TWO hot new regimes have caught on since New Year, each promising pain-free weight loss. Can either make the pounds melt away? KATE HILPERN gives the low-down
THE ALKALINE DIET
What is it?
Although she hardly looks like someone in need of losing weight, Victoria Beckham is the latest star to try the most recent version of this diet, the Honestly Healthy Alkaline Programme, which involves eating mainly alkaline foods in order to keep the body's pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Other celebrity fans include Gwnyth Paltrow (her again) and Kirsten Dunst. The Alkaline diet doesn't just claim to help you lose weight – many websites advocating it claim it can heal a wide range of ailments including arthritis, diabetes and cancer, as well as slowing the ageing process. Authors of Honestly Healthy, nutritional therapist Vicki Edgson and organic chef Natasha Corrett, say that the diet can improve energy levels and memory and help prevent headaches, bloating, heart disease, muscle pain and insomnia.
Where does it come from?
Back in the 19th century, the French biologist Claude Bernard discovered that changing the diet of rabbits from herbivore (mainly plant) to carnivore (mainly meat) turned their urine from more alkaline to more acid. Excited by his discovery, subsequent scientists built on his findings, which eventually led to a bunch of loosely related diets (other names include the alkaline ash diet and the acid alkaline diet), whose popularity has recently taken off after the celebrity take-up.
What's the theory?
Our blood is slightly alkaline, with a normal pH level of between 7.35 and 7.45. The theory behind the alkaline diet is that our diet should reflect this pH level (as it did in hunter-gatherer days when we ate fewer acid-producing foods such as grains, fish, meat, poultry, dairy and salt).
Proponents of alkaline diets believe a diet high in acid-producing foods disrupts this 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 prone to illness and gaining weight. The ultimate aim is to eat 70 per cent alkaline foods and 30 per cent acid foods, meaning you can still have a little of the "bad" stuff such pasta and rice, although things can get slightly complicated. The way you cook your vegetables, for example, can have an impact. Raw spinach is alkaline, but when you cook it, it becomes acidic.
What do the experts say?
"The theory of the alkaline diet is that eating certain foods can help maintain the body's ideal pH balance to improve overall health. But the body maintains its pH balance regardless of diet," says British Dietetic Association spokesperson, Rick Miller.
What's more, while there is evidence that alkaline diets may help prevent the formation of calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, and age-related muscle wasting, there isn't any proof that an acid-producing diet is the foundation of chronic illness.
Mind you, says Miller, you're unlikely to do yourself any harm. "The diet's premise is to increase alkalizing foods (such as fruit and vegetables) and reduce your intake of acid foods (such as meat, salt, and refined grains). Well, that's pretty much what we consider as healthy eating anyway and if you're overweight, of course it will probably help you shift some pounds."
How punishing is it?
THE 5:2 DIET
What is it?
Intermittent fasting, basically. So you eat normally for five days and severely restrict your calories for the other two – 600 calories for men and 500 for women. It's up to the dieter how they divide them up – so you might, for example, have scrambled eggs with ham and a black coffee for breakfast (300 calories) and a lunch or dinner of grilled fish or meat with vegetables (300 calories). The rest of the time, you eat what you want.
Independent News Service