Diets, salts and the benefits of an alkaline diet

Q I’ve been hearing a lot about ‘alkaline’ diets lately. What does an alkaline diet involve and what are the benefits?

A Our blood is slightly alkaline. The theory behind the alkaline diet is that our diet should reflect this pH level and be slightly alkaline. An alkaline diet is a diet that is predominantly made up of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and lentils. As a general guideline, our diet should consist of 60pc alkaline-forming foods and 40pc acid-forming foods to maintain good health.

Almost all foods that we eat, after being digested, absorbed and metabolised, release either an acid or an alkaline base into the blood. Meat, poultry, fish, grains, cheese, milk, salt and sugar all produce acid, so the rise in our consumption of these foods means that the typical western diet has became more acid-producing than ever.

Also, consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables has decreased over the years, which means we are consuming fewer alkalising foods which can further contribute to an imbalance.

Advocates of alkaline diets believe that a diet high in acid-producing foods disrupts our pH balance and promotes the loss of essential minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium as the body tries to restore equilibrium. This imbalance is thought to make people more prone to illness. For example, recent medical research suggests that alkaline diets may help prevent the formation of calcium kidney stones and osteoporosis. In addition, respiratory issues such as excessive mucous production or frequent colds and flu respond well to alkaline diets.

Q I’ve been told to cut down on salt but I’m confused about how to gauge salt content in food items. Should I be watching the sodium or salt content?

AMany people confuse sodium with salt. In fact, sodium only makes up a small portion of salt. Most labels only list sodium content which makes it difficult to know how much salt is in our food. Where sodium is listed, we need to multiply the figure for sodium by 2.5 to get the amount of salt. This is especially important for people who are trying to keep their blood pressure down.

A high salt intake is responsible for about one in three new cases of high blood pressure. It also increase a person’s risk of developing kidney disease, stomach cancer and osteoporosis.

The average daily salt intake in Ireland is high — approximately 10g in adults. For optimum health, adults should ideally consume no more than 4g of salt per day, however, 6g (1 teaspoon) is generally accepted as a realistic target.

The easiest way to cut down on your salt intake is to reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. Processed foods that typically have high salt levels include condiments, soups, sauces, crisps, bread, pizza, ready-made meals and lunch meats.

Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritional therapist. She offers one-to-one consultations to treat your individual health concerns. www.elsajones nutrition.ie

- Elsa Jones

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