With all the chatter out there about the alkaline diet, it’s easy to think that maybe there’s something to it. It has a science-y name that rings of chemistry-based truth. There are easy-to-follow lists all over the internet telling you what to eat and what to avoid. Pro athletes are hyping it. Celebrity influencers are all over it. Maybe this is the real deal, right?
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Except, like so many things in life, the claims made by fans of the alkaline diet aren’t so clear cut. And its promise to “hack” your body’s functions just doesn’t stand up to scientific rigor.
“All in all, the alkaline diet can be safe and beneficial if done right,” says registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD. “This diet can help keep you healthy, but not for the reasons you might think.”
DiMarino breaks down the pros and cons of this trending diet so you can decide if going alkaline is right for you.
What is the alkaline diet?
If you remember much from science class, or if you spend time maintaining a pool or garden, you might be familiar with pH — a measurement of how acidic or basic (alkaline) a solution is. It’s scored on a scale of 0 to 14.
- A pH of 0 to 6 is acidic.
- A pH of 7 is neutral.
- A pH of 8 or higher is basic, or alkaline.
The alkaline diet is based on the unproven notion that there are health benefits to be gained by moving your body chemistry to the alkaline side of the scale. Proponents of the diet say that by eating foods that are alkaline, instead of acidic or neutral, you’ll:
- Ward off chronic conditions like osteoporosis and cancer.
- Increase your energy.
- Lose weight.
Here’s the thing, though: Some parts of your body are naturally acidic. Some parts of your body are naturally alkaline. And there’s not really anything you can do to change that — nor would you really want to.
“Your body is a smart machine. It regulates pH very well on its own,” DiMarino says. “Our stomachs are very acidic, so they can break down food. Our skin has a slightly acidic pH to protect against bacteria. Our lungs and kidneys work to remove metabolic waste and keep our body pH where it needs to be.”
Your blood stays at an alkaline level between about 7.2 and 7.4. If the pH falls out of that range, it can be fatal. Lucky for us, though, nothing you eat will change your blood pH.
Should I try the alkaline diet?
The alkaline diet emphasizes choosing natural foods that are generally good for you, so in some ways, it can be a benefit to your health. But it’s not without some downfalls.
DiMarino considers the pros and cons.
Pro: Alkaline foods are generally healthy choices
Unlike some other fad diets (here’s looking at you, fruitarians), the alkaline diet is packed full of foods that have high nutritional value. It restricts added sugars and encourages avoiding packaged foods in favor of fresh foods that are well-known for their health value.
“The alkaline diet encourages low-processed, whole foods, which have been shown to prevent disease in the long term, so in that respect, it can be considered a healthy eating pattern,” DiMarino notes.
Some of the pillars of an alkaline diet are foods we know to be solid staples of a healthy diet:
- Fruits and unsweetened fruit juice.
- Grains like wild rice, oats and quinoa.
- Non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage and carrots.
These are some of the same foods that research has shown to be heart-healthy, weight loss-friendly and all-around good for you. So it stands to reason that, yes, when you make healthy, whole foods the basis of your diet, you can reap some serious health benefits.
Con: You may miss out on protein and other nutrients
Protein is important to help grow and repair muscle, supply nutrients to your body and much more. But if you’re adhering closely to the alkaline diet, many common sources of protein are off limits.
The alkaline diet is a plant-based diet. Similar to a vegan diet, it doesn’t allow for any animal proteins, including meats, eggs or dairy. People who follow a vegan diet can get sufficient nutrients from plant-based proteins like:
- Soybeans and soy milk.
The strictest followers of the alkaline diet, however, will say these foods are acidic or acid-forming and should be avoided. Other alkaline diet followers allow for small amounts of plant proteins, from soy or lentils for example.
“Following a rigid alkaline diet will make it difficult to get enough nutrients like protein, iron and calcium,” DiMarino cautions. “Low protein can cause loss of muscle mass. Low iron can cause anemia. And low calcium can be a risk to your bone health.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends:
- Adult women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) consume 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein each day.
- Adult men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) consume 5.5. to 7 ounces of protein each day.
Con: The alkaline diet can be intensive and costly
If you’re committed to food sourcing and meal prep (or if you have a personal chef à la Hollywood royalty), an alkaline diet can fit into your lifestyle. But the barrier to entry may be too high for some people.
Keeping all the right fruits, veggies and grains on hand (and fresh) requires some careful planning on your part. Whole, nutritious foods aren’t readily available to all people in all seasons, and their cost can be a barrier. There’s even alkaline water on the market, sold at a premium.
“An alkaline diet is not inherently easy to follow,” DiMarino says. “It focuses almost exclusively on whole, unprocessed foods, which can depend on the season and may be hard to find sometimes. These foods tend to be more expensive and labor-intensive. An alkaline diet can be sustainable, but you need to be able to plan it carefully and ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs.”
When you’re following an alkaline diet, eating in restaurants, getting take-out or grabbing a convenient quick bite could prove difficult. And not everyone has time or experience in pre-planning and preparing each meal and snack to ensure optimal nutrition.
Seeing the results
People following the alkaline diet regularly use what they call a dipstick to analyze the pH in their urine to see if the diet is “working.” While it’s true that the pH of your pee will change from acidic to alkaline if you follow an alkaline diet (and pretty quickly, too), DiMarino says the pH of your urine doesn’t reflect anything about the current state of your health.
“Our urine is a great way to get rid of the metabolic waste from what we eat,” he says. “Your urine pH reflects what you had to eat recently, but it doesn’t signify anything about the quality of your diet or current nutritional status.”
Should I talk with a doctor about the alkaline diet?
If you’re considering following the alkaline diet, talk with a doctor or a registered dietitian to see if you would benefit, and discuss ways to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.
“I would recommend to anyone trying to start a new diet, especially a trendy one, to discuss it with their healthcare provider,” DiMarino says. “They’ll be able to provide you with a thorough assessment and evidence-based strategies to meet your goals.”
No matter what you eat, you won’t change your body’s pH — which means that at the end of the day, the primary promise of the alkaline diet isn’t based on scientific fact.
If you’re able to put in the work and ensure you meet your nutritional needs, the alkaline diet may effectively help you lose weight and ward off some common chronic conditions. But tried-and-true methods like regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet remain the gold standard — no dipstick-pee-test required.