What Is the Alkaline Diet?
The alkaline diet encourages you to eat foods that are alkaline (or basic, meaning they have a pH greater than 7), instead of those that are acidic. The theory is that foods that make your body produce acid are harmful.
Celebrities like Victoria Beckman and Tom Brady helped make the diet popular. But the supposed science of the alkaline diet dates back many years.
What is pH?
The acid level in your body is known as pH. The premise of the alkaline diet is that if you eat certain foods, you can change your pH level. But this claim is unproven.
Scientists measure pH levels on a scale of 0-14:
- A pH of 0-6 is acidic.
- A pH of 7 is neutral.
- A pH of 8 or higher is basic, or alkaline.
Alkaline vs. acidic foods
Alkaline foods have a high pH level, while acidic foods have a lower pH. Some examples of alkaline foods are non-starchy veggies, fruits, nuts such as chestnuts or pumpkin seeds, and legumes like kidney beans or white beans. Acidic foods include meat, cheese, eggs, and grains. Milk and natural fats are considered neutral.
How Does the Alkaline Diet Work?
Celebrities and book authors are the primary promoters of the alkaline diet. The diet gained popularity when Victoria Beckham tweeted about an alkaline diet cookbook in January 2013.
But many of the diet’s so-called benefits aren’t backed by scientific evidence. Everyone responds differently to different diets, so you should always talk to your doctor before starting a new eating plan.
With that said, the alkaline diet is a pitch Hollywood celebs love. Supposedly, the diet can help you lose weight and avoid problems like arthritis and cancer.
According to the "science" behind this diet, eating specific foods that make your body more alkaline can protect against those conditions as well as shed pounds.
The alkaline diet generally includes foods that are nutritious and unprocessed. People who follow this diet sometimes use a special dipstick to measure the pH in their urine. But this test is only a measurement of the pH of your pee, not your entire body.
Alkaline Diet Menu
Most fruits and vegetables, soybean, tofu, and some nuts, seeds, and legumes are alkaline-promoting foods, so they're fair game.
Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods like canned and packaged snacks and convenience foods fall on the acidic side and are not allowed.
Most books that tout the alkaline diet say you shouldn't have alcohol or caffeine, either.
Foods like natural fats, milk, and sugars are considered “neutral.” Advocates of the diet typically recommend that you avoid or limit neutral foods.
Alkaline diet foods
Some examples of alkaline foods are:
- Fruits, such as apples, cherries, pineapple, avocado, bananas, apricots, and cantaloupe
- Non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, beets, asparagus, leafy greens, garlic, carrots, and cabbage
- Unsweetened fruit juices
- Mineral water and herbal teas
- Nuts and seeds, such as chestnuts, pine nuts, and pumpkin seeds
- Fermented tofu or tempeh
- Some grains, such as quinoa
Benefits of the Alkaline Diet
The alkaline diet includes fresh, nutrient-dense foods that are good for you. It doesn’t allow for added sugars or other junk foods that lack nutritional value. Though the science of the alkaline diet falls short, the eating habits it promotes can still offer health benefits.
Does it allow for restrictions or preferences?
If you’re a vegetarian or have food allergies, the alkaline diet may be easier for you to follow.
Vegetarians and vegans: This diet is mostly vegetarian. It also works for vegans, since dairy is off-limits.
Gluten-free: The diet excludes wheat, but to avoid gluten completely, you'll need to check food labels carefully, as gluten is not just in wheat.
Besides wheat, the diet nixes most of the other major triggers for food allergies, including milk, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, fish, and shellfish. It's also good for people who are trying to avoid fat and sugar.
What else you should know
You don't need to buy courses, books, or supplements to follow the alkaline diet. There are many free alkaline food charts online that list foods you can buy at the grocery store.
There's no built-in exercise routine as part of the alkaline diet, which may make the diet easier to incorporate into your existing lifestyle.
Disadvantages of the Alkaline Diet
The alkaline diet has some restrictions that may make it a difficult to maintain.
Level of effort: high
Some people find the alkaline diet hard to sustain because of the limitations it creates for what you can eat. You may have to cut out lots of foods that you're used to eating.
Many foods are restricted in an alkaline diet, including meat: This diet is almost entirely vegetarian. Most forms of dairy and meat is off-limits. In addition to the many foods that are off-limits, so are alcohol and caffeine. Because the diet cuts out meat, processed, and other acidic foods, it may be hard for some people to stick with.
Additionally, it's difficult to eat out on an alkaline diet, meaning you may be making more trips to the grocery store. If you're not used to cooking at home, it could take a while to learn how to prep and make your meals when you use fresh foods.
What else you should know
While there are lots of alkaline diet products available for purchase, they can be expensive. Know that you don’t need to spend money on specialized products to follow this diet.
Alkaline Diet Review
While the alkaline diet may sound like it’s rooted in science, Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist, notes that there’s little evidence to support the claims that the diet can change your body's pH level. “You can’t change the alkaline of your blood,” says Zelman. While following an alkaline diet may be able to change the pH levels of your pee, this measure is not a reflection of the pH of your blood. Your body works to keep that level constant.
The health benefits that an alkaline diet can promote have nothing to do with your body's pH levels. “The diet advocates for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, as well as whole and unprocessed foods, and that’s the basis of a healthy diet,” says Zelman. But she stresses that a balanced diet also includes many of the foods that the alkaline diet restricts, like whole grains, dairy, and many forms of protein.
Another notable absence within the alkaline diet’s guidelines? “There’s no mention of exercise in this diet plan,” says Zelman. “It’s not just about what you eat. You have to get regular physical activity, too.” The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. If you're new to exercise or have any medical problems, talk to your doctor before you change your exercise routines.
