


What is the Alkaline-Ash Diet?

Here is the position of the alkaline diet: Your body gets energy by burning foods for fuel. The remaining ash is either acidic or basic (alkaline). Choosing more alkaline-ash foods than acid-ash foods (about a 3:1 ratio) helps promote a balanced internal environment. This basic shift balances the stressors in daily life that produce acid in your body, reducing the work you must do to maintain pH balance.


Acid-ash foods include most proteins, phosphate, and sulfur (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol). Alkaline-ash foods include the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium (fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables). Neutral foods include fats, starches, and sugars. According to this theory, you can see the results of your food intake reflected in your urine pH, but the food choices you make also affects the pH of other fluids, like blood and extracellular fluid.


The fear: Don’t eat enough alkaline foods? Expect the minerals in your bones to be used to buffer acid and support pH balance, which will wear down your bones.


Let’s Examine the Evidence

Claim: Changes in urine pH are evidence that different foods have different effects on pH in the body overall, and that those changes matter to the pH of the environment your cells are in.


Examination: Yes, the food you eat changes the pH of your urine. But what does that actually tell you? It tells you what you ate recently—Which you already knew. But, here is the part the alkaline dieters are not telling you. Your urine pH changes so that your blood pH doesn’t have to. Your blood pH is kept in a tight range, and will not change much based on your food consumption. Extracellular fluids (outside) and intracellular fluids (inside) of your cells cannot drastically alter their pH or cells won’t function properly. Other factors change your urine pH as well, such as fasting, exercise, or medication use. Finally, there are cultures all over the world, both modern and historical, that do not suffer from higher rates of cancer, diabetes, or osteoporosis and consume a mainly acid-ash diet.


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