You've probably heard of the alkaline diet by now. Find out which foods fall into this category and if you should add them to your healthy-eating plan
What Is pH and Why Should You Care?
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You might have heard the word "alkaline" thrown around in trendy health-food circles, but what does it even mean? Well, first you have to look at the American diet: It's filled with acid-forming foods such as refined grains, processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, processed meats and dairy, and dreadful genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These foods have been linked to numerous adverse side effects that can lead to long-term health risks, such as kidney damage and a heightened risk of contracting diabetes, among other concerns.
Labeling a food acid-forming or alkaline-forming refers to how the body breaks it down, no matter if the given food is organically acidic or alkaline in its raw state. The pH value refers to the measure of a food's acidity. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 to 6 being acidic, 7 being neutral, and 8 to 14 being alkaline. Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol are all considered acidic. Natural fats, starches, and sugars are neutral, and fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables are alkaline foods. Water is a neutral 7.
The Alkaline Diet Debate
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While some believe an alkaline diet can swear off conditions like osteoporosis or other health problems associated with inflammation, the science to back up the supposed benefits and risks is lacking. For one, urinary pH is not believed to be associated with the foods you eat, and as Allison Childress, R.D., a nutrition sciences instructor at Texas Tech University, told SHAPE, "your diet does not affect your blood pH at all."
Still, there's no debate that the everyday American diet is filled with fast food, fried everything, and fatty sauces that can wreak havoc on your body—think: bloating, fatigue, weight gain, and general feelings of awfulness. So, whether or not you're a believer in the alkaline diet, swapping processed foods for these healthier options are bound to make you feel better, trendy diet or not.
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With a pH value of 8.5, asparagus is among the strongest alkaline-forming foods. And perhaps more importantly, it's also a great source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K.
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Leafy green vegetables are among the most important foods to include in your diet for plenty of nutritious reasons—they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Spinach boasts all those good-for-you benefits plus has a total pH of 9. Spinach is known for its high vitamin K and folate content, but it is also a good source of digestion-boosting vitamin A, B2, C, E, calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. The leafy green is also rich in chlorophyll, which has a cleansing and toxifying affect in the body. (And don't forget that spinach helps you build muscle, too!)
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Raw kale has a pH value of 6.4, and it bumps to 6.8 when cooked. Along with being an alkaline-forming food, it's also a medicinal powerhouse thanks to its many antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds. It's particularly rich in glucosinolates, which research has found to reduce the risk of numerous cancers. The leafy green is also rich in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, and omega-3—they don't call it a superfood for nothing. (Rethink your regular bowl of roughage and try a nutrient-packed creative kale salad instead.)
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Apples have a pH level of 8 and continue to top the charts of foods rich in nutrition with their plentiful amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They're also a great source of pectin, a soluble fiber that slows down digestion to help you feel fuller longer. Several studies have even linked the consumption of apples to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, which makes sense because their high fiber content counteracts the natural sugar of the fruit to better stabilize your blood sugar.
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For centuries, garlic has been touted for its healing properties. It's also an alkaline-forming food with a pH value of 8. Many of garlic's health benefits come from a sulfur compound called allicin, which gives garlic its strong smell and effectively traps damaging radicals. Garlic is also known for its ability to combat symptoms of the common cold by boosting your immune system, and one study even found that garlic extract can reduce the number of sick days from a cold by as much as 61 percent. (Bonus: Apparently garlic might also help you lose weight.)
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With a pH level of 8.5, cayenne peppers are one of the most alkalizing foods. They're also full of antibacterial properties, are a good source of vitamin A, and work to fight off free radicals that trigger stress and illness. Cayenne peppers are also known to kick-start your metabolism, blood flow, and digestion, thanks in part to a compound called capsaicin.
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Lemons top the pH charts with a level of 9. They're a great source of citric acid, flavonoids, B-complex vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and fiber. The American Heart Association attributes eating higher amounts of citrus fruits such as lemon to a potential reduction of ischemic stroke risk for women. Lemons may also prevent cancer thanks to their vitamin C content, which has been found to combat cancer-causing free radicals. (You don't need to wait until summer to add some lemon to your life. Try these savory citrus recipes for winter.)