If you follow popular media, you will no doubt be bombarded by the constant stream of information on the latest fad diets that promise to help you lose weight, detoxify your body faster, or achieve some other lofty goal that will fix what ails you. For those of us who had or have Lyme disease, it can be confusing as to which diet is optimal to regain our health.
I struggled with this as well when I was going through my Lyme treatment. Having tried many diets with myself and other Lyme patients, including paleo, ketogenic, and anti-candida diets, I discovered that most of my Lyme patients responded best to an alkaline diet.
What an alkaline diet is, and what it's not.
So what is an alkaline diet? An alkaline diet is about eating foods that help the body maintain a healthy pH. The pH, or potential of hydrogen, describes how acidic or alkaline something is. A pH between 1 and 7 is acidic and between 7 and 14 is alkaline. With the exception of our stomach, bladder, and the vaginal area in women, which are very acidic, the rest of our body functions best at an alkaline pH. It is important to note that blood pH is tightly regulated, and following an alkaline diet will not change blood pH. All foods, except water, are either acid-forming or alkaline-forming in our bodies once they are digested.
Despite the pH of the food itself, it is what the food does to our body that makes a difference. For example, lemons themselves are highly acidic, but they are alkaline-forming in the body. This concept is important because excess acid production leads to inflammation, which can ultimately lead to joint or muscle pain, headaches, nerve pain, and other types of inflammatory conditions that are common with Lyme disease.
Although there are no specific studies on diet and Lyme disease, current research has suggested that a more alkaline diet might produce the following benefits:
- Keeping inflammation under control
- Improving detoxification pathways so you are better equipped to get rid of toxins
- Optimizing healthy gut flora
- Benefiting bone health
- Reducing muscle wasting
- Protecting from chronic diseases, such as hypertension and stroke
- Increasing growth hormone, which regulates muscle strength, energy, and fat and sugar metabolism; body composition, memory, and cognition; and possibly heart function
- Increasing the uptake of magnesium in our cells; magnesium is required for enzymes to function properly and to activate vitamin D, which boosts the immune system
- Improving the health of bones and teeth
- Protecting against neurological illness, including multiple sclerosis
The alkaline diet is rich in vegetables like leafy greens and low in sugar and refined grains, which explains many of it's health benefits. Still, I have seen that for Lyme patients specifically, an Alkaline diet is more effective than other healthy diets.
What to eat (and what not to eat) on an alkaline diet.
Foods that are highly alkaline-forming include most vegetables like asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale or chard, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, yams, and zucchini. Supporting the alkalinity of our bodies also involves eating more almonds, cashews, coconut, and most legumes and whole grains, such as quinoa and millet.
Some foods can be eaten occasionally, as they tend to be mildly acid-forming in the body and should comprise no more than 20 to 25 percent of our total dietary intake for the week. This includes all animal proteins, such as beef, chicken, eggs, pork, turkey, fish and shellfish, and most fruits. Grains such as rice, oats, rye, and wheat should also be limited. Someone who is gluten-intolerant or has Celiac disease should avoid these grains altogether.
Foods that should be avoided completely are those that produce a lot of acid in the body. This includes farm-raised fish; all dairy products; all artificial sweeteners, dyes, flavorings, and preservatives (junk foods); yeast; soy sauce; and any hydrogenated oils. I also avoided alcohol, soda, black tea, and coffee, as these are all highly acid-forming and can make inflammation worse.
How to do an alkaline diet the right way.
Making dietary changes can be challenging and can take some time, so go easy on yourself and keep working toward making progress. To ensure that you are following the diet correctly, you can purchase pH strips from your local pharmacy or order them online. The strips should have a range of 1 to 14. I recommend testing your first morning urine and then testing again 30 to 60 minutes after each meal for the first two weeks of the diet.
It's a good idea to always keep a log of your results. The pH of your first morning urine will always be more acidic (lower) since your urine has concentrated during the night and you have not eaten anything. Once you are consistently getting alkaline pH readings, you don’t need to check as often. When you feel confident that your pH is consistently alkaline, I recommend checking first thing in the morning and after dinner to make sure you are still on track. Remember, you are checking only urine pH, but this is the most accurate way to know that you’re moving in the right direction.
Getting my life back from Lyme disease was challenging, and after taking months of antibiotics that essentially wiped out most of my healthy gut flora, it took a long time to restore my gut to good health. A key part of that process was following an alkaline diet and eating foods that both nourished my body and helped reduce inflammation. I was always a big meat eater, so it took some time to change my own dietary habits. But I did it and saw the results. If I can do it, so can you. Following an alkaline diet might just be your first step on the road to better health!
Here are some more reasons to eat an alkalizing diet.
And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.