Reader question: I’m getting really confused by all this talk of “alkaline diet”, are there really health benefits are is this just another fad?


I’m getting really confused by all this talk of “alkaline diet”, are there really health benefits are is this just another fad?

-Baffled in Battersea


Of course you’re confused! The entire business model of the nutritional-media-industrial complex relies on your confusion to sustain it. Since they have almost nothing of value to offer, keeping you confused is the only way to keep you clicking and spending.

Most of the people who write about and sell diets and nutritional products are confused themselves. It’s hard to judge them too harshly because they probably really do believe in the benefits of their work. But there must be at least a few people at the top who know exactly what they are doing. One wonders how they sleep at night.

Many, if not most, diets and nutritional products are generally harmless, so if people want to waste their time and money on them we should let them, right?


The problem is that many people use diets and nutritional products in an attempt to mitigate the effects of an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle, which, of course, they do not. But making people think that diets and nutritional products actually work (or allowing them to talk themselves into the possibility that they might) makes it less likely that they will make any real changes that will actually improve their health.

(Also, from a more general socioeconomic perspective, there has to be something fundamentally wrong with having a massive industry that is mostly nonsense, right? But that’s another story …).

And don’t get me started on the policy makers who continue to do nothing to help. They are the ones who are ultimately responsible for creating structures that protect our health and wellbeing and they are failing miserably. Sure, many of them are also confused. But the science has reached a point where that is no longer an acceptable excuse.

The real science — rigorous research studies published in top journals — paints a clear and ultimately simple picture of healthy eating. It’s the pseudoscience — poorly designed and executed studies (which, sadly, are the vast majority) — and the non-science that make things confusing.

Anyway, you asked about the alkaline diet.

Forget about it. The idea is that by lowering the pH of your food, you will lower the pH in your body and be healthier because of it. There doesn’t seem to be any real science to support of any of that.

But the basic recommendations of the alkaline diet are great! Eating a lot of fruit and veg and avoiding processed foods are great ideas — just not for reasons that have anything to do with pH. But some versions of the alkaline diet seem to suggest avoiding major food groups like meat. That’s fine, but you need to make sure you find other ways to get the nutrients that you are missing out on.

I think it’s worth saying that just because something is a fad doesn’t mean that it’s rubbish. Take intermittent fasting for example: it is clearly a fad, but it is also supported by some very robust science. When it comes to nutrition, you can’t judge ideas based on their popularity, you have to judge them based on the science. And if there is no science, well …