Does a pH Balancing Diet Work?

Alkaline or acid: does it matter?

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
5-minute read
Episode #43

Today I’m going to take a closer look at the theory that balancing the pH of your diet will help keep you healthier. There are several popular diet books based on this idea and you even can find lists of acid- and alkaline-forming foods on the Internet. Lots of you have written to ask what I think about all this and I’m going to tell you.

The Acid/Alkaline Theory of Health

The acid/alkaline theory of health and disease goes something like this: Every food you eat leaves a residue in the body after it is fully digested. That residue, or ash, is either acidic or alkaline. Now, let me just clarify that this has nothing to do with whether the food itself is acidic. Lemons, for example, are acidic, as you can tell by their pucker-factor. And yet lemons leave an alkaline residue.

To keep this from getting confusing, the preferred terminology is that a lemon is an acidic food, but not an acid-forming food. Anyway, some people believe that if we eat too many acid-forming foods our blood and/or tissues become acidic and that this promotes disease. Therefore, we can balance the pH in our bodies and restore health by eating more alkaline-forming foods.

What are the Acid- and Alkaline-Forming Foods?

In general, fruits and vegetables are alkaline-forming, whereas meats and grains are acid-forming. Now, it gets way more complicated than that. You can find lists of acid- and alkaline-forming foods on the Internet--but I have to tell you, I’m not entirely sure where these lists come from or how they are generated. I’ve never seen one that had any citation or source information attached to it. And, they tend to contradict one another--foods are listed as acid-forming on one website and alkaline-forming on another.

Is This Theory Valid?

That’s one of things that makes me wonder about the validity of this theory. The other thing that I find notable is that in all the medical literature, I cannot find one study that’s ever tested this theory.

Researchers love to test theories. That’s what they do! And just about every diet theory that’s been proposed in the last thirty years has been the subject of some sort of published research. You can find studies on the effects of anti-inflammatory diets, low-carb diets, low-glycemic diets, high-protein diets, vegan diets, and Mediterranean diets. But apparently, no serious researchers have ever found the acid/alkaline theory plausible enough to look into. 

Why not? After all, it’s absolutely true that maintaining the proper pH in your body is crucial--not just to staying healthy, but to staying alive at all. If your blood got even slightly too acidic or too alkaline and stayed that way for more than a few minutes, you’d be in a coma or worse. But what you eat actually has very little effect on the pH of your blood. Believe me, nature is not about to let your survival hinge on dietary discretion. No. We have several systems in place to maintain pH balance in our bodies, no matter what we eat.