What is the alkaline diet — and will it help you lose weight?

What a registered dietitian wants you to know about following the alkaline diet.
by Samantha Cassetty, RD /  / Updated 
Image: Smoothie
An alkaline diet has a lot in common with a vegan diet, though there are other restrictions that go along with alkaline eating (so long, beloved coffee and hello, non-dairy smoothies!).Julia Murray / Getty Images/EyeEm
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Kelly Ripa’s bikini bod has been the subject of online chatter for years, and so is the alkaline diet she follows to stay in prime shape. A quick Google search brings up a host of claims — from glowing skin to weight loss to pain relief. Some practitioners claim to cure degenerative conditions, digestive disorders and reproductive issues.

Depending on the source, you may read a lot of bogus information about the alkaline diet, but famous fans aside, the plan does have some merit. Here’s what you need to know.

ALKALINE DIET 101

The alkaline diet is based on the premise that the acid or alkaline load of the food you eat can impact your health — poorly if you’re eating a higher acid load and positively if you’re consuming foods that promote a more alkaline environment. Fruits, veggies and seeds promote body-wide alkalinity whereas meats, fish, grains, eggs and dairy are considered acid-forming foods. Drinks, like alcohol, coffee, and even your favorite carbonated water (like, La Croix) are also said to promote acid formation in your body. Organic produce is often recommended because the soil is said to be richer in alkaline-forming compounds.

WHAT YOU CAN EAT

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Legumes

WHAT'S OFF LIMITS

The first point of confusion: The diet isn’t based on the acidity or alkalinity of foods themselves. Take a lemon or an orange, both of which are considered acidic fruits, but are alkaline-forming foods. The chemistry lesson here is that the diet is all about the metabolic by-products of these foods rather than the foods themselves.

The diet is all about the metabolic by-products of these foods rather than the foods themselves.

Acidity and alkalinity are measured on a pH scale. Levels of pH are varied within organs and systems, and beyond that, within certain cells. The second point of confusion: The diet doesn’t change your overall pH or your blood pH levels. It’s well established that certain systems maintain tight control over pH levels (for instance, your blood and stomach are kept within strict pH targets). Though the pH of some of these environments won’t change, eating mostly alkaline-forming foods can impact your cellular pH levels.

Research suggests that your cells function more optimally when you eat a high alkaline load, and this might result in some pretty good benefits. The most solid science is around maintaining lean muscle mass in aging adults, a reduced risk for high blood pressure and stroke, reduced back pain and potential bone health benefits.

MEASURING YOUR BODY’S PH

Some hard-core followers measure the pH of their urine or saliva. You can buy kits and strips to help you do this, though most experts don’t consider your urine pH a window to your health. You can benefit from the core commandments of an alkaline diet without creating a chemistry lab in your bathroom.

THE FOOD

Let’s get away from chemistry and get back to food now. Think about the typical American diet for a moment. It tends to be high in sugar, refined grains, sodium (mostly from the packaged foods we eat) and meats, but low in fruits and veggies — pretty much the opposite of an alkaline diet menu.

When we eat this way, we over-consume sodium (a problem for 90 percent of Americans), but under-consume potassium and magnesium, minerals that help our cells function well. This pattern of eating is linked with chronic conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain forms of cancer.

An alkaline diet has a lot in common with a vegan diet, though there are other restrictions that go along with alkaline eating (so long beloved La Croix and coffee). Common sense (and science) tells us there are benefits to consuming more plants. I go into detail about a vegan diet here, but the gist is that a totally meatless menu has been linked with better blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and even weight improvements. Are you starting to see some similarities here? Some benefits of an alkaline diet can definitely be attributed to a higher alkaline load, but note that you’ll also be taking in tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant compounds that are clearly and consistently linked to better health — even among those who are eating whole grains and other foods that are off-limits on the alkaline diet.

WILL YOU LOSE WEIGHT?

If you’re currently loading up on a typical American diet with lots of sugary and refined carbs, like pizza, chips, cookies and soda, eating hamburgers and fries, and are among the 90 percent of Americans who isn’t consuming enough fruits and veggies, yeah, you’ll probably lose weight. Let’s be clear about this: Yes, you may lose weight, but it’s unlikely that your slimmer frame has anything to do with your pH levels. It has to do with replacing high-calorie foods that don’t fill you up with low-calorie, high-quality foods that do.

Will you become ripped, like Kelly Ripa? That’s unlikely. Though I don’t work with her, I think it’s safe to say that in addition to eating this way, she also takes exercise seriously. Good genes may also be at play. And she might be extra motivated to stay fit and slim given her career in front of a camera. Let’s not forget that a Hollywood aesthetic is not necessarily ideal. Bodies come in lots of shapes and sizes, and if you lose weight by eating well, moving routinely and you’re also keeping your health in check, that's the most important thing.

IS THE ALKALINE DIET RIGHT FOR YOU?

The good news, as I’ve explained before, is that you can lose weight and improve your health on a variety of plans. If you’re used to eating meat every day, going totally meat-free may not feel doable for you. In that case, I’d suggest finding another way to go. Programs and diet plans only work when they’re sustainable. If it doesn’t feel like you can eat this way for the rest of your life, it’s going to be an uphill battle to stick with it. Even Kelly Ripa has admitted that she doesn’t follow the alkaline diet to a T. She reportedly relies on coffee with cream and enjoys rosé and fish from time to time. This makes her human! We all have our vices.

One thing I can say for sure: We can all benefit from getting more produce in our diets, but you don't need the alkaline diet to do that.

WHAT A NUTRITIONIST WANTS YOU TO KNOW

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