The truth about the Alkaline Diet

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of hype about the Alkaline Diet. People who promote this diet claim that foods like meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods create an acidic environment in the body, which causes inflammation and many health problems like obesity, osteoporosis and cancer.  But is this true?

The truth about the alkaline diet

Today I want to set the record straight! So, first thing’s first: you need to know that what we eat cannot significantly change the pH of our blood.  Our body maintains our blood pH within a very narrow range that is not easily changed, except in the case of certain medical conditions like kidney disease. Such conditions can cause a high amount of acid in the blood, which requires immediate medical treatment to prevent organ failure or possible death. Eating acid forming foods cannot have this effect on our blood (or else we’d all be dead)!

Likewise, eating alkaline foods won’t make our blood alkaline. So those claims that following the Alkaline Diet will cure cancer because it alkalizes our body therefore killing cancer cells? Not true.

But… what food can do is change the pH of our urine. Foods like fruits and vegetables cause more alkaline urine, whereas meat, dairy, and highly salty foods result in more acidic urine. So what does this mean?

This is a complicated topic and there is lots of conflicting evidence in this area. One thing that is known for sure is that acidic urine contains higher levels of calcium (source). So naturally this has made many researchers think that eating acidic, protein rich foods causes calcium to be pulled from the bones. There are a few studies to support this happens in the short term, but there are also many studies showing that an acidic, high protein diet is associated with healthier bones (source)! And there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that calcium excreted in acidic urine causes osteoporosis in the long term (source).

The truth about the alkaline diet

Some people like to bring up the fact that populations in Asia eat very little dairy and have low rates of osteoporosis as evidence to support the Alkaline Diet. But this isn’t proof because the data is purely correlational. Just because two factors are correlated, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. There are many other reasons why Asian populations may have low rates of osteoporosis such as greater vitamin D intake from fish or sunlight, or lower sodium intake from processed foods.

So clearly many aspects of the Alkaline Diet are not supported by scientific evidence. But… eating more fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds is still a good thing! And in fact, they may even be good for your bones. There is conflicting evidence in this area too, but experts have deemed it as “possible” that fruits and vegetables are beneficial for bone health (source). But it’s not because of their alkalinity. It may simply be because fruits and vegetables are full of many vitamins and minerals that are good for your bones, such as potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin K to just name a few.

The truth about the alkaline diet

The bottom line: What you eat cannot make your body more alkaline. So you can skip that overpriced alkaline water without an ounce of evidence behind it and just focus on eating more fruits and vegetables – not because they alkalize your body but because they’re good for you!


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26 Responses to The truth about the Alkaline Diet

  1. Thank you for posting about this. I feel like there is so much conflicting evidence about there that it becomes so confusing to follow the “right” diet. Everything is made out to be so dire. So thanks for clearing some stuff up!

    • Chelsea

      Glad you found it helpful Laura! It drives me nuts how much misleading and false nutrition information the media presents. No wonder everyone is so confused about nutrition!

  2. Good post! Although I have a hard time using reductionist papers as evidence. The whole scientific model is something I struggle with since reading the book Whole. I do think it is important to focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and also I do think the prevention of cancer can be linked to eating less meat and dairy!

    • Chelsea

      Fruits and veggies are definitely key! And I agree that there may be a link between processed/red meat and cancer according to some of the recent studies. Not to mention heart disease and other health conditions!

  3. I especially love that you brought up the issue of causation v correlation. It’s far too easy to conclude that a certain diet causes various effects. In fact I just read an article on how eating meat causes various illnesses and while that might have been the case for a handful of people, it’s close to impossible to say that meat was the cause- there are so many other factors beyond our diet which cause illness.

    I really enjoy your RD posts, girl- keep ’em coming!

    • Chelsea

      Yes! I think that’s one of the huge problems with the media is that it neglects to point out the difference between cause and correlation, so it can be quite misleading!

  4. Thanks for clearing up the confusion surrounding this topic! Very interesting read :)

  5. Thanks for clearing this up Chelsea. I’ve been a little curious as to how credible the ph diet can be!

  6. thanks for getting the story straight in such simple terms.

  7. Interesting stuff!! I’ve never even considered the alkaline diet, to be honest! I feel like there are so many opinions on all these diets with not enough evidence (or conflicting evidence) so I just stick to my “eat ALL the things” diet and so far it’s been working out pretty well!! Hah!

  8. Thanks for clarifying this Chelsea! People too often jump on the correlation = causation thing, which simply isn’t true.

  9. Word. Great post Chelsea!! You need to read the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz – I just finished it and I need to talk to someone about it! It’s how butter/meat/cheese aren’t bad for you at all. Interesting read for sure.

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  11. So many diets. So much conflicting information. At the end of the day, I’m all about people eating the foods that make them feel their best. I’ve known people who thrive off Paleo diets, and I’ve known people who thrive off plant-based diets, so at the end of the day, every diet is a good one for somebody… it’s all about finding which one is best for you rather than listening to all the hype out there.

    • Chelsea

      Yeah exactly – the same diet isn’t going to work for everyone! And I’m all for people eating plant based if that’s what makes them feel best, but I just don’t feel there’s enough evidence to say that the alkalinity of eating plant based is what makes it good for you.

  12. Great post, Chelsea! I was actually just contacted by Amazing Grass to help hem promote a new product related to the alkaline diet and I had no clue what that meant, haha. It’s nice to know the facts behind it! I’m a proponent of eating what makes you feel your best, mentally and physically so if that means dairy and meat then so be it. However, I’m all for anything that promoted eating more veggies! The science is definitely proven that they’re good for us. :)

    • Chelsea

      Thanks Sarah! :) Yes I’m definitely a proponent of eating lots of fruits and veggies! But I think they’re good for us not because they’re alkaline, but for other reasons (fibre, antioxidants, vitamins/minerals, etc).

  13. This is ALL the rage here right now. There are protein powders and supplements now adding Alkaline this or that on the packaging.

    And that Asian example is so ridiculous. Trust me (well half of me lol).

    • Chelsea

      Geez Louise, what WON’T supplement companies write on their products? They’ll write just about any non-factual BS to sell them!

  14. Good lord, what will they come up with next? We need to lose all the hype, ditch the buzz words (low calorie, low fat, sugar-free, high protein, low carb, high fiber, alkaline) and just eat as much real nutrient dense food as possible. I despise all this garbage and yet it keeps on, keeping. I often wonder when will people make the causation connection. Another fad dieting trend pops up and yet the obesity rates continue to rise. You make me want to blog about this topic.

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