Alkaline diets. Marketing fad or the real deal?

Alkaline diets. Marketing fad or the real deal?

  • An acidic diet is one mainly composed of foods and drinks which supposedly increase the acidity of our bodily fluids, by decreasing our bodies natural pH levels. Acidic foods include meats, grains, and dairy. 
  • An alkaline diet is one mainly composed of foods and drink which supposedly increase the alkalinity of our bodily fluids, by increasing our bodies natural pH levels. Alkaline foods tend to be leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.

It is the end product produced after digestion that determines whether or not a food or drink is acidic or alkaline. For examples, lemons are highly acidic but create alkaline products after digestion. Not all fruits and vegetables are alkaline, and likewise not all animal products are acidic. (Google alkaline foods and .you’ll surely find a comprehensive list).

It is a common belief that a diet high in alkaline foods will prevent disease and ill health. I don’t believe that is true. Although it is a fact that many alkaline foods are extremely good for you, but so are many acidic foods. So why do many people believe that alkaline diets are literally saving them from disease? In my opinion, it is because they are simply a victim of yet another great marketing ploy. But wait! Alkaline diets are heavily endorsed by celebrities! And celebrities look fantastic! Hmmmm….could it not be that celebrities are endorsing something in which they are getting paid to endorse by those clever brands? 

Anyway, I’ll let you form your own opinion on that, but here is my reasoning for having an opinion that an alkaline diet will not prevent disease.

 

1. Homeostasis

Our bodies are very sensitive to pH (pH being a level of acidity and alkalinity on a measure from 1 to 14, with 1 being very acidic and 14 being highly alkaline). Our bodies are highly effective and efficient at maintaining a pH level between 7.38 and 7.42 (part of a process called homeostasis). Anything above or below this can have serious side effects on our health.
Given that our bodies maintain bodily pH at an optimum of 7.4 through homeostasis, and it being true that food can leave its (albeit very minor) mark on our bodies pH levels, this means there is one thing that health food and supplement marketers have completely overplayed, and no doubt suckered you into believing. That is the belief that you can alter your blood pH through your diet. I am yet to read any compelling evidence that our diets can alter our bodies pH levels, but if you do know of any journals or clinical trials which conclude that eating certain foods regularly can alter our pH then do let me know! 

 

2. Respiration

For our bodies pH to dramatically change then we would need to either speed up or slow down the rate of respiration (in other words, the rate at which we remove carbon dioxide from the blood, which is done through breathing). Our Kidneys would also need to be inhibited from producing the buffering agents that also help regulate our pH. If either of these happened then we would become seriously ill.

This leads on to another marketing ploy, in that it is believed that an acidic diet causes bone demineralisation (and some believe an acidic diet can cause osteoporosis), and other diseases. The belief that an acidic diet causes osteoporosis or bone demineralisation comes from the fact that bones store calcium, and the belief that bones will release their calcium (an alkaline metal) to buffer out our blood if it is too acidic. This is highly flawed because it makes the assumption that both our respiration and a major function of the kidneys has been heavily inhibited. If you want to know more about this side of the scientific argument then check out this published journal: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24094472

 

3. Marketing Ploys and Self Medication

Where the marketers successfully achieve their goal is in the selling of products (alkaline products and supplements) that claim to counteract an increase in acidity due to our poor diets. Just to clarify, I am not referring to any clinical conditions such as acidosis or alkalosis (which does cause serious health problems). I am solely referring to the belief that a diet which contains more alkaline foods than acidic foods will prevent serious health problems. 

One problem here is that many people are spending over £20 for a bottle of 90 capsules which apparently alkalise the body, believing that an alkaline diet will prevent disease. To put this straight, neither a diet that is highly acidic or highly alkaline will prevent disease. Why waste your money on this stuff? If you’re that determined to have an alkaline diet then why wouldn’t you spend that money on great alkaline food, which is rich in nutrients and minerals?

Another problem is that this is all yet another marketing ploy to fuel our innate fears of becoming ill by providing us with another way to self medicate. We are naturally afraid of an undesirable self perceived future self, whether that be a fear in becoming ill, poor, lonely, overweight, or in some way unable to live up to societies heavy and outrageous demands for us to be as near perfect and desirable as possible. Not that there is anything wrong in wanting to be the best and strongest version of yourself, but there is a problem when you are spending money on something which you believe is helping when it’s not. There is a problem when you buy into a product which is sold through capitalising on your anxiety, rather than a product which is genuinely good for you.
I’m not saying that all supplementation is bad either. I like raw vegan-friendly supplements (mainly protein) because they have so few chemicals, preservatives or additives. 

