Diabetes is not to be taken lightly. Already afflicting over a quarter of a billion people worldwide, this condition, once diagnosed, is very likely to bring on an onslaught of devastating health complications like brain and vascular diseases, kidney failure, amputations, vision loss, and impotence, to name a few.1 Therefore, the fact that diabetes is seventh most common cause of death today shouldn’t be too surprising either.2
The good news, is, however, that diabetes is not just treatable, but also largely preventable. While a Harvard report declares that 9 out of 10 cases of diabetes can be prevented by inculcating simple lifestyle choices, another study reveals yet another interesting finding – eating alkaline foods, more specifically dark, leafy green vegetables can significantly lower one’s risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes.34
What Is The Alkaline Diet?
The alkaline diet, also known as the acid-alkaline diet or alkaline ash diet, is a diet that has been designed to help the human body maintain its natural pH (potential of hydrogen) so that it may carry out its functions efficiently and keep us healthy in the long run. This diet has its roots in the studies of Claude Bernard, a biologist who studied the role of the kidneys in keeping the acidity levels of the body under control.5
Before we get to how an alkaline diet works to keep our body working efficiently, it is important to understand the concept of pH.
The Importance Of Our Body’s pH
There are many factors that contribute to the proper functioning of our bodies, such as hydration, availability of nutrients, and temperature. One of the most important of these factors is pH.
pH is a measurement of hydrogen ions in a specific solution. The greater the number of ions, the more acidic the solution, while a lesser number of ions results in a more alkaline solution.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being considered neutral. A pH value of higher than 7 is alkalizing, a pH that’s less than 7 is acidic.
The human body is designed to operate within a very narrow pH range, which is around 7.365. In other words, the body’s natural pH is meant to be slightly alkaline. A shift from this pH value towards the acidic side would set off distress signals and disrupt our body’s functions. Our blood, for instance, is the most susceptible to pH imbalance; a pH level of 6 would most definitely put us in a coma.
Diet And The Body’s Natural pH
Diet plays a huge role in maintaining our body’s natural pH. Upon metabolization, calories are extracted from the foods we eat, causing them to burn and leave an ash residue. It turns out that this ash can either be acidic, or alkaline, depending on the type of foods we eat, and the nature of the ash, in turn, can directly affect the pH of our body.
Acidic foods like sugars and fresh processed meats will burn to give you acidic ash and will make your pH more acidic. Alkaline foods like soy, vegetables, and fruit, on the other hand, will leave behind alkaline ash and will make your body more alkaline. Neutral foods such as raw cow’s milk, unsalted butter, and oils will burn to give neutral ash which will have no effect on your body.
The Dangers Of An Acidic Diet
Our kidneys already do an excellent job of maintaining our body’s slightly alkaline balance by filtering out excess acids from our system and pushing them out through the urine. Plus, our body also contains alkaline reserves that it will use from time to time to fight off pH imbalance.
However, when we eat too many acidic ash-forming foods, the kidneys can’t always keep up with the increasing production of acid waste. This is when the acidic ash starts accumulating in our tissues.
If this acidic overload continues over a long period of time, it can lead to a long chain of health conditions like muscle degradation, kidney stones, and cancer.6
Additionally, an acidic diet is believed to lead to a loss of essential minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium from the body, another factor that can trigger complications like osteoporosis and arthritis.
An Acidic Diet And Type 2 Diabetes
A study tracking over 66,000 women for 14 years found that an acidic diet was tied to a 56% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes as compared to one that was more alkaline.7
Another study found that a high acid load can inhibit proper insulin function – the hormone that is responsible for moving glucose (sugar) from our blood to our cells for energy, thus further confirming the link between an acidic diet and an increased risk of diabetes. 8
The Alkaline Diet And Diabetes
While advocates claim that an alkaline diet can definitely bring down the acidity levels in one’s body and reverse diabetes, researchers still remain doubtful. However, from the health and nutrition standpoint, experts do agree that the alkaline diet ranks far higher than the typical American diet.
A high intake of red meat, saturated fats, refined sugars, and very little to no fiber are the main characteristics of the typical Western Diet that also make it highly acidic in nature. In contrast, the alkaline diet falls more in line with the food habits of our early ancestors, who stuck to fresh fruits and vegetables, roots, and tubers.
An alkaline diet allows consumption of the following:
- Cruciferous and leafy green vegetables like kale, broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, and spinach
- All fruits, including the citrus ones like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes
- Herbs and spices like parsley, ginger, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and garlic
- Whole grains like amaranth, millet, and quinoa
- Legumes like lentils, lima beans, and white beans
- Nuts and seeds like almonds and coconut and sunflower, pumpkin, and chia seeds
From the foods mentioned above, it is clear that as opposed to the typical American diet, the alkaline diet is:
- High in fiber: which can slow down the absorption of sugar by the blood, thereby preventing blood sugar spikes
- More filling and heavy: which stops you from overeating, hence putting on weight
- Lacking in saturated fats, artificial and added sugars: which further prevents insulin spikes, prevents sugar crashes and lowers cholesterol
All of the factors mentioned above may contribute to increasing one’s chances of both preventing and fighting off diabetes. Additionally, the diet is high in essential nutrients like vitamin A and C, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and manganese.
The Bottom Line
While there is no concrete evidence that an alkaline diet can indeed prevent or reverse diabetes, medical and nutrition experts point out that it is definitely healthier and therefore, can benefit our health in the long run. With so few Americans meeting their daily fruit and vegetable requirements, eating more of these alkalizing foods are sure to offer health benefits that extend beyond diabetes prevention and treatment.
At the same time, acidic foods should be consumed in moderation or not at all, regardless of whether one is diabetic or not.
|↑1||National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑3||The Nutrition Source. Harvard Chan.|
|↑4||Carter, Patrice, Laura J. Gray, Jacqui Troughton, Kamlesh Khunti, and Melanie J. Davies. “Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis.” Bmj 341 (2010): c4229.|
|↑5||Bonjour, Jean-Philippe. “Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney.” British Journal of Nutrition 110, no. 7 (2013): 1168-1177.|
|↑6||Pizzorno, Joseph, Lynda A. Frassetto, and Joseph Katzinger. “Diet-induced acidosis: is it real and clinically relevant?.” British journal of nutrition 103, no. 8 (2010): 1185-1194.|
|↑7||Fagherazzi, Guy, Alice Vilier, Fabrice Bonnet, Martin Lajous, Beverley Balkau, Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, and Françoise Clavel-Chapelon. “Dietary acid load and risk of type 2 diabetes: the E3N-EPIC cohort study.” Diabetologia 57, no. 2 (2014): 313-320.|
|↑8||Moghadam, Sajjad Khalili, Zahra Bahadoran, Parvin Mirmiran, Maryam Tohidi, and Fereidoun Azizi. “Association between dietary acid load and insulin resistance: Tehran lipid and glucose study.” Preventive nutrition and food science 21, no. 2 (2016): 104.|