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article imageCanadian scientist casts doubt on the 'alkaline diet'

By Tim Sandle     Feb 20, 2014 in Food
Montreal - A warning has been given about the 'alkaline diet', adopted by various celebrities over the past few months. Canadian scientist Joe Schwarcz has declared that the diet simply doesn't make any sense.
The alkaline diet features on websites and in books under various names: alkaline ash diet, alkaline acid diet, acid ash diet, and the acid alkaline diet. In essence, each diet is the same. These diets are based on the belief that certain foods can affect the acidity of bodily fluids, including the urine or blood, and can therefore be used to treat or prevent diseases. People who believe in the alkaline diet say that though acid-producing foods shift our pH balance for only a little while, if you keep shifting your blood pH over and over, you can cause long-lasting acidity.
In terms of this alkaline vs acid divide, fresh fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts, and legumes are all good. Dates, figs, grapefruit, lemon, lime, fennel, broccoli, artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, kale, spinach, watercress and cauliflower are considered "alkaline"; whereas pasta, wheat, all dairy products, meat, fish and shellfish, coffee, tea, sugar, fizzy drinks and alcohol fall into the acid category.
The diet has received publicity because of a number of celebrity endorsements. Those adopting the diet include Gywneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston.
Most media reports of the diet simply state which foods are regarded as "good" and what the benefits are, without offering any scientific study to support the claims (such as this feature in the Daily Telegraph). This has annoyed one Canadian scientist.
Joe Schwarcz, who is a chemist at McGill University, spoke with CBC News about the diet. Schwarcz is particularly skeptical about people on the diet drinking water that has an alkaline balance. Schwarcz notes that this is a waste of time, since our digestive system treats all food and liquids in the same way: "drinking alkaline water makes zero sense whatsoever."
Schwarcz adds "What has happened in this case is a bit of scientific fact was taken completely out of context and woven into a fabric of nonsense." He also notes on his own blog: "Machines which claim to generate water to treat disease by changing the acidity of the blood are a total scam."
Some of this is covered in his book Dr. Joe and what You Didn't Know. The book debunks a number of diet myths:
"From Beethoven's connection to plumbing to why rotten eggs smell like sulfur, the technical explanations included in this scientific primer tackle 99 chemistry-related questions and provide answers designed to inform and entertain. What jewelry metal is prohibited in some European countries? What does Miss Piggy have to do with the World Cup? How can a cockroach be removed from a human ear? The quirky information offered incorporates scientific savvy, practical advice, and amusing anecdotes."
In a separate interview with the Montreal Gazette, Schwarcz notes that body's biochemistry is very effective at processing food, making the need to focus on so-termed alkaline foods irrelevant: "Luckily, our blood constitutes a buffered system, meaning that any variation of pH is immediately compensated for. Should there be an increase in acids entering the bloodstream, we immediately start exhaling more carbon dioxide, which then reduces acidity. Should the blood start to alkalize, the lungs retain more carbon dioxide, which dissolves to form carbonic acid while the kidneys eliminate basic bicarbonate."
Schwarcz's view on the alkaline diet is supported by British Dietetic Association spokesperson, Rick Miller, who writes: "The theory of the alkaline diet is that eating certain foods can help maintain the body's ideal pH balance to improve overall health. But the body maintains its pH balance regardless of diet."
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