When you're trying to lose weight, your body's acid level is probably not something you track like calories or trips to the gym. But apparently, the diet that requires peeing on a little strip of paper (available at most phramacies) to test your pH levels is gaining a ton of notoriety. Does it actually work, though?
Why Everyone is Doing It
Though the diet has been around for a few years, it's been gaining more buzz recently, especially among celebrities like Kelly Ripa, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Elle Macpherson, according to the New York Post. Some dieters have said that they even have pee-strip contests to see who can get theirs to the most neutral pH level. Ew.
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The premise of the crazy-popular alkaline diet is that keeping your body's level of acidity at a seven on a scale of zero (extremely acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline) turns you into a fat-burning machine. Alkaline-obsessed dieters claim that eating acidic food throws off your body’s pH level, which causes your metabolism to slow and the weight to pack on.
Does It Work?
While the theory behind the diet is interesting, the reason why so many celebs are touting its weight-loss powers is because it essentially rolls every popular elimination diet into one. The plan bans dairy, meat, eggs, grains, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol, coffee, and soda, all of which the diet's proponents believe will throw off the body’s pH levels. Here's what you can eat: Fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables. All of these have high alkaline, or acid-neutralizing, levels.
However, what's really helping an alkaline dieter lose weight is cutting calories and blood-sugar spikes caused by eating refined carbs and sugary foods, says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., creator of bistroMD and author of The MD Factor Diet. Cederquist says she hasn't seen any scientific evidence that this pH-based weight loss plan works.
And since the diet is so low in animal protein, most stringent followers won’t just lose fat—they’ll also lose muscle, says Cederquist. Obviously, that's not ideal for your health, metabolism, or figure, she says. Another side effect of following the alkaline diet is that nixing animal products can result in B-12 deficiencies and anemia.
Does it Make You Healthier?
The alkalizing diet claims that your organs were meant to function in a neutral, alkaline environment, so reducing the amount of acid in your diet can make you healthier overall, too. But as it turns out, your body maintains the perfect pH level all on its own. Go figure. “Your body is designed to keep its acidity level between 7.35 and 7.45—as long as you don't have a lung or kidney disease—and it works quite hard to keep it there," says Craig Primack, M.D., a board-certified obesity medicine physician with the Scottsdale Weight Loss Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Here's the lowdown on that process: Your lungs, kidneys, blood, and bones can all detect changes in your blood’s pH levels and adjust accordingly. If the body gets too alkaline—meaning your pH level is somewhere between 7.46 and 14—your lungs automatically slow your breathing rate, which drops your levels of carbon dioxide to make your body more acidic, says Primack. If your body starts to become too acidic, your kidneys instantly secrete an alkaline substance that brings the acid levels in your blood back down to about 7.45 or lower. So you're already a well-oiled machine, baby!
So What’s with the Pee Strips?
If your body keeps your blood pH levels perfectly balanced, then how are alkaline dieters are claiming to get their pH levels even less acidic?
Here's the thing: Those pee strip tests are based on the pH level of your urine, not the pH level of your blood—they're two different things, says Primack. Since pee is just a waste product eliminated by your kidneys, your urine’s pH level varies according to what you eat and drink. So despite the fact that an alkaline dieter's pee stick reflects that their waste is less acidic, their blood will always have an acidity level somewhere between 7.35 to 7.45, he says.
This diet just doesn't work the way that users think it does, says Primack. Sure, you may lose weight on the diet by cutting out processed foods and refined carbs, but it has nothing to do with your body’s actual pH levels. After all, they haven’t changed—only your pee has.
So go ahead and eat more produce and fewer refined foods to lose weight and live healthier. But for the sake of your body and your sanity, you shouldn’t use the alkaline diet as your guidelines to get fit.
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