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Explainer Healthy eating

Can an alkaline diet cure your acid reflux?

This writer had success reducing his reflux symptoms on a low-acid diet. Here's how it works.

Detox diet concept: green vegetables on wooden table

Alkaline foods include leafy greens, broccoli and apples.

fcafotodigital / E+ / Getty Images

While I'm a skeptic of diet fads, I take note when something works. Last year, my acid reflux flared up so badly I lost my voice and developed a nodule on my vocal cords. My doctor put me on a regimen of two different antacids twice a day, lots of rest (as if that is actually possible) and mentioned that I should avoid acid triggers and overeating. Leaving the visit, I still felt that just taking medications couldn't be the answer. There had to be a way to dramatically shift my acidity. Then, I found the alkaline diet theory.

Prior to learning more about it, I thought an alkaline diet was about drinking lemon water and testing your urine every hour. In reality, it is about monitoring what you put into your digestive system with an aim to reducing inflammation and stomach acid.

When we metabolize, we burn food to release energy. After burning, there is ash residue (also called metabolic waste) that can be acidic, alkaline or neutral. Alkaline dieters claim the acidity of the food you eat affects the acidity of your body. So, theoretically, you can lower your body's acidity through your diet, specifically by eating foods that are high in alkalizing minerals and avoiding acidic foods.

A couple caveats

Be warned. Not everything the diet promises is actually possible. And there is really no need to measure your pee's pH. To those who disagree, I politely say "Ew!" and "Hell no!" This practice is also not an accurate measurement of your blood pH. In fact, your body has to tightly regulate your blood pH because a high blood pH can be fatal. So, eating alkaline will not dramatically change the pH of your "whole" body and it cannot guarantee you won't get cancer or osteoporosis for other reasons that take too long to explain -- but suffice it to say, it is not a miracle cure-all.

So, what is an alkaline diet good for?

Luckily, you can use this diet to manage your stomach's acidity, which is especially useful if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD). In my case, it has dramatically reduced my acid reflux flares. My vocal nodule is not gone yet, but my singing range, which had shrunk, has been coming back stronger than ever.

Also, for those of you interested in weight loss, while your mileage may vary, I lost seven pounds of mostly fat all over my body (especially my tummy). In fact, this may be the first year where I don't need "winter pants."

Intrigued? Well, here is the fine print.

Roughly speaking, under the diet, foods fall into three categories:

Acidic: Meat, dairy, eggs, grains, alcohol and other fermented foods

Neutral: Natural fat, starch and sugar

Alkaline: Fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes

Each food actually has its own pH level index, which you can thoroughly investigate through the endless number of lists that exist online, but I refuse to get that anal about my life. I am not a purist, so I do not abstain from everything that could ever be acidic. That would drive me crazy. Instead, I enjoy acidic food and drink sparingly and focus on neutral and alkaline food and just try to balance everything out. However, it is still largely a plant-based diet and there are certain foods that I tried my best to stop cold turkey:

  1. Chocolate and mint. Why? These two actually relax a muscle at the base of the esophagus (the esophageal sphincter to be exact). Once relaxed, this allows stomach acid to wash up the esophagus, which irritates the voice box.
  2. Alcohol, coffee, caffeine and hot spices. Lord knows I love my wine, coffee and spicy food, but these items increase your stomach's acidity so much that it escapes up the esophagus. So, I have traded two-day hangovers, sore throats and no voice for good sleep and mental clarity.
  3. Fried food, processed and fatty meat and dairy. Fried food has never been good for us, meat doesn't need to be processed and eating leaner cuts just makes sense for so many reasons. Cheese, as delicious as it is, is clearly not health food. So, all of these were no-brainers.

So, what can I eat?

Milk: Non-dairy milk such as coconut milk, soy milk, cashew milk, almond milk, etc.

Protein: Plant protein whenever possible and lean cuts of meat that are not breaded

Grains: Whole grains (period)

Vegetables: Pretty much everything, as fresh as possible, preferably raw and never fried; leafy greens like spinach and kale are especially good, as are broccoli and cauliflower, avocado, cucumber and mushrooms.

Fruit: Pome fruit (apples, pears), tropical fruit (except pineapple), berries, melons and citrus (this seems strange since citrus tastes so acidic, but it's actually considered alkalizing when processed by the body)

Fats: Plant fat likes olive oil and coconut oil

Beverages: Water, juice (that is just juice) and herbal tea.

Wild! I know. But there are some great dishes that I have found along the way.

Alkaline Recipes

Use an alkaline food chart to help you create your own dishes that fit within an alkaline diet plan, but try these specific recipes too.

Cinnamon Apple Breakfast Quinoa and Fig Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

While I have always been an oatmeal and raisin person in the morning, I sometimes need a change and this alternative is like cheating. You basically make applesauce and then use it to flavor your quinoa. When I finish making the dish, I love to add some raw cashews or whatever nut butter I have lying around the pantry. It's like mini-nutty apple pie. Get the Cinnamon Apple Breakfast Quinoa recipe. And try our Fig Quinoa Breakfast Porridge recipe too (but replace the skim milk with a non-dairy option).

Coconut Chia Pudding

Coconut berry chia pudding jar

Coconut chia pudding with fresh berries

OatmealStories / Getty Images

While they are fancy enough for chic restaurant breakfast menus and hipster coffee shops, coconut chia puddings are surprisingly easy to make at home. They are a refreshing, non-dairy, creamy start to the day. I usually skip the maple syrup in favor of unsweetened applesauce. The entire thing also pairs well with whatever fruit you have in the house. Get the Coconut Chia Pudding recipe.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Bowl

From the first time I traded my chopped salad for a quinoa bowl, I knew I could never go back. A quinoa bowl consists of a generous dose of quinoa paired with cooked or raw veggies, protein and salad. The flavor can change with every batch and you can always substitute quinoa for veggie proteins or sneak in a little meat. This Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Bowl is perfect when I am on the go. I can eat for half for lunch and half as a mid-afternoon snack. No citrus? Use apple cider vinegar. Get the Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Bowl recipe.

Sweet Potato Noodles

As a person who loves pasta but also hates feeling bloated, my spiralizer is giving me so much life right now. I can come home, grind up a vegetable and then make a quick pad Thai with the veggie strands -- or this creamy cashew sweet potato noodle dish. It's basically a vegan alfredo sauce. Get the Sweet Potato Noodles recipe.

The Bottom Line

Like anything, I believe it's best to take all this with a grain of salt. Essentially, an alkaline diet promotes health because it encourages fresh food, whole grains, healthy protein and discourages fried and processed food. This is the same spiel we hear in many diets. 

What makes the alkaline diet different is that it changes how you combine foods and helps you find balance. Now, if I eat or drink acidic things, I know what it does to me, the consequences on my body and how to eat to bring myself back to normal. So, if you need to detox, are experiencing acid reflux or heartburn or your digestion feels out of whack, try going alkaline for a couple days. You'll feel right as rain in no time.

That said, if symptoms persist, always see your doctor for the best advice and to figure out a treatment plan that works for you.

This story was written by Mijon Zulu and originally posted at Chowhound.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.