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The alkaline diet has been surging in popularity thanks to a good dose of celebrity endorsement through people like Elle Macpherson along with its claimed benefits of weight loss, increased energy and protection from all sorts of diseases. So is there much truth to the amazing claims made about an alkaline diet, and importantly will following it boost your fertility? I’ll answer all those questions and more for you in today’s blog…
What is the alkaline diet?
It is based around the idea that foods you eat can alter the acidity or alkalinity of your body. So we’re talking about how foods can alter the pH of your body specifically. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Below a pH of 7 is a state of acidity and above 7 it is a state of alkalinity.
Now the next step in the rationale for this diet is that our body prefers to be in a slightly alkaline state and this is optimal for our health. This is one claim that is 100% correct as the pH of our blood stays within a very narrow range of about 7.35 to 7.45. As a bit of a detour though, the pH changes all throughout our body. For example, our stomach is extremely acidic and for good reason to help with the digestion of food! So an alkaline diet only focuses on the pH of the blood.
As promoters of the alkaline diet claim, if you eat acidic foods, they will drive you body pH lower and this represents a breeding ground for many of diseases and illness. Eating lots of alkaline foods will balance this out and keep you healthy. How easy is that! Well, it isn’t that easy it turns out because the inconvenient truth of science gets in the way here.
There are no foods that you eat that can change the pH of your blood. If foods did this to any extent and your pH fell outside of the tightly controlled normal range, your cells would stop working and you would die very quickly if left untreated. And keep in mind too that if acidic foods could indeed shift the body to a more acidic state, then alkaline foods would do just the same. And a pH change in either direction outside of that very tight blood pH range spells is bad, bad news.
The body deals with any excess acid or alkaline through its acid-base buffering system. This acid-base buffering system includes our blood, kidneys and lungs which together act in concert to keep us in a happy balanced pH range.
Now there is a small kernel of truth in that foods can change the pH value of the urine, but this is part of how the body buffers against too much acid OR alkaline. Urine pH is actually a very poor indicator of overall body pH and general health though as it can be influenced by many factors other than diet. So don’t waste your money on urine pH sticks as they tell you little about your blood pH.
The acidic and alkaline foods
When food is digested and metabolised, is does have a net acidic or alkaline effect on the body. This is from the leftover waste products, sometimes called ‘ash’. This ‘ash’ can be acidic or alkaline, depending on the protein, sulphur or mineral content of the food.
So what are the foods that typically fall into the acidic group? They include things like meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains and alcohol. Foods that are alkaline are fruits, nuts, legumes and vegetables. Sugars, fats and starches are typically more neutral.
Notice a theme in the foods promoted for their ‘alkaline’ ability? It is fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes. Foods that are super healthy to eat. If you started eating a lot more of these foods in your diet, at the expense of a lot of overly processed foods, guess what? You’d probably be feeling healthier, but it would have nothing to do with ‘alkalinising’ your body!
Will an alkaline diet help with fertility?
So the big question: is there any evidence that an alkaline diet will help with fertility? None. Zero. Nada. But you could also ask the same question to do with a whole range of health issues and get the same negative answer as there is almost no actual research to either support or disprove the claims made about alkaline diets.
A recent scientific review looking at claims made about an alkaline diet and cancer found a lack of evidence for or against a diet with a high acid load causing cancer in the first place or for drinking something like alkaline water in treating cancer.
The whole basis of an alkaline diet is being pushed by those with products, books and stories to sell you with little research to back up their claims. And this applies just as much to false claims made about its benefit in helping with fertility.
But there is something to the story….
There is a small positive message you can take away from alkaline diet and that’s from the overall dietary pattern it promotes. In a typical western country like Australia, we are faced with lots of health issues and part of this comes from a diet high in ultra-processed convenience foods combined with a low fruit and vegetable intake. This is a diet that meets the definition of a ‘high acid load’ diet. It is also the type of diet that is at odds with current dietary recommendations. However, acid-forming foods aren’t necessarily ‘bad for you’ – a diet is judged as a whole entity and not just on single foods.
And when it comes to fertility, we already know that healthy diets favouring seafood, poultry, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are related to better fertility in women and in men. This is a diet that includes both acid and alkaline foods and fits within current dietary guidelines. Compare that to an alkaline diet where you need to refer to complicated lists, monitor your urine with pH sticks and avoid otherwise nutritious foods.
OK, so I’ve given you a LOT of information today. So, let’s summarise:
- The alkaline diet ticks all the boxes of a fad diet
- The entire rationale for the diet is based on a lack of understanding of how the body’s acid-base system works
- Foods cannot change the pH of your blood – if they did, it would be fatal
- The lack of scientific evidence for an alkaline diet helping with fertility, let alone any other health condition, is glaring
- What an alkaline diet really boils down to is a complicated list of food rules that get you eating a lot more fruits and vegetables and a lot less highly processed food.
- You can get to a place of a healthy diet that will assist with your fertility by following broad healthy eating guidelines without the need to jump on this latest alkaline diet fad.
Now, I’m sure that you’ll have loads of questions, so feel free to post them in the comments below.
And, to make all this easier for you, I’d love you to download my free meal plan. Just go to www.melaniemcgrice.com/fertility.