Controversy, Questions and Courtroom Drama
How does a fad diet with zero science behind it spawn a best-selling book, a host of related products, an entire line of “alkaline” health water, and snag the attention of some of the world’s most popular celebrities? Would you like to know the answer to that one? I would, and that’s why I decided to check out the truth behind the pH diet, also known as the alkaline diet, first put forth in a 2010 book by Robert Young called “The pH Miracle.”
According to what I found out, the only thing miraculous about it was the fact that it sold millions of copies and attracted gorgeous celebrities and supermodels like moths to a carbon-arc lamp. The inventor made a quick fortune, but everyone in the medical and scientific communities were left wondering what the fuss was all about.
Before we get into the guts of the diet and why is doesn’t work or really do anything measurably beneficial to the human body, let’s take a quick look at the inventor of the alkaline diet, a man who is neither a doctor nor a scientist but who claims to have found out how to cure cancer with baking soda.
Figure 1: The alkaline diet allows most fruits and vegetables
“The Doctor is In”… Jail!
If it weren’t a true story, we might think it was a cheap plot out of some syrupy old 1970s sitcom, complete with its own creepy theme song:
“Here’s the story, of a doctor who was shady, who was hanging with some very lovely girls. All of them had tons of gold, like their mothers, the youngest one had pearls. Till one day when this doctor met some fellows, who had subpoenas all rolled up into a bunch, and they told him that the crazy game was over, and he’d have to come to jail to finish lunch. That’s how he came to be in jail eating lunch.”
Dr. Robert Young, no relation to that guy on “Father Knows Best,” is a diet doctor who has plenty of splainin’ to do. The good doctor, “father” of the Alkaline Diet, will probably be serving some heavy jail time for several serious infractions, according to UK legal authorities.
The darling of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, supermodel Miranda Kerr, Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, Kelly Ripa and other pretend-scientists, “doctor” Young, who in fact holds an actual PhD degree, sort of, has been charged with practicing medicine without a license and other sordid actions.
But that’s not all. There’s more. He also allegedly defrauded some very sick cancer patients by telling them he was treating them with prescription medication when in fact he was doing nothing more than giving them infusions of baking soda.
Hey, does that mean he’s also cheating by stealing ideas from the guy who invented the Baking Soda Diet? Anyway, back to the doctor-who’s-not-a-real-doctor:
Robert Young wrote and sold millions of copies of a diet book in 2010. It was called “The pH Miracle.” In it, he claimed to have discovered that all diseases are caused by high acid levels in the blood. But, sadly, no Nobel Prize followed. The “doctor” says that if you can just “balance” your body’s alkaline/acid ratio, with a preference for alkaline, you’ll enjoy all sorts of wonderful physical advantages, not the least of which might be personal friendships with gorgeous celebrities and supermodels.
In actual fact, 2016 was a rather acidic year for Young, as he stood convicted of practicing medicine without a license. He will be re-tried on some charges that the jury deadlocked over, including theft-by-fraud and others alleged wrongdoings.
Some wonder whether poetic justice will rule and the father of the pH diet will end up serving 7.3 years in jail, which wouldn’t be too acidic but which would be longer than what the court can sentence him to, which is just less than four years.
Figure 2: Disadvantages of alkaline diets
One unpleasant outgrowth of the doctor’s shady business dealings has been the birth of a cottage industry in “alkaline water,” a substance with no verifiable scientific or medical benefit whatsoever. In the world of fad diets and doctors who aren’t real doctors, trifles like science and truth matter little. The questionable water is selling like hotcakes, hand over fist, bottle after bottle.
Apparently the stuff is being guzzled up by gullible young folks who believe everything Gwyneth and Victoria and Kate say about “those electrolyte thingies” and such. In other words, never mind the research, let’s just sell the hell out of this stuff and not look back.
As infomercial say, there’s even more to this incredible story of the bogus doctor and the acid/alkaline diet “miracle.” Dr. Young has always claimed to be a “doctor,” more specifically a licensed naturopath, but his real training was in nutrition from a correspondence school that was not accredited and which no longer exists. He does not now, nor has he ever had, a medical degree of any kind. And just when you think you know a guy! Young’s defenders are out en masse saying things like “… but he’s really intelligent,” and “… but it was one of the best non-accredited correspondence schools in the world” and “… but he never shot ME up with baking soda, so there!”
Incredibly, Mr. Young (not a doctor) told reporters last month that he felt zero remorse for what he did, claiming that anything unsavory is far outweighed by, “… the thousands if not millions of people that have been helped through the [pH diet] program.” Wow! It’s an attitude so brazen that even O.J. might wince.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, scientists have been able to find no worth in Young’s claimed “cancer treatments” that are based on his alkaline diet. So far, there is no evidence of any kind that supports “alkaline eating” as an effective treatment for anything. What people eat has no significant effect on their blood pH levels. According to a prominent gastroenterologist, there’s really nothing that human beings can do to alter their body’s or blood’s pH level. It doesn’t matter what you eat, do, inhale, drink or meditate about; there’s just no science behind the pH/alkaline diet theory.
