When celebrities endorse a diet, it’s normal to be skeptical. Have they just been paid to say that? Does it actually work? Much of the same controversy has surrounded the alkaline diet – the diet that runway legend turned wellness guru, Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson, swears has kept her in such great shape at 57, as well as improving her energy, sleep, and mood.
Macpherson’s nutritionist, Dr. Simone Laubscher, has revealed all of the nutrition secrets behind *that* physique – a diet that Macpherson says, “leaves my body feeling lighter, cleaner and bursting with energy. I also wake up feeling better rested,” – and we want in on the action. Spoiler: cheese and chocolate are still on the menu. Phew!
What is the alkaline diet?
Despite the theory behind the alkaline diet being doubted amongst some nutritionists, many die-hard fans swear by it. Nutritionist Sophie Trotman says, “Fans of the alkaline diet say that it helps to change the pH of the body. However, it is highly unlikely that we can change the pH of the body through diet. The body has several mechanisms that regulate the pH of the blood at between 7.35 and 7.45.”
Although some of the scientific evidence behind its blood-altering claims are sketchy, nutritionists agree that some of the alkaline diet’s nutrition principles happen to be good for your health. So, what are they and how can you incorporate those good-for-you alkaline diet principles into your nutrition?
Acid vs alkaline foods
There are lots of conflicting opinions on the internet about what is categorized as alkaline or acid-forming food. As a general rule, alkalizing foods tend to be plant-based, so that covers lots of foods that we already know are good for us including low sugar fresh fruit, fresh vegetables especially the dark, leafy kind (spinach, kale, broccoli), salads, seeds, nuts, healthy oils such as coconut, flaxseed and olive oils. Choosing organic and seasonal foods is always best (to avoid pesticides) and consume the best quality fresh, tasty produce.
Whilst lots of acidic foods are those we already know can cause gut and health issues if consumed too often. They include refined sugar, refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, and rice), foods high in saturated and trans fats (cakes, pastries, butter, hard cheese, cream, savory snacks, fried foods), processed foods (any food that has been altered to go on the shelf e.g., frozen, dried, canned, ready meals), dairy, meat, fast food, alcohol, caffeine, and condiments. These types of foods should be kept to a minimum if you’re hoping to lose weight, or feel and look healthier. Trotman adds, however, “There are many ‘acidic’ foods which are plentiful in micronutrients and protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs. These can form part of a healthy diet.”
Even Macpherson herself doesn’t restrict acidic foods. For example, she still eats fresh fish, eggs, cheese and enjoys a chunk of dark chocolate if she gets a sweet craving. Hurrah!
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What to eat on the alkaline diet
Recently, Macpherson shared how the alkaline diet changed her life. “Absorbing nutrients from whole foods is just so much better. I saw a dramatic difference very soon after I started.” If you want to see and feel the same kinds of benefits, it’s worth checking out Macpherson’s typical day of eating for some inspiration.
Breakfast is either flaxseed pudding made with almond milk and berries or an egg omelet with spinach and avocado. This delivers a hit of protein, along with antioxidant-rich spinach and avocado. Avocado is also loaded with gut-friendly fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Dr. Laubscher says that lunch is often fish – something like seared salmon with lemon juice, olive oil, beetroot, and pearl barley, or on a bed of vegetable salad like carrots, spinach, kale, edamame, and peanuts. Salmon is a great source of protein to support muscle recovery, and keep you fuller for longer. Plus, B vitamins support the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system and help to reduce inflammation – a precursor to pain. It’s also brimming with omega 3 fatty acids that play a critical role in your body to protect against heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.
Any dairy food is acid-forming, and so should be restricted in moderation according to the alkaline diet principles, however, Macpherson still adds a sprinkling of soft cheese to her dinner, which is something like sea bass with a Greek salad topped with goat’s cheese or halloumi.
In between meals, she might snack on green tea, dates, apple slices with nut butter, or a protein shake. Dates are sweet to satisfy a sugar craving without turning to refined sugar, while green tea is brimming with antioxidants that help to flush your body of toxins and improve mood and energy. On the odd occasion, for a sweet fix, Macpherson also indulges in some vegan ice cream or squares of dark chocolate. High-quality dark chocolate with more than 80% cacao contains antioxidants and can boost your mood, so this is an exception to the rule Macpherson is willing to succumb to – we think we’ll follow suit...
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The 80:20 rule
The 80:20 rule is a good nutrition rule to eat well in moderation. Eat “clean” – organic, natural, plant-based whole foods – 80% of the time, and in the remaining 20% of the time, indulge in whatever you fancy.
Just keep in mind that the goal is to feel better too. High sugar, high fat, or foods high in refined carbohydrates might cause your blood sugar levels to spike and dip, causing a lull in energy and mood. Tracking your mood, energy, and fatigue in a daily nutrition journal, along with what you’re eating, is a great way to find out how your body reacts to particular foods, and how you feel after eating them.
Dr. Laubscher waves the flag for moderation too. "Pure alkaline would be too tricky," she explains. "It's about trying to have whole foods that come from nature. We can't all live on smoothies. We can't all do yoga 24/7 and hold down a job." Amen to that!
Does the alkaline diet really work?
It can, but not for the reasons it claims. Whilst alkaline-diet evangelists might claim that these foods help to change the pH level of your blood, nutrition isn’t the only thing that can impact this. Eating more alkalizing foods, however, can support weight loss and general health thanks to their high nutrient levels including a healthy gut, better mood, increased energy, glowing skin, and luscious locks.
Trotman says, “One benefit of the alkaline diet is that those who were previously consuming a diet full of processed food, may improve their health through the inclusion of more micronutrients and fiber. There are other ways that people can lower inflammation and chances of chronic disease, e.g. through an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet.”
Of course, nutrition isn’t the only thing that keeps Macpherson in great shape in mind body, and spirit. Thanks to her wellness advice, we know that Macpherson also stays hydrated by drinking 3 liters of water a day, meditates for 15 minutes, and leads an active lifestyle with exercise for at least 45 minutes each day, 5 days a week – a lifestyle recipe we can get behind!
While the alkaline diet is a sticking point that causes controversy amongst nutritionists, all experts agree that restricting particular foods can cause more harm than good. Rather than restriction, it should be about moderation. In order for our body to be functioning at its best, it requires a highly nutritious, varied diet.
Claire Snowdon-Darling, alternative health and kinesiology expert, and founder of Balanced Wellness says, “The take-home message is that as always, a diet that is lower in grains, dairy, and sugar is the basis of an alkalizing diet. Whilst alkalizing isn’t the focus, eating a clean whole food diet rich in protein, fats, and vegetables is the answer.”
Sometimes the food that you eat for your soul (pass me the pastry!), rather than your gut health, can be just as nourishing as that of the nutrient-rich vegetables. Ultimately, the goal is to feel good and for your body to be functioning well to support you, which of course, means you’ll look better and feel better with balanced gut health, better moods with sustained energy, plus be sporting glowing skin and glossy hair – a strong case for exploring a healthier diet!