 

4. Finally, your Body is not this Fragile!

Finally, the other main problem is really believing an alkaline diet will prevent disease. Could it not be that a diet which is rich in nutrients and minerals is the cause for improved health and increased vitality? Alkaline foods are highly nutritious, they’re great for you! But does that mean that eating a steak will be detrimental to your health? Or that if you eat wholemeal pasta, or even go as far as eating a pizza or a burger, that you then need to quickly supplement it with alkaline rich foods or you will surely suffer the consequences? Is any of this sounding a little too…drastic? Is your body so fragile that it cannot handle the odd croissant here and there? No it’s not! 

 

As always, if you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle or even an athletic level of health, then I always always always recommend a balanced diet and keeping well hydrated. Increase your greens by all means if you want to increase the amount of nutrients and minerals in your diet. But don’t buy into diet fads without really digging deep into where they came from (and as always, go and speak with your local GP!) 

Don’t waste your money on something which has not been proven to work and is currently being pushed and promoted as if it were made of unicorn horns. Go for healthy foods and recipes that taste great and make your health routines enjoyable! Who ever enjoyed or looked forward to swallowing supplement pills anyway???


So what about toxins? free radicals? oxidative stress? antioxidants? detox? and all these terms which are thrown around every day? What are these about? Check out next weeks blog for more on these! Are they also fads? or do we genuinely need to detox once in a while?

Comfort Eating. Why do we do it?

Comfort Eating. Why do we do it?

For example, have you ever heard of the chemical Monosodium Glutamate? Better known by its more common name, MSG (look for the E number E621). As well as being a major additive in many foods, it is also used in laboratories to fatten up rats for experimentation. MSG causes high levels excitation and is often referred to as an excitotoxin. It is found in so many foods, and is purposefully added to foods such as soups, seasonings, snacks, fast foods, ready meals, and many more, in order to trigger your sense of craving for other foods which provide excessive stimulation (such as those high in sugar, or caffeine, or salt)
This is scary stuff! I highly recommend you read the book ‘Brandwashed’ which also covers this point.

So how can we fight back against brand and supermarket marketers (who are equally as bad with their own in store own brand products)? We know what we are craving, and why we are craving it (to literally get our fix of such substances), but what else is influencing us to buy these foods in the first place (other than knowing they taste good).

Many of the foods we crave are often described as rewards, treats, celebrations (literally!), or as something we deserve. You will frequently see marketing that describes certain food in such ways as “go on, treat yourself” or “you deserve a reward”. Coincidently, when we reward ourselves, our brains release a powerful neurotransmitter called Dopamine. In our brains, dopamine is translated as pleasure, creating a powerful feeling of satisfaction which we crave and become addicted to. During periods of the day when we have not received a reward for some time, we begin to crave a dopamine hit and start searching for ways to obtain this satisfaction associated with rewards. The more frequently we reward ourselves, the greater the need for a greater reward.
In food terms, something as innocent as yoghurt can (and many do) contain chemicals and sugars, and literally feed your reward system, giving you that release of dopamine you’ve been waiting for. If you have a relatively healthy diet and then start to reward yourself with something as innocent (hint) as yoghurt, you’re going to release dopamine into your system as a result. This in turn is going to influence you to seek out and crave sweeter foods. Perhaps you have the same problem with salt and you seek out crisps as a reward too. The fun, rewarding, celebratory slogan “once you pop you just can’t stop” soon becomes a real problem. If you look back to where your addictions started, for many during times of stress or lack of stimulation, you may be able to identify what foods initially caused the problem, and what foods you began to go after from there on.

For me I recognised this problem in bread and other baked products. I also loved bread based meals such as pizza, burgers, sandwiches (hungry yet?), and sweet baked goods. Unfortunately, these very products were feeding my cravings, and helping me towards a diet which was entirely reactive to the cravings I had to fulfil. Even when I was not hungry I would impulsively buy Burger Kings (I used to live a few yards away from a Burger King at University), cakes, doughnuts, you get the idea. Crisps and chocolate then became the norm (notice how ‘meal deals’ are always a sandwich, packet of crisps, some sort of chocolate, and bottle of fruit juice from concentrate or a fruit smoothie…supermarkets know how to get you hooked!) But it wasn’t the bread itself I was addicted to…it was their unlabelled ingredients. Bakers of ‘fresh’ bread and baked goods in the UK do not have to fully label their products with the ingredients used. The Real Bread Campaign gives us an overview of what bakers and retailers are not required to do for us consumers (www.sustainweb.org/realbread/bread_labelling):

  • Bakers and retailers are not required to provide customers with full lists of ingredients and any additives they use in making unwrapped loaves – e.g. those from supermarket in-store bakeries.
  • The use of so-called processing aids can go completely undeclared, even on the ingredient and additive lists of wrapped loaves.
  • There are no legal definitions for terms commonly used in loaf marketing, including ‘fresh’ (or ‘freshly baked’), ‘sourdough’, ‘wholegrain’, ‘artisan’ and ‘craft.’

