I’ve been writing for this wonderful local magazine for many years now and have waxed lyrical on a number of wide ranging subjects and some of my regular readers will know I don’t like anything unscientific. There is so much nonsense in the media to confuse people and when it comes to your health (the most important thing in your life) it is important that you get the right information or you can find yourself led down an expensive and potentially dangerous track. As you know Vega machines and food intolerance/allergy machines are one of my pet hates. The “science” behind this states that this latest technology can assess your health problems and allergies by using your meridians. When you are sick, desperate and vulnerable it is understandable that people can be drawn into things in the hope that this will be the magic cure. However, I can tell you for free that if you cut gluten and cows milk out of your diet you might feel better, because that additionally excludes 90% of processed sugary foods.
In the last 20 years I’ve seen patients who have been told they can’t eat a variety of foods. One lady recently, a vegan, was told she was allergic to tofu, pulses, Quorn and nuts; the very staples of her diet. Last week a man came to see me with a similar tale of being told he could not eat tofu and cheese. He was a vegetarian whose only protein source was now nuts due to this “advice”. Both people had been tested on a food intolerance machine. As you can tell it really gets my goat! This leads me on to this months article on the acid ash/alkaline diets that have been doing the rounds recently. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I write.
What’s is all about?
The well intentioned general public are being told that if you keep your body alkaline it is almost impossible for cancer to grow. Well, I’m in, aren’t you? This diet fad is by far the worst I have seen, and I’ve seen a lot from Atkins to goji berries, Dukan to chia seeds, the fashions have come and gone.
The part of the alkaline diet that is correct is about the ash residue left from food. All foods leave “ash”. Think of a grate after a fire, some foods leave acid ash and some alkaline. The diet goes on to make several claims; that alkaline foods change the alkalinity of blood and tissue. If you eat foods that make your body acidic i.e. with acidic ash your body becomes more acid if you eat alkaline foods your body becomes alkaline. Neutral foods do very little to alter this. Food components that leave an acidic ash are protein, phosphate and sulphur and alkaline foods leave calcium, magnesium and potassium. Acid foods are meat, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, grains and alcohol, and alkaline foods are fruits, nuts and vegetables. Neutral foods are natural fats.
Where people get confused is that eating more alkaline foods is very healthy, and eating less acid foods is also more healthy overall. However this has nothing to do with whether they are acid or alkaline – this is coincidence. Removing lots of red meat and alcohol from your diet will no doubt benefit you but it has nothing to do with your blood pH.
Let me explain further. The pH scale ranges from 1-14 :
0-7 is acidic
7 is neutral and
7-14 is alkaline
Some diets are telling you to check your pH value with urine testing strips making sure that the figure is over 7 i.e. alkaline. However, for those that have done simple basic chemistry, the body’s pH scale varies – it is not one constant. The stomach for example contains hydrochloric acid which means the value ranges from 2 – 3.5. This acid environment is needed to break down food. Still with me? Blood is more alkaline, ranging between a slim but steady 7.35 – 7.45. If the blood pH falls out of this range it can be very serious indeed. This happens during certain disease states and has nothing whatsoever to do with what food you eat. The body has super cool mechanisms to keep this all in place and this is known as acid base homeostasis. Think of homeostasis as balance – your body is trying to correct every incorrection or imbalance on a 24/7 basis.
Where people get confused is that different foods can change the pH of your urine although it’s for only a short period of time. If you sit down to eat a large steak for example a few hours later your urine will be more acidic but that does not mean your body is more acidic it means the body is working as it should do to excrete this. If you eat too much acid, the body in it’s infinite wisdom will get rid of any excess. So what is being tested for is excretory products not whether you are in an acid state. So acid urine does mean you are in an acidic state.
Can this diet prevent cancer?
The other major issue I have with these types of diets is the very strong and powerful tag line that cancer thrives in a acid environment. We not only know that food can’t affect blood pH but also that cancer cells are not just restricted to acid environments. Cancer cells do grow in alkaline environments. Tumours can grow faster in acidic environments but it is the tumour itself that is creating the acidity not the body. Cancer creates a more acidic environment not the other way round. There is no doubt that living on a diet high in processed red meat is very bad for your health, not only can this cause cancer but also effect joints but it is done by an entirely different set of mechanisms. The studies with processed meat and cancer are pretty convincing but this does not have to do with acidity. Meat contains haem part of the red pigment of haemoglobin. This is broken down to form N-nitroso compounds. These have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel. Other cells in the bowel lining have to then replicate more in order to heal. This extra replication can increase the chance of errors developing in the cells DNA – the first stages of potential cancer. Eating a diet low in processed meat, high in salads, Mediterranean in style (ie anti inflammatory) and low in sugar will certainly help you prevent cancer.
If we go back a while – let’s say to indigenous populations, people led super healthy lives on animal based diets. About 50% of hunter gatherers were eating an acid based diet and had none of the health issues that we do now. It appears that the body is far more complex and amazing than all the celebrities and wellness bloggers would have you think. The alkaline diet per se is not unhealthy as it focuses on fruits, vegetables, plant foods and restricting processed foods and excess red meat. This is healthy for totally different reasons and has nothing to do with altering your pH. I’m not sure why people are being sucked into this narrative but anyone who is measuring the pH of their urine is doing so with incorrect information. There is nothing wrong with eating less red meat, more fruits and vegetables and eliminating processed food – you will be healthier long term no doubt but be very aware of the science behind what people are selling you. I probably eat a fairly “alkaline” diet if you wanted to box me into something but all that means is I eat huge amounts of vegetables and salads and I don’t eat red meat. For the record, I’ve never tested my urine!
The claims about osteoporosis
Another claim attached to this diet is the body will “pull” minerals from the bones if its too acidic and this can potentially cause osteoporosis. In actual fact the bones play little role in this. It is the kidneys that come into play at this stage. If we eat anything acidic, bicarbonate ions in the blood buffer this acid. This produces carbon dioxide which is exhaled through the lungs and salts are extracted by the kidneys. The kidneys then produce more ions which are returned to the blood and the whole process starts over. There are only a few papers on high acid diets and osteoporosis and the link is spurious and not conclusive anyway.
So why do some people feel better you might ask? As I’ve said above it’s purely co-incidence. People going on a health spree, cleaning up their diets, removing too much alcohol, coffee, red meat, processed food etc will no doubt feel better and lighter. Nothing to do with the pH of the body.
In conclusion and in my very humble opinion there is nothing wrong with eating more alkaline foods but it will have no effect on your blood pH. Running to the loo every five minutes with strips might make you feel you are achieving the right goals, but it’s all hokum. Depending on why you are doing these types of diets, if you have health issues see someone qualified to help you. When I started out 20 yrs ago Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs did not exist. Today the world has changed and on a near daily basis I’m appalled by wellness bloggers and celebrities who are touting fads that could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Trust me (and I know this first hand) several celebrities I have treated are barely eating anything behind closed doors. I spoke to someone recently who had followed the alkaline diet and she didn’t really believe it but loved checking her urine three times a day as it was instant validation that she was doing something right. This goes to the heart of the matter with fad diets, somewhere there will be something that engages you but long term these are a disaster for truly understanding your body, what it needs to function and how it works.
If you have any questions regarding the above please contact Kate. If you are trying to lose weight and would like tailored help with this Kate runs a weight loss programme over 3 months. Contact 01323 737814/310532 for more details about this and any other health problem.
Kate Arnold, Nutrition Consultant BA (Hons) Dip ION, PG Cert, MBANT www.katearnoldnutrition.co.uk
Facebook: Kate Arnold Nutrition
Tel: 01323 737814/310532