I first came across the idea of alkaline and acidic foods in a book by Alejandro Junger, “Clean” whose author is a New York trained cardiologist. When Dr. Junger started experiencing the symptoms of cardiovascular disease himself, despite leading a healthy life by our modern standards, he began investigating the cause of diseases such as Diabetes, Cancer and Heart disease, the leading causes of death in America. He found a strong link between the consumption of modern, processed foods and the prevalence of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He identified alkaline foods and acidic foods (and provides an extensive list of the same in the book). Simply put, his argument is that acidic foods acidify the already acid environment in the body, creating an imbalance in the pH of the blood.
While the exact mechanism remains unknown, Dr. Junger cites a number of studies showing a strong association between alkaline foods and better control of glucose and insulin levels. This is in line with previous health studies advocating plant-based diets. Acidic foods, which include red meats, processed meats, dairy (especially hard cheese), fried foods, sugar and alcohol generate more sulphate during metabolism increasing the acid load in the body. Alkaline foods tend to be lower in protein and higher in potassium and their metabolism decreases acid load.
Many of the patients’ stories highlighted in the book show remarkable reversals of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and even terminal cancer. The diet which was the only variable in the patients’ treatment was an alkaline diet comprised of alkalizing vegetables, fruits, protein and spices.
Some examples are:
Alkalizing Protein: Almonds, Tofu
Alkalizing Fruit: Pear, Apple, Pineapple, Melon, Peach, Mango
Alkalizing Vegetables: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Kale, Beetroot, Peppers
Alkalizing Spices: Ginger, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Mustard
The idea of the acid/alkali forming foods is not new. Even ancient Vedic diets advocated the consumption of plant-based foods while reducing oily, rich and fried food (“Rajasic” or royal food) as well as avoiding consumption of alcohol, meat and tobacco (considered “Tamasic” or dead food).
The Islamic support for eating healthy, nutritious food is evident in several hadith of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him):
No human has ever filled a container worse than his own stomach. The son of Adam needs no more than a few morsels of food to keep up his strength. Doing so, he should consider that a third of his stomach is for food, a third for drink and a third for breathing. (Ibn Maja).
The Quran advocates mindful and healthy eating in several places:
Eat and drink, but avoid excess. (20:81)
And He enforced the balance. That you exceed not the bounds; but observe the balance strictly; and fall not short thereof. (55:7-9)
Eat of the good things which We have provided for you. (2:173)
Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth. (2:168)
Among the chronic diseases, diabetes poses significant health risks. In America alone, it is estimated that 8.1 million people are living with undiagnosed diabetes, one fifth of all healthcare money is spent in treating people with this disease and one in four Americans over the age of 65 will develop diabetes. A high proportion of people in the Indian sub-continent as well as from this diasporic community suffer from Type 2 diabetes. As Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and controlled, by diet and exercise, it is important to find ways to reverse the increase of this disease in our communities. It becomes our responsibility to test and adopt alternatives to the current healthcare which is heavily weighted in favor of treatment rather than prevention.