 

Shocked? We literally live in a world where avoiding additives or addictive substances is near impossible! It’s no wonder we crave such bad foods or comfort eat, or even let these foods become a part of our everyday diet! Once these foods are in your everyday diet the supermarkets know you will literally be buying the sweeter, saltier, more appealing foods which are ridiculously high in these addictive substances.The messages throughout online food stores and in the supermarkets themselves are telling us it’s ok to buy and enjoy more, and more, and more.

How do we stop? If you really concerned then your first point of call should be a GP (I always recommend this) as they can help guide you towards resources and even dieticians. Never attempt to dramatically or suddenly change your diet without GP guidance. For me, I took steps to keep bad foods out of sight and out of mind. I avoided the baked goods aisle and I wouldn’t allow any bad foods into my kitchen. I made rules for myself such as eating those foods only at weekends, which I soon reduced to a new rule which is now ‘eating those foods only at birthdays and celebrations, and I’m on my way to reducing this even further’. By reducing my intake of bad foods I naturally reduce the cravings and my addictions slowly break down. They become less frequent and I haven’t caused myself any additional stress from drastically changing my diet. My approach to food is much less reactive.

I also started to explore fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. I realised that my taste buds could only recognise severely strong flavours, and I would find vegetables to be bland, which they shouldn’t be! They have so much flavour but we can barely recognise it as it’s not what we’re used to.
Also, I looked for different ways to reward myself other than food, which is how I got into exercise and why I continued playing sports. I loved playing (and still do) rugby! I found Calisthenics to be challenging and rewarding, especially when I could perform the more complex movements due to my hard work paying off. Re-wiring your dopamine reward system to respond to a healthy stimulus is a key way to avoid comfort eating or treating yourself regularly with bad foods. It’s strange to say it but I now crave fresh raw foods like vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nut and seeds because my body has got used to wanting the nutrients. I become more irritated when I am a bit dehydrated, as opposed to needing a cup of coffee. It may sound a bit mad or even ridiculous, but I want to encourage you to remove addictive foods and seek out a healthier diet. Find other foods, healthier foods to reward yourself with. Work out which healthy foods are your favourite and work from there (find recipes that use them for example). Reward yourself in a different way and fulfil your bodies cravings for a dopamine hit with a healthy reward, something you enjoy.

It’s not going to be easy but nothing worth having ever is! If you’re looking for a way to reward yourself with exercise then I urge you to try out Calisthenics, which can be done without any equipment and can be performed anywhere, anytime, by yourself or in groups. Yes, I’ll even plug my own classes but they are good fun and they could help you get started on your journey towards a stronger version of you.

If you have any questions then leave comment or email me at dan.johnston@wordpress-688444-2272368.cloudwaysapps.com

For next weeks blog article I’ll be writing about one of my biggest problems which is sleep and a feeling of constant tiredness. I really do struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and although I’m not as bad as I used to be, I still often feel constantly tired.

Why are low carb diets bad for you?

Why are low carb diets bad for you?

I suffered headaches, nausea, severe tiredness and a real lack of energy, and it affected my mood and motivation. These are usually the symptoms of drastic diet changes, so any action to change your diet should be done slowly, and you should take thoroughly researched steps to plan for it (including speaking to a GP). We are also very much in a carb and sugar cutting phase in modern nutritional beliefs, where as before we were in a fat cutting phase, and of course the salt reduction phase and MSG cutting phase (and others). To be honest we should just stop listening to the clever marketers who trigger these phases and who work them to their advantage, selling us more low fat this and low sugar that. Let’s just have an ‘eat less bad food altogether’ phase! 

Last week I wrote about how there is no “fat burning zone” but how we can use the ratios in which our bodies use fuel to our advantage. After about 20 minutes of exercise our bodies will start using fat as the primary source of fuel BUT our bodies will still use carbs (just less of them). Why doesn’t the body switch off the need for carbs altogether? Why does the body seemingly want to preserve our carb stores? 

The simple answer is that our bodies use carbs to function. Our brains use glucose as a primary fuel, as do our other organs. Our bodies are naturally engineered to ensure the brain functions efficiently, and our bodies take drastic measures to protect the brain and ensure it has the fuel to function. For example, when our brains are not receiving enough oxygen and blood flow is restricted then we can become dizzy and even faint. Why? To lower the head and increase the blood flow back to what the brain needs it to be. This is a pretty drastic but entirely necessary survival function our bodies perform to protect our brains. 

