Jenny Hewett gets the lowdown on why fad dieting is out and lifestyle eating is the new way forward.
Considered a way of eating rather than a form of dieting, the increasingly popular alkaline diet claims to neutralise the acidity in our bodies, in turn aiding weight-loss and helping fend off inflammation and even diseases such as cancer. But how does it work? Here, Dubai-based lifestyle and nutrition consultant Ahlaam Ali lets us in on a few facts.
What is it? ‘The basic science behind this way of eating is that our bodies generally have a pH – or acidity balance – of seven, which is considered neutral,’ says Ahlaam. ‘A pH of 14 would be considered totally alkaline and a pH of zero would be considered totally acidic. Our blood pH is slightly alkaline and usually ranges between 7.3 to 7.45. This pH changes throughout the body and this is the balance we should be maintaining on a daily basis. If the pH goes down, the body gets too acidic. When your body gets too acidic, the composition of the urine changes and depending on our daily diets, this is the way the body maintains a healthy pH level. As for the 80:20 rule, you need to have a fairly alkaline intake of food 80 percent of the time and more acidic options at other times, then your body will still maintain its healthy pH of slightly alkaline 7.4. You can test your pH with litmus paper, mid-urine.’
Why alkaline? ‘Maintaining a slightly alkaline pH enables your body to stay healthy and builds immunity. Bodies that are too acidic are prone to various illnesses like cancer, arthritis or inflammation of the guts,’ says Ahlaam. ‘Slightly alkaline bodies on the other hand will have built a high immunity and be resistant to various inflammations and viruses going around. It does have the added benefit of enabling you to lose weight as you are eating less processed foods and consuming fresher options on a regular basis.’
What foods should you avoid? ‘Generally speaking, foods such as red meat, anything processed or canned, alcohol, sugar, wheat and caffeine that cause your body pH to go down drastically,’ says Ahlaam.
So where should you start? ‘A good way to detox and neutralise your body is to try vegetable juicing,’ she says. ‘This works to alkalise your body in a big way, leading to a cleaner, more rejuvenated system that is well-equipped to handle stresses and strains. You can boost your system further by adding wheatgrass, chlorella and spirulina to vegetable juices to alkalise your body even more.’
Who should do it? ‘This way of eating is generally good for those looking to lose weight, get healthy and improve various ailments like migraines, bloating and lethargy,’ she says. ‘Weight-loss is actually a by-product of eating the alkaline way. The reason it also works as a weight-loss option is because by eating this way the body suddenly lets go of the water retention that builds up due to eating the wrong foods like sugar derivatives,’ says Ahlaam.
What about those not looking to lose weight? ‘Going on a completely alkaline diet is like flushing your system out like a toilet,’ says Ahlaam. ‘You let go of a lot of the gunk that is built up in your intestines and liver and kidneys over the years. As a result your blood will be more purified and you will see the benefits within a matter of days. It will completely cleanse your system while injecting it with a big boost of nutrition, vitamins and of course clean easily digestible food,’ she says. ‘So your metabolism will become more active and your skin, hair and nails will all benefit. Your body being more alkaline means it will be less susceptible to cancers, tumours, colon, stomach issues and bone and joint aches.’
How does it compare to fad diets, such as the Atkins or Dukan? ‘The Atkins and Dukan diets are the total antithesis of the alkaline way of eating,’ she adds. ‘Both focus mostly on high-protein and high-fat foods with low carbs and almost no fruit and vegetables. Now you can imagine what this does to your system. To be assaulted on a daily basis with an overload of animal protein and fats, you can only imagine how acidic your body would have become over the years. When your body becomes too acidic, the way the kidneys compensate to alkalise your body is by taking minerals especially calcium out of your bones and this affects the body’s ability to repair itself, leading to chronic fatigue and other degenerative diseases.’ For more information on the alkaline diet, check out Ahlaam Ali’s new book Hotties Handbook: Lose 10kg in 10 weeks or visit www.ahlaamali.com.
Is the alkaline diet good for you?
‘Despite the lack of mainstream medical evidence, the alkaline diet may provide many nutritional benefits by supporting the consumption of foods that are generally considered healthy, such as vegetables, root crops, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, green tea and lean proteins such as fish and eggs,’ says Dalia Shuktri, head dietician at Swedish Health in Dubai. ‘All these food items are in reality beneficial and high in nutritive value and are encouraged to be part of a person’s eating routine as a whole, therefore anyone can easily follow an alkaline diet as it already aims at advantageous foods,’ she says. ‘It is mostly safe as it emphasises a natural eating plan and reduces the amount of animal fat intake in the diet. However, those with acute or chronic kidney failure should not be on the alkaline diet as it affects potassium levels, which in turn can aggravate this condition. In addition, people with pre-existing heart disease and those on medications that affect potassium levels in the body should check with their doctor first,’ says Dalia. ‘Because the alkaline diet promotes excluding certain families of foods, it could result in a less-balanced diet with resulting nutrient deficiencies such as essential fatty acids and phytonutrients.’ Swedish Health, Almas Tower, JLT (055 152 6732).