Marika Wamback, BSc. R.D.
Truth Or Trick: Alkaline Diets — All Trick!
Information on the alkaline diet is everywhere. Promoters of the alkaline diet theorize that by making the body more alkaline through diet, (aka-changing your pH) it will eliminate or cure any negative health issues. This is all misleading information. Why? Let’s start with the basics:
- The pH scale used to measure whether something is acidic or basic ranges from 0-14 respectively; however, the numbers increase logarithmically. For instance, if something has a pH of 2, although very acidic, is 10 times more basic than 1. 7 is considered neutral pH. Anything less than 7 is acidic, and anything more than 7 is basic. It begs the question, how would food create that much pH change? Answer: it won’t.
- The body’s pH is strictly maintained around 7.4, already slightly alkaline. Any change less than 7.35 or greater than 7.45 can result in death. This strict pH balance is maintained by the kidneys NOT the digestive system.
- Digestion starts in the mouth and ends, well, you know where. Digestion is a complex process. There are three major pH shifts that occur throughout the digestion process. They occur in the mouth, stomach, and the intestine.
- The mouth contains salivary amylase, an enzyme for digesting starch. It’s pH is around 6.7-7.0. The moment we start eating, our pH is already well out of balance.
- The stomach has a pH of around 2 which is very acidic. It contains hydrochloric acid (and gastric acid). If you remember from chemistry class, the teacher warned you to stay away from the hydrochloric acid as it would eat the meat off of bones. We don’t usually eat bones, but the acid is needed in our stomach to digest the meat (and many other items). A pH of 2 is well out of range of 7.4. We definitely wouldn’t survive this!
- When food enters the small intestine, bicarbonate from the pancreas is secreted to neutralize the food/environment, as the intestine is not designed for the strong stomach acid. Stomach acid is 100,000 times more acidic than the pH of the intestine. The release of bicarbonate causes a major shift in pH from 2 to about 7.
Alkaline Diets and Body Science
So, what is the bottom line? If pH was food/digestive dependent, we wouldn’t survive chewing. Anatomy and physiology, clinical nutrition, or biochemistry are all essential to understanding how the body works. Popular diets often do not utilize the science of the body. The alkaline diet does focus on eating healthy foods and eliminating processed foods, but is this a ‘cure’ for all of your ailments or just healthy eating? The trick is in the marketing, uneducated sellers, and the false claims and to make people spend money on ineffective products. The truth or fact is eating a balance of healthy foods is what makes your body healthy-not the pH of your food. There is no scientific basis or evidence that eating foods with specific pH’s will prevent or cure disease.
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