The brain does not use fats as a source of energy because fatty acids cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Therefore our brains need a supply of glucose to function effectively. If the brain is not receiving glucose then our bodies will begin to break down fat into ketones. Ketones are what is used as fuel when glucose is not available. Firstly, understand that using ketones as fuel is not bad. Low carb diets increase ketone levels in the blood and this is perfectly fine (our ketone levels increase when we sleep, and sleep doesn’t harm us). Ketones are not the primary fuel source though, and a high level of ketones in the blood causes an increase in acidity which causes a number of health problems (for the sake of preventing this blog from becoming a text book I won’t go into it, but if you’re interested then research the terms acidosis and Ketoacidosis).

Just quickly though, acidosis is not a good thing. It is an increase in blood acidity and therefore in other body tissues such as muscles, organs, and bones, impairs their function. For example, increased acidity in the blood can lead to weakened bones because your bones will release calcium carbonate to help buffer against the acidity levels in the blood. This happens because your body will always try to maintain a pH level of 7.4, and anything either side of this (acidosis or alkalosis) has side effects. This is why a balanced diet should be a priority over a high carb or low carb or no carb diet. Too much or too little carbs cause shifts in our bodies pH levels which is simply not good for us.

As I mentioned, ketones themselves are not bad for us. In fact there is plenty of research which suggests that a ketogenic diet is perfectly healthy (note that I wrote ketogenic diet NOT ketoacidosis – two very different things!) But to keep your pH levels neutral in a ketogenic diet, you would need to plan a more alkaline based diet and seek out foods which will help buffer against the increases in acidity. Leafy greens, edible algae (spirulina, chlorella), lemons, and other fruit and veg (Google Alkaline Foods) will increase your blood alkaline levels. Since many of the foods we eat (meat, dairy, eggs, chocolate, cakes, alcohol) and the by products of bodily processes causes increase in acidity, a diet plan which aims to balance out the pH levels can only be a good thing. Though you can go the other way and become too alkaline so amongst all this biomedical jargon, if you haven’t come to this conclusion already, it is always best to have a balanced highly nutritious diet!

It’s pretty clear that there isn’t actually a definitive answer as to whether having a glucose fueled diet is better than a ketone diet. Both have their benefits and both have their pitfalls. 
What you have to ask yourself is this – do you want to live on a ketone based diet? Do you really want to take on a diet that, although may induce weight loss, can actually lead you down a slippery slope towards other health problems? 

Also bear in mind that a ketone based diet will have very little grains, legumes, fruits and many vegetables, fibre, or dairy, and certainly no pasta or rice. So that means you are cutting out an awful lot of nutrients. Minerals and vitamins are very restricted in a ketogenic diet, as is fibre. You also get a lot of fluids from these foods so you are cutting down on your water intake by removing these foods. You’re pretty much left with foods that are predominantly fat and protein, which is a highly acidic diet. You’ll still have leafy greens of course too, and you can balance out the acidity with low/no carb alkaline foods. Personally, I go for a low sugar diet and keep the carbs because I do not believe that reducing my healthy sources of carbs (I LOVE fruit!) is of any benefit to me. I don’t over indulge and I don’t eat too much fruit either. I keep it balanced. 


My blog this week may not have given you a definitive answer into which diet is better, carb or ketone, but I hope I have given you enough info to make your own choices and start you on a journey into researching what is right for you. One thing I do want you to take away is this. The ketone diet is often criticised as being a diet low in vitamins and minerals. Funny enough, all companies which sell multivitamins and similar supplements are fully aware of this. They will most likely blog about the benefits of ketogenic diets (in fact I challenge you to find me an article written by a supplement company, or by a company which endorses supplements, that writes about the pitfalls of Ketogenic Diets). 
They’re also very aware that we have an innate fear of ill health which causes us to self-medicate our diets through supplementation. This is why we buy their products as we believe, due to their clever marketing, that we need them to be healthier. Now with the Ketogenic diet they have a real excuse to pump us with their marketing nonsense and convince us to buy their £10 bottle of 30 multivitamin pills, which coincides nicely with one pill for every day of the month, practically making us monthly subscribers. But no matter what we will always fall for this because, well hey, more vitamins and more nutrients taken quickly without the hassle of shopping or preparing vegetables is beneficial for us right?

The supplement companies are the same clever marketers who know how our brains work, and why we do things such as comfort eating, or create addictions for ourselves to foods high in sugar or salt or even coffee. 



What can you do about it? Can you break away from comfort eating or daily food addictions? 
Find out in next weeks blog!