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Everything you see around you in nature has a level of acidity measured by pH. A pH scale runs from 0–14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is as acidic, and anything above 7 is alkaline.
All foods that are consumed have a pH level. When these foods are metabolized, they either produce an acid ash residue or an alkaline ash residue.
While the human body has a tight regulation mechanism that strictly maintains its pH at around 7.4, (1) recent schools of thought believe that eating foods that will produce alkaline ash is beneficial for general health.
This article shall present alkaline foods and the benefits of eating them.
Top 5 Alkaline Foods
Meat and meat products, eggs, cheeses, and grains increase acid production and result in acid ash, whereas fruits, vegetables, and lentils are alkaline ash-producing foods.
Milk and yogurt as well as fats and sugars have a minimal impact on the acid-base balance and are considered neutral foods. (2)
Foods are classified as being acidic or alkaline based on their potential renal acid load (PRAL) scores. This is a measure of the amount of acid or alkali in the urine that your diet produces in the body. The lower the score of a food, the more alkaline promoting it is. (3)
1. Cruciferous vegetables
Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are commonly categorized as cruciferous. (4) They are common alkaline-contributing foods containing anti-inflammatory properties. (4) Due to their benefits, they are highly studied for their role in cancer therapies.
Cruciferous vegetables are also rich in carotenoids; antioxidants; vitamins C, E, and K; folate; and minerals such as potassium and calcium; arginine; and fiber. (5)
Include these in your diet by steaming, grilling, boiling, and adding them to salads and as side dishes.
2. Citrus fruits
Although most fruits are classified as alkaline due to their potassium or bicarbonate content, citrus fruits in particular produce alkaline ash upon metabolism due to their high citric acid content. (6)
Active metabolites present in citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. These properties make the fruits beneficial in reducing the risks of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. (7)
Include these in your diet as whole fruits, juice, chopped up and in salads, or even frozen desserts.
3. Root vegetables
Root vegetables are those that grow underground, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, radishes, beetroot, and carrots. In addition to being energy-giving foods, they also have a low PRAL score. (8)
These vegetables function as antioxidants, help in regulating blood glucose, reduce cholesterol, and also exhibit antimicrobial properties. (9) As they are high-energy-giving foods and relatively inexpensive, they are often preferred across all age groups.
Include these in your diet by boiling, steaming, and mashing them. They can be used to make kebabs, topped in salads, turned into chips, and baked into side dishes.
An excellent source of plant protein, lentils have a low PRAL score. (10) They are cost-effective legumes and have high potassium content.
Their increased intake is associated with reduced risks of obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Due to their abundant polyphenol content, they also possess antioxidant properties. (11)
Include these in your diet by cooking them as soups, as a protein add-on in salads, or as meat replacement dishes.
Nuts often form a part of a low-PRAL, alkalizing diet. (8) Rich sources of healthy fats, high-quality vegetable protein, fiber, and minerals, they provide many beneficial health effects. (12)
Studies have shown their cholesterol-lowering effect and benefits in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. (12)
Include these in your diet as roasted snacks, in sauces or gravies, or topped onto salads and main dishes. It is important to take into account allergies when consuming any nuts.
Benefits of an Alkaline Diet
An alkaline diet can benefit you in the following ways:
1. Improved bone health
Several proponents of the theory that alkaline diets prevent bone loss argue that in vitro studies have shown that high acidic levels within the body lead to activations of cells that leach out calcium from the bones. In turn, cells that deposit calcium work best at an alkaline pH. (13)
In a study of 100 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, the intervention group of 50 women when given calcium D along with alkaline water with a pH of 8.6 showed an improved spine T-score as compared to the control group that did not receive alkaline water. This indicates that consuming foods or drinks with an alkaline pH may be beneficial in increasing bone density. (14)
However, a review evaluating the effect of an acidic diet or pH on bone loss found that, though acidic diets increased calcium loss through urine, they had no impact on bone turnover and bone mineral density. (15)
All the research available indicated that while alkaline diets may show some promise in improving bone health, acidic diets do not necessarily indicate worsening bone health. More long-term studies are needed to establish conclusive results.
2. Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases
When different nutritional models were compared, diets rich in fish or dairy and low in alkaline foods such as fruits and vegetables resulted in a high acid load. This, in turn, increased risk factors for cardiac diseases, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. (16)
In turn, a Mediterranean diet, rich in plant sources with a limited amount of dairy and fish, (17) proved to be the best to reduce the risk of and manage cardiovascular diseases. (16)
These findings indicate that while an alkaline diet is beneficial, completely eliminating all acidic foods is not recommended either.
3. Increased efficacy of chemotherapy
Some chemotherapy agents are said to become positively charged, reducing their absorption into the cells and thereby their efficacy. An alkalization therapy to increase the alkalinity of the body, which can be achieved by diet, is said to be beneficial. (18)
There is also some proposed effect of an alkaline diet on cancer metabolism. (18) Evidence to these claims, though, is still lacking, and more research is needed to establish conclusive results.
4. Management of chronic kidney disease
Kidneys are the bean-shaped organs that are the primary center for regulating the pH of the body. They maintain a state of acid-base equilibrium by balancing sodium and potassium levels within the body. (19)
Studies suggest that eating a diet with low acid ash content improves acidosis and slows the filtration rate of the kidneys. (19) More thorough research is needed to establish stronger relations between an alkaline diet and the management of kidney disease.
Precautions to Consider
Keep these in mind when adding alkaline foods to your diet:
- When starting a diet plan that is vastly different from your regular eating habits, it is extremely crucial to consult a physician or professional to avoid the risk of deficiencies.
- All research on a high-alkaline diet is still in its beginning phase and needs much more investigation to establish its efficacy.
Most-Asked Questions About Alkaline Foods
Can I eat only alkaline-ash-producing foods to gain all their health benefits?
It is not yet established if eating only foods that produce alkaline ash is beneficial for health. What is advisable is consuming a wide variety of foods and including alkaline-promoting foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lentils.
How do I know what foods are best for me, alkaline or acidic?
There are several studies claiming the benefits of an alkaline diet, and several more are ongoing. The hypothesized health benefits are enumerated in several places, and ultimately it is your choice on which diet you choose.
How can I alkalize my body naturally?
Alkali levels in the body are determined by the amount of acid or alkali in the urine. Eating an alkaline ash diet is the easiest way to alkalize your body naturally.
What fruits are best in producing alkaline ash?
All fruits and vegetables are alkalizing. Based on PRAL scores, tomatoes, dried apricots and peaches, dates, bananas, and guava are the most alkalizing foods.
While the human body is excellent at maintaining its acid-base balance, research has begun into the health benefits of a diet that produces alkaline ash. Fruits and vegetables, lentils, nuts, milk, and yogurt are all promoted as part of an alkaline ash diet.
Studies evaluating the benefit of an alkaline diet for various health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and kidney diseases are underway, and more research is definitely needed to make conclusive statements.
It is recommended to consult healthcare professionals before undertaking any new diets or eating patterns.
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