Does altering the pH level in your body with an alkaline diet play a huge part in getting you healthy?
Faye Remedios gets a bit of a chemistry lesson
Supermodel Elle Macpherson, popularly known as ‘The Body’, credits her fabulous looks at the age of 52 to maintaining an alkaline body. She is such an enthusiastic proponent of this lifestyle that she reportedly carries around a pH balance urine-tester kit to make sure she stays in an alkaline state—which is nutty even by Hollywood standards. But she’s not alone: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham are believers too.
Cosmetic physician and author, Dr Jamuna Pai says this trend has basis in ageold Indian wisdom. “It was ancient practice to brush your teeth with a stick from the neem tree, also called datoon. This datoon stick had anti-bacterial properties, and not only helped one maintain oral hygiene but also cleansed the gut. After cleaning their teeth, people would rinse their mouths to expel a yellow fluid called ‘pith’ or bile, which signified an acidic system. They would continue to rinse till the colour of the water changed to nearly white, which was the sign of a clear gut with an ideal acid-alkaline balance.”
We got Dr Debjani Banerjee, in-charge dietetics, PSRI Hospital, New Delhi,to explain the significance of this ratio: “pH is the measurement of the acid-alkaline ratio of your body’s fluids and tissues. When this ratio is imbalanced—ie, the body is either too acidic or too alkaline— the stage is set for disease to take hold, besides problems like accelerated ageing, demineralization, fatigue, impaired enzyme activity, inflammation and organ damage.” Acidity or alkalinity is measured on the pH scale (pH or potential of hydrogen measures the concentration
of the hydrogen ion) from 1 to 14. A pH of less than 7 means that your body is acidic. A pH greater than 7 means
your body is alkaline. If you score 7.1 to 7.4 on the pH scale, youare exactly where your body needs to be: slightly more alkaline than acidic. “At this level, your body is brimming with antioxidants, anti-ageing phytonutrients, essential minerals and vitamins, all of which will keep you young and healthy,” says Dr Pai. Basically, the alkaline diet is based on the acid/alkali theory of disease. “When we break down the food we eat, we are left with some waste products made up of the acidic content of food, called ‘ash’. Supporters of the alkaline diet believe that too much acidic ash leaves us vulnerable to disease,” adds Dr Banerjee. Acidosis is when the body is unable to eliminate toxins, resulting in a host of chronic health problems. Nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan says, “A body in a very acidic state will seek balance by drawing nutrients such as calcium or magnesium from the bones. This makes you prone to osteoporosis and makes your skin pale, your hair dry and your nails brittle.”
While this diet has its proponents, as with any diet, it’s not foolproof and experts advise treading with caution. There’s a school of thought that dismisses the pH diet altogether, and believes that our bodies are designed to
maintain this balance without us having to do anything extra. Apart from this, it is also confusing to know which foods are acidic and which are alkaline. For instance, lemons are acidic in nature but turn alkaline when eaten
on account of how they are metabolised by the body. Then, there is the aspect of overdoing it and going too alkaline. This causes your pH levels to go above 7.50, resulting in a condition called alkalosis. This causes neurological hypersensitivity, which can lead to irritability, nervousness, and muscle spasms.
The key, as always, lies in moderation. Dr Banerjee says, “It is not necessary to eat only alkaline foods in order to get your pH levels to be alkaline; a certain percentage of the diet can be acidic, but it is best to fill up on
neutral whole foods, like fruits. There is much debate as to whether food can actually change the pH level of your blood, and therefore change the way your body handles certain diseases. At the end of the day, (the efficacy of this diet) could simply be a matter of eating better and cutting out unhealthy foods from your diet.”
Basically, any diet that encourages a high consumption of fruits, vegetables and plantbased foods, while restricting processed junk, is a good idea. What something like the acidalkaline debate does is gets you to evaluate what you’re eating and how it affects your overall well-being. And there’s never a bad time to take stock of that.
If you want to check your acidalkaline levels, head to your local drugstore and pick up a pack of pH test strips. Dip these into your saliva or your urine. “You can test your pH levels often throughout the day, but the best time to do so is at the same time each morning. The goal is to get your morning pH between 6.5 and 7.5,” says Dr Banerjee. Test yourself first thing in the morning before eating or drinking or else wait for one hour before or two hours after a meal.
Eating a diet high in alkaline-forming foods is said to promote health and wellness by reducing the strain on our body’s detoxification mechanism. Dr Pai believes you can prevent the spread of diseases like cancer and improve your ability to combat ageing by alkalising your system. The recommended diet encourages a high consumption of fruits, vegetables and healthy plant-based foods and lots of water. Stress, smoking, caffeine, sugar, refined flour and meats are all no-nos. “Fresh green juices are rich in chlorophyll and antioxidants, and are nutrient-dense,” suggests holistic health expert Mickey Mehta. Instead of completely overhauling your diet, which is not only hard to do but can even be counter-productive, Dr Pai suggests bringing in changes gradually. To begin:
• Pick grilled, boiled, steamed or baked over deep-fried.
• Go easy on dairy. Milk is acid-forming, so it needs to be offset with alkalising foods such as vegetables.
• Cut down on processed and red meats.
• Keep away from bad fats—trans, hydrogenated and saturated fats—and eat mono unsaturated and omega-3 and omega-6 fats, present in some nuts like walnuts and almonds, and oils like corn, olive and sunflower.
• Avoid processed and packaged foods and those packed with preservatives and additives.
• Limit your alcohol intake. Yes, thatincludes wine.
• Load up your plate with antioxidants in the form of coloured fruits and vegetables, like berries, mango, papaya, carrot, pumpkin, tomato, spinach, broccoli, lemon, sweet potato, beetroot and wheatgrass. Drink lots of vegetable juice.
“This diet works perfectly in our hot, tropical weather,” says Dhvani Shah, healing diets specialist, The FIMS Diet
Clinic.“However, it deviates slightly from our traditional cuisine, which is largely cereal-based. It is still
doable given the easy availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. You might have to get used to juicing and prepping salads. ” As for exercising while on this diet, Dhvani recommends you continue with cardio, which generates oxygen and aids the alkalising effect of the food. Yoga, meditation and outdoor exercises work beautifully.
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**Disclaimer: this article is for information purposes only; consult your nutritionist for further advice