For anyone at the Golden Globes in 2016, Kate Hudson’s abs were hard to miss. Some newspapers even called her abs the real winner of the award show. The actress credited her slim figure and defined abs to eating alkaline foods (like plants) and staying away from acidic foods: no meat, no dairy, no gluten and very little sugar. Some of you may roll your eyes, thinking that if she excludes these major offenders then she would obviously look buff.
More than defined abs, however, alkaline foods also give you clear skin, more energy, better sleep and immunity. Perhaps that’s the reason why they are so popular among celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham.

So, what’s the story behind this new health obsession? “You should neither be too alkaline nor too acidic," says Stephan Domenig, medical director at Austria’s award-winning The Original FX Mayr health centre, and author of the book The Alkaline Cure: The Amazing 14-Day Diet And Mindful Eating Plan. He explains that different parts of the body are either acidic or alkaline depending on the work they do. For instance, our stomach is acidic, but the gut works in alkaline conditions. “I like to think of it as a climate: For example, some sportspeople play better in hot weather (acidic conditions), while others play better when it’s cooler (alkaline)."

The problem begins when the body becomes too acidic (excessive alkalinity is extremely rare). “While we have cellular capacity to deal with acid load in excessive amounts, alkalinity is only restored when the bones release alkaline minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorous into the bloodstream." And while you may think that the symptoms of an acidic body include acid reflux, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because increased acid in the body boosts inflammation, which comes with a whole host of problems. Most diseases, including obesity, heart problems and type 2 diabetes, are inflammation related. “It’s not the acid per se, but the insufficiency to deal with it that harms us," says Dr Domenig. The signs of an acidic body include increased aches and pains, skin irritations, loss of flexibility and injuries in sporty people. “In addition, hyperacidity is one of the causes behind osteoporosis too."

Lemon water also helps in reducing excessive acidity in the body.
Lemon water also helps in reducing excessive acidity in the body.

One of the leading causes of hyperacidity is diet. “It’s all to do with processed food, more than even the sources of food or personal constitution," says Lovneet Batra, Delhi-based nutritionist and founder of Arbhavya, a nutrition centre. “Even plant-based food can be acidic—for instance, amaranth cookies are acidic while amaranth in its original form is not." For the same reason, processed sugar is worse than jaggery, and a good-quality wine is better than other spirits that are highly processed, she explains. In fact, in Ayurveda, even the food you make at home becomes stale and loses its prana (vital energy) after 3 hours. “So it’s important to cook and eat your food within 2-3 hours." There are exceptions, like fermented foods, but those are preserved differently.

Faddish trends such as the Keto diet are highly acidic too, because, as Batra explains, they involve high fat and high protein with little or no plant foods. “The thumb rule is that the higher you eat in the food chain, the more acidic it will be—so plants are the most alkaline but chicken is more acidic than fish and meat more acidic than chicken," says Batra.

Joel Kahn, the world’s leading plant-based cardiologist and author of the book The Whole Heart Solution, considers animal protein to be the main reason for an increased acid base. “These animal proteins acidify the body and require bone reabsorption to release alkaline agents." He says this is the reason why, over time, dairy consumption in the form of milk, cheese and butter is not associated with stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis. “In fact, often the opposite result occurs." He recommends a largely plant-based diet, emphasizing greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, to provide alkaline support to the blood. “This also benefits the body, with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and dementia—a win-win programme."

Sheela Krishnaswamy, a Bengaluru-based diet, nutrition and wellness consultant, also counts animal protein as a major offender. “Excess intake of animal protein, alcohol, carbonated beverages, caffeine, can cause harm; however, in regulated quantities, the body is capable of handling different foods and combinations," she says.

In addition, lack of water, lack of “elimination", lack of physical exercise and even lack of chewing can lead to imbalance. “If we do not chew properly, our ability to digest decreases, the food stays in the gut, putrefies, and acidic toxins are released into the bloodstream," says Dr Domenig.

So, how can we find out if our bodies are acidic? One way (recommended by Dr Kahn) is to buy an inexpensive test strip for pH or acid-base status and test the pH balance of urine first thing in the morning. “If there is excessive acidity, this will be measured. The ideal morning urine has a pH of 6.5-7.5—if it is lower, the body is acidic and at risk."

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To reach a balanced state, you must begin with the basics. “When we pass urine, sweat, eliminate regularly, we get rid of excessive acid, so this means that even if we have an okay diet but don’t sweat or eliminate, it will create imbalance in the body," says Dr Domenig.

Other than eating more alkaline foods like plants, one must also drink enough water. There is, however, no fixed “right" amount—it differs from person to person. “If you exercise regularly, live in a hot climate or are prone to constipation, you will need more."

In addition, a modest exercise routine is essential, along with fibre-rich foods that aid healthy elimination. If you want to take it a notch higher, add herbs and spices to the mix. “Fresh or dried are options but avoid bottled herbs and spices over a year old," says Dr Kahn, adding that turmeric, ginger, rosemary, allspice, cloves, cumin and dried garlic are good alkalizers.

Begin your day on an alkaline note

Nutritionist Lovneet Batra lists the right morning ritual:

Step 1: Coconut water: It’s good for hypertension and acidity as well as water retention, bloating and puffiness.

Step 2: Wheatgrass: Take a freshly squeezed 30ml shot, or a teaspoon of dried powder mixed in a glass of water. This detoxifies the liver.

Step 3: One amla (Indian gooseberry). You can eat it raw, otherwise grate it into your wheatgrass juice. This is a huge immunity booster because it’s packed with vitamin C.

Step 4: One banana. It’s highly alkaline, gives energy, removes bloating, and also works as a mood elevator

Step 5: Eat lentils for breakfast. Moong or besan cheela, sprouts, and cooked black chana dal are all great options. They help in stabilizing hormones that regulate hunger and keep satiety levels high.

The ultimate alkaline smoothie

Carol Singh, founder of Antidote, shares her favourite alkaline smoothie recipe.

1 cup green grapes (freeze overnight)

1 ripe banana (freeze overnight)

1 cup spinach

1/2 cup almond milk or coconut water

1 tbsp flaxseed

L of an avocado

1 tsp Spirulina powder (optional)

Blend everything and drink up

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