So, that’s the story of the doctor who’s not a doctor and the “miracle” that isn’t a miracle. Read more to learn about the way to spot a bogus diet and how to know which ones are effective.
Figure 3: The pH scale
Other Diets to Avoid
The alkaline diet is not the only bogus diet out there. In fact, most reputable sources list about 65 diets that are currently on the market, or were at one time. These include good and bad ones, some of which are designed for weight loss and others for medical reasons. Some are based on religious beliefs like kosher meal plans, while still others are centered on political or ideological views like vegan and vegetarian diets.
But what about the bad boys, the diets that are either dangerous or just plain ineffective? There are at least 7 of them in the current marketplace, where science often holds no sway and medical fact takes a backseat to celebrity endorsements.
Here are 11 diets you should probably avoid, but don’t trust us. Research them for yourself and find out more details if you dare. Here are the bare facts:
The Dukan Diet: It’s a bizarre array of 100 foods that must be eaten in a specific series of stages. The Dukan diet has more rules than the lock-down area of San Quentin and zero science to back its claims of better health through protein-based eating. Created by a French doctor, you would think this diet might have more basis in medical science, but it doesn’t.
Fasting: For other than religious reasons, doctors say that fasting is almost always a bad, and usually dangerous idea. The body really goes into panic mode during a fast and learns to “hoard” calories in the future, making it harder to maintain a normal metabolism. Especially in the case of people who fast for long periods of time and do so repeatedly, there is a high risk of heart attack and death.
The Blood Type Diet: This one has zero backing from the medical community because it also has absolutely no basis in modern science. The book sold millions and made a small fortune for several people associated with it, but as far as diets go, it is pure bunk. For those who missed the key concept, the blood type diet advises you to eat specific foods, and avoid certain ones too, based solely on your blood type. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, right?
Cleansing diets: If you possess a kidney and a liver, then you have no need for any of the bogus diet plans that travel under this name. These diets usually promise to rid your body of unnamed “toxins” and “clean out” your entire digestive system. Some of the fancier ones recommend colonic cleansing as an adjunct, which is a bad idea all by itself. The only possible benefit of cleansing diets is aerobic. That is, you’ll get a good workout while running at full speed away from these fraudulent eating plans.
Any diet with “fat-burning” in its name: The most popular one currently being touted is the Grapefruit Diet, which does help people lose weight, but not because of the “fat burning” properties of grapefruit. It’s the super low-cal meals that lead to weight loss on the Grapefruit Diet. Not nutritionally sound or scientifically backed, this is a good example of what we call a “totally bogus” diet, created for the sole purpose of making money from gullible customers.
The HCG Diet: Here’s a diet we put in the “dangerous” category, and that’s saying something. Many bogus diets are merely worthless or ineffective, while a few have some slight benefit. Diets like this one are downright bad medicine. The HCG Diet involves injections of hormones which are neither approved by the FDA nor shown to be effective for safe weight loss. In fact, the diet’s only weight loss comes from its freakishly low caloric levels. Be careful and stay far, far away from this one.
The Baby Food Diet: This diet sounds like it might be interesting but it’s not. It was started on the Internet by unknown persons, and recommends substituting one or two meals per day with, you guessed it, baby food. Pureed beets and carrots and bananas aren’t bad for you, but the “diet” is more gimmick than anything else. There are no books about it but WebMD did review it because so many people, primarily in the UK it seems, have tried it.
This is one we put in the “pure fad” category because it began as almost an obvious joke. The problem seems to be cost per meal, high sodium content, and the lack of needed calories and food types unless you really spend a lot of time figuring out which baby foods to eat. In the end, the Baby Food Diet is a complicated, expensive mess, and is not sustainable as a long-term weight loss solution.
The Cabbage Soup Diet: If you guessed that this diet only allows fruits, vegetables and all the cabbage soup you want, you win the prize. The very bad news about this one is that it is nutrition-poor. Your body can’t live on fruits and veggies and cabbage soup for very long without have some serious problems. Avoid this one and try a more balanced diet that includes all the food groups, enough calories to live on, and a variety of foods. The Cabbage Soup Diet is about as exciting as it sounds, which means it scores a 10 on the boring scale.
The Cookie Diet: This one is a no-brainer. In other words, you’d have to have no brain to try it. It is based on the clever idea of substituting low-fat cookies for meat when you feel hungry. No one is sure how that is supposed to approach “healthy,” but our guess is that it is a fad diet that some people are attracted to. These might be the same people who purchase Justin Bieber and John Tesh CDs.