Does the alkaline diet work?
Maybe, but not for the reasons it claims.
While you could see weight loss with the alkaline diet, the results will likely be temporary. “When you start eliminating so many foods – sugar and alcohol and processed food – and most of your foods are fruits, vegetables, and lots of water, you’ll lose weight,” says Zelman. “But it’s not sustainable. Foods like protein are very satisfying. They keep your belly full. So do healthy fats.”
Zelman warns that fad diets like the alkaline diet may cause a yo-yo effect. If you often don’t feel full and return to your normal lifestyle, you’ll likely regain the weight that you lost -- and maybe even gain a few extra pounds. Ultimately, the restrictiveness of the alkaline diet may make it difficult to maintain for the long term.
Research is too limited to prove that eating more alkaline foods will help your body fight diseases like cancer.
Is it good for certain conditions?
In its most restrictive form, Zelman doesn’t recommend the alkaline diet for anyone, especially those with cancer, kidney disease, osteoporosis, or any other chronic health condition whose health could be impacted by the nutritional gaps that exist within the diet.
But there could be benefits to expanding upon the foundations of the alkaline diet by including eggs, dairy, whole grains, and protein to your plate, in addition to eating a more plant-based, unprocessed diet. Zelman notes that the emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods in the alkaline diet may help someone reduce the amount of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in their diet, which could benefit anyone with heart disease or diabetes.
But Zelman cautions anyone with a history of disordered eating against starting the alkaline diet: “When you categorize foods as good or bad -- like with alkanizing foods versus acidic foods -- it tends to promote eating disorders.”
Parents should avoid the alkaline diet for kids. Zelman notes that the diet eliminates important nutrient-rich foods like animal proteins, eggs, and fish that can be critical for their growth and development. “When you start having nutritional gaps, a diet becomes unsafe for children,” says Zelman.
Consult your health care provider before you make significant changes to your diet.
The final word
Following an alkaline diet will be tough for many people.
A lot of your favorite foods that are allowed in moderation in other plans (including lean meat, low-fat dairy, bread, and sweets) are forbidden here. Protein is limited to plant-based sources such as beans and tofu. This means you'll have to make sure you get enough protein and calcium from other sources.
Eating out can also be a challenge. If you travel a lot for work or have a busy schedule, you might feel bogged down by all the food selection and prep.
Given that many people will struggle with an alkaline diet because of its restrictiveness, Zelman stresses that there’s space for a wide range of foods in a healthy diet. “In my opinion, all foods fit. You can have a healthy diet and still have room for -- granted, limited -- indulgences.” says Zelman. “Eighty percent of the time, your diet should be based on fundamentally good foods. But can you have some bacon? Can you have a piece of chocolate cake? Yes – those foods can fit in moderation and in the context of a healthy diet.”
Do the benefits of the alkaline diet outweigh its shortcomings? According to Zelman, no. “There are too many deficiencies and too many risks. It’s not sustainable, and there’s no evidence that it’s going to be healthful,” she says. “The best diet is the one you can stick with, so you need to find a plan that works for you, works for your lifestyle, but is also based on evidence.”
Alkaline Diet Recipes
Here are some easy alkaline diet recipes:
Breakfast: alkaline green smoothie
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 cup watermelon, cubed
- 5 frozen strawberries
- 1/2 small banana
- 1 handful fresh spinach
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- 1 cup ice
Instructions: Place all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.
Lunch: alkaline salad with apple cider vinaigrette
- 1 cup cucumber
- 1 cup watermelon
- 1/2 cup of raspberries
- 1 sliced avocado
- 1 cup of broccoli
- 1 cup of papaya
- 1/2 cup of toasted almonds
- 4 cups baby kale
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove (minced)
- 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1-2 tablespoons raw honey
Instructions: Mix dressing ingredients and store in the refrigerator. Combine all salad ingredients and toss. Top it with dressing.
Dinner: quinoa mushroom bowl
- 1.5 cups of white quinoa
- 1 cup of water
- 1 container of mushrooms
- 1 tomato (sliced)
- 1 avocado (sliced)
- Pink Himalayan sea salt
- Sweet basil
- Sage powder
- Onion powder
- Cayenne pepper
- 1 lime
Instructions: Cook the quinoa on low heat with the lid on. Cook mushrooms with grape seed oil and add desired amount of pink Himalayan sea salt, oregano, sweet basil, onion power, cayenne pepper, and sage seasoning. Then, cut tomatoes and avocado and combine everything together. For extra flavor, squeeze some lime over the top of the quinoa.
The alkaline diet urges you to eat foods that are alkalizing and avoid those that are acidic. It includes nutritious options like fruits and veggies. Though the theory behind how the diet works is unproven, it may offer some benefits simply because it promotes healthy habits. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you try any diet that limits food groups.
Alkaline Diet FAQs
Is the alkaline diet healthy?
The alkaline diet encourages you to eat whole, healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits. In this way, the diet can be a healthy option. But it also restricts many foods that can form a well-balanced and nutritious diet.
How fast can I lose weight on the alkaline diet?
It depends. Because the diet promotes eating healthy, low-calorie foods, you may lose weight, but this isn’t a guarantee. The diet isn't designed for sustainable weight loss.
What are the best alkaline foods to eat?
Alkalizing foods include non-starchy vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and some grains and legumes.
What are 10 alkaline foods?
Here are 10 alkalinizing foods:
- Pumpkin seeds
What meat can you eat on the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet doesn’t allow for meat, dairy, or eggs. You may eat some plant-based protein, such as tofu.