By Arwa Lodhi
Eating alkaline had a huge moment in the 70s, when proponents encouraged people to eat fewer acidic foods and buy little strips of paper to test their pH levels. Over time, this diet died out in favour of other dietary trends: the ‘say no to fat’ diet (proven to be not only wrong, but bad for your health), and the Atkins (questionably healthy, especially over the long term), for example. But today, alkaline eating is back, and with good reason: time has shown it’s simply good for you. And what’s more, it’s 100% compatible with today’s clean eating, vegan, vegetarian and Paleo diets.
When done regularly, eating an alkaline diet also does wonders for the digestion, skin and mood. Chefs like Natasha Corrett and nutritionist Vicki Edgson of Honestly Healthy have created many delicious, low acid recipes, and celebs like Kate Hudson have raved about how low acid eating has transformed their lives, giving them more energy, fewer illnesses and improved skin, hair and nails.
The problem is, a lot of people seem to be confused about what’s really meant by ‘alkaline’ or ‘acidic’ food. Luckily, it’s not that hard to figure out. Natasha Corrett helps us explain why eating alkaline is important, and how to know which foods are more or less acidic.
Why Eat Alkaline
Acidic eating causes a lot of health problems, and basically, eating alkaline eliminates them. For example, acid causes digestive issues, flatulence and bloating – alkaline eating nixes these within days. You’ll also see less redness in your skin tone, as seeds, nuts and natural foods that are rich in the essential fats that make up the matrix of the skin help to protect it from inflammation.
While coffee undoubtedly helps you think clearer, if you reduce this to one cup a day and eat more alkaline foods, rather than having that caffeine generated buzz going on, you’ll find you have a better memory, clearer focus and concentration. The reason? Your blood sugar levels will be more regulated over a longer period of time, giving you improved energy levels. This will also help reduce your cravings for all the acidic stuff, like sugar, coffee and alcohol.
Overall, your body’s functions will improve, as your liver and kidneys have less work to do breaking down alkaline foods. For example, the kidneys normally have to leach vital minerals such as calcium and magnesium from bones to ‘buffer’ the acidity associated with red meat, poultry, dairy products and canned or fizzy drinks, but not consuming these lets the kidneys do their job of filtering waste the way they should.
Finally, many alkaline foods are packed with vitamin- and mineral-rich water, which is more easily absorbed than drinking water, which means you will be better able to hydrate your body from food.
How to Eat Alkaline
According to renowned British chef Natasha Corrett, this is actually pretty easy for vegetarians and vegans, as these tend to be the most alkaline of all: “Alkaline is simply reducing any acid forming foods to 30% of your overall eating and increasing alkaline foods to 70%”, she says. “Acidic foods are meat, sugar, wheat, gluten, cow’s dairy, alcohol and caffeine. For alkaline, think all vegetables, lemons, grapefruit, almonds, fermented foods. Any protein will be slightly more acidic but eating pulses, eggs adding some sheep or goats dairy is a good healthy balance.”
She also recommends choosing wholegrains over processed foods as these not only have more nutritional content, but have also retained their fibre, which slows down the release of glucose, helping to balance your blood sugars throughout the day.
• Lemon, lime and grapefruit
• Dates, figs and apricots (rehydrated)
• Tomato, apple, pear, mango, papaya and avocado
• Watercress, fennel, asparagus, celery and cauliflower
• Onion, garlic, ginger (fresh) and beetroot
• Kelp, spinach, rocket, parsley and coriander
• Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and their oils
• Almonds, walnuts and pecans
• Quinoa, millet, buckwheat, oats and brown rice
• Almond milk, brown-rice milk
• Ground coconut and coconut water
Acid Forming Foods
All red meats, poultry, sugar and processed foods like muffins, breakfast cereals and supermarket breads, coffee, tea and alcohol, dairy products and chocolate are acid forming. But it’s not just food you need to watch out for: artificial sweeteners, pharmaceutical medicines and cigarettes are also acid-forming
Make The Diet Work For You
First of all, no one’s perfect and you really don’t need to give up your favourite foods! As Natasha says: “I think that the term diet has got to be abolished! It brings such bad connotations to food and the way we choose food. It doesn’t matter what ‘label’ you put on it essentially if you have a well balanced meal that is full of natural food that is free of preservatives, processed foods, refined sugars and flour then you will feel much better in yourself.”
The most important thing to give up, if you ask Natasha, is meat. “I personally think that eating huge amounts of meat is not only a strain on your body but also the environment. It’s all about balance that is why I champion a 70/30 rule so 70% eat healthy and 30% do what you want. This way it’s never a ‘diet’, it’s just a way of life.”
Be sure to balance alkaline-forming and acid-forming foods following the 70/30 rule: if you love sweets or coffee or meat, just have plenty of vegetables, served on a base of grains, with your protein perched on top, or with coffee or sweets for dessert. This way you can ensure that the majority of your meal is alkaline, without having to sacrifice those foods that you really enjoy.
Meal Ideas for the Perfect Alkaline Day
Salads are the best thing to incorporate into your meals to make them less acidic. But if you’re thinking limp lettuce and tinned sweetcorn, think again: there’s a lot of creative stuff you can do with salad, as Natasha explains: “To me salads are just something that is cold. I pack my salads full of grains, pulses, herbs, spices, protein and topped with delicious dressings packed full of flavour. I also think things like veggie burgers or falafels can be included into the ‘salad bar’ for added protein. The recipes we have chosen from my book (see recipes below) are anything but limp lettuce and sweetcorn; they are filling and so nutritionally dense that it will fill you up way more than a boring sandwich.”
No wonder prestigious British retailer Fortnum & Mason chose Natasha to design their salad bar for Vegetarian Week this year!
Here are some basic ideas to get your alkaline meal plan going, along with some great recipes from Natasha’s Website, Honestly Healthy.
Scrambled tofu with watercress or baby spinach on toasted rye bread
Carmelised pears on porridge, pictured above. Get the recipe here.
Quinoa or brown-rice salad with sliced avocado, rocket and herbs
Open faced sourdough toast with feta, tomato, lettuce and alfalfa sprouts
Hummus and crudites
Sugarless fruit smoothie
Cauliflower Protein Brownies
Whaat? Is there anything this vegetable can’t do? First we were using it to make low carb mash, then ‘rice’, and now it’s even dessert. And what a dessert! This is much richer and more chocolately than you ever imagined…
Butternut and Aduki Salad
See? Salads really don’t need to be boring, as Natasha firmly stated. This one is creamy and crunchy at the same time, thanks to the differently textured vegetables and the creamy dressing.
If you’re having toast and coffee when you wake up, you’re basically starting the day with some extremely acidic foods! But never fear: breakfast can be the most alkaline meal of the day quite easily, with easy recipes like this. Not sure what it should look like? It’s in our main pic.