Earlier today I co-taught a nutrition workshop at New York Presbyterian Hospital's oncology unit, in which a patient inquired about cancer and alkaline diets.
Apparently, one of his family members sent him a list of foods that people living with cancer should refrain from eating because they are highly acidic and, therefore, exacerbate the condition.
Some of the foods he was "advised" not to eat? Bananas and oranges!
Alas, his question brought back memories of many inane ramblings I've listened to -- and read -- by proponents of alkaline diets.
These people -- Dr. Robert Young is particularly notorious for his book, The pH Miracle (which I absolutely refuse to provide a link to Amazon for) -- refer to themselves as "nutritionists" or "naturopaths," but have apparently never read a single page of an elementary human physiology and anatomy book.
The "alkaline diet" theory goes a little like this:
1. Diseases are the end result of our blood becoming more acidic (damaged cells can not survive in alkaline environments).
2. Our diet can determine if our bodies are in an 'acidic' or 'alkaline' state.
3. Eating foods that promote “alkanility” prevents certain diseases (like cancer) from ever developing.
Now let’s discuss why that’s a big steaming pile of… nonsense.
First of all, much like our body takes care of detoxifying (thanks to the liver,) we also have organs that ensure acid-base balance is taking place.
The two main players are the lungs (which pitch in by releasing carbon dioxide) and kidneys (if blood pH is not where it should be, the body will correct it by getting rid of whatever is extraneous in our urine.)
Our blood’s pH always falls in the 7.35 to 7.45 range (mainly because the body has buffer systems that work all day to make sure levels do not fall above, or below, that range).
If your pH level is below that range, something is SERIOUSLY wrong. Literally being in an "alkaline" state is life threatening, not a utopia.
Besides, eating “acidic” or “basic” foods is completely irrelevant to blood pH levels.
To make matters more confusing, “acidic” foods have nothing to do with how they taste (meaning, lemons are considered extremely basic, not extremely acidic.)
Take a look at this completely absurd list (bonus points for making sense of it!):
According to it, the following foods are “acidic” and should therefore be consumed in very minimal amounts, and possibly not at all, to ensure optimal health: corn, lentils, blueberries, oats, quinoa, egg whites, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, walnuts, peanut butter, shrimp, salmon, tuna, olive oil, bananas, and oranges.
Wow, this is certainly news to me! So fruits, fish, beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetable oils, and nuts are the source of disease?
I’m so tired of the endless parade of quacks that somehow get paid to spew garbage in a book that somehow ends up on the bestseller list.
And I find it incredibly irritating that all this nonsense ends up confusing people even more on issues of nutrition and healthy eating.
I don't know how acid or alkaline it is, but my blood certainly boils when I hear someone tell me that "this really interesting book written by a doctor" says that fruit "A" is good for you, but fruit "B" actually "causes disease."
Publishers, take note.