The Kangatarian Diet: In Australia, some vegetarians do consume a bit of kangaroo meat every so often. These folks claim to be following a Kangatarian eating plan, much the same way as some people say they are pescetarians, eating fist within an otherwise vegetarian diet. There’s probably nothing wrong with the Kangatarian diet, but we included it here because unless you live where kangaroo meat is readily available, this is probably not a sustainable diet. And no, the food does not come in pouches.
The Israeli Army Diet: This seems like it might be a winner, but darn, missed again. First, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the real Israeli Army, members of which eat real food and do so at least three times per day. The IAD is a total fad diet that consists of nothing but apples for two days. After that, your options open up a bit and you are free to eat nothing but cheese for two days. On the third set of days, you can eat chicken only. On the final two days, if you’re still with the program, it’s time for nothing but salad.
This diet is actually an historic relic, having been popular in the 1970s as one of the very first “fad” diets that gained a wide following. The problems with it are numerous, and eventually led to most people abandoning it. It’s very hard to follow due to lack of nutrition and variety. Most people who did it for the full 8 days ended up gaining back the weight they lost. Nutritionists and doctors consider it one of the first fad diets and a completely unwise way of eating.
The pH/Alkaline Diet: You Can Do Better Than This
Based on nothing more than what a dozen or so very reliable medical and scientific sources say, one can pretty much say that the alkaline diet is a no-go. Sure, there’s the “healthy foods” argument, but when you want to be taken seriously as a way to either get healthier or lose a few pounds the safe way, you’ve got to have a better closer than that.
As for “fad” diets in general, they are a mixed bag. So many variations on what human beings eat have been tried and reworked, and tried and reworked again, it seems like there’s nothing new under the sun. But then, wait a week or a month, and along comes some new wrinkle on how and what we should consume for “optimum health” or “longevity” or “rapid weight loss” or “spiritual awareness.”
Indeed, a quick glance at the list of diets above is enough to give a person pause. Is it really possible that there are so many ways to prepare, arrange, bake, boil, plant, harvest, dress, sauté, sweeten, slice and dice the foods we eat? Whatever happened to the good old “three balanced meals per day” gig, based on the food pyramids?
Like stock market investing, art, music and automotive design, there’s something about diets that calls out to be tweaked and redone every so often. A lot of it is about money, and making a buck on the latest, most clever way to promise people they can look beautiful and strong if they would only eat such-and-such, x times per day.
For the alkaline/pH diet, its best days are behind it. The creator’s legal troubles were no help, but acted as a sort of nail in the coffin for a science-less, ineffective diet that never really took off. Yes, there will always be a gaggle or two of followers for any diet that is endorsed by a few celebrities. But those heady days of “the alkaline diet sensation” are, gladly, over.
We do not offer medical advice, so if you have a concern about your state of health, be sure to speak with a physician or other medical professional. This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be any kind of official medical guidance.
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More Diet Info: Websites, Videos, and Books
The following resources include videos, books and websites that offer additional information. Simply click on the hyperlinked resource title and you’ll be able to go directly to a live link for that particular item. Most book listings are from major online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. All video links are sources from YouTube. Website links for the most part are informational, like WebMD, Wikipedia, and other authoritative business, health and medical resources.
The folks at Quack Watch check out the alkaline/pH diet and come away less than impressed. And that’s putting it mildly. One of the comments by the reviewers is priceless, and puts things in perspective with regard to the many “alkaline water” and supplement products that often accompany alkaline diet plans: “Cranberries have been shown to help prevent recurrent urinary tract infections, but not because of their acidity. They contain chemicals that prevent bacteria from sticking to urinary tract cells. Taking calcium supplements or drinking alkaline water will not change the pH of your blood. If you hear someone say that your body is too acidic and you should use their product to make it more alkaline, you would be wise not to believe anything else the person tells you.”
Okay, if you want to give the pH diet a shot anyway, here is one of the more comprehensive books on the subject. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
After trying the above version of the pH/alkaline diet, perhaps you’d like to try a diet that passes scientific muster and is, in fact, endorsed by most major medical societies in the free world, the DASH Diet. The letters stand for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Even if you don’t suffer from hypertension, this is a sound, reasonable diet that can be followed for the rest of your life. Many older people who are beginning to have problems with high blood pressure have found a way to deal with it through this diet
Yes, you too can buy products to monitor your blood pH level. This will help you know whether the alkaline diet is “working” or not. Or, you could donate the money to a good cause. We’d vote for the good cause.
This short video clip tells the truth about the alkaline diet, explaining clearly how it is supposed to work, why it does not, and why some people are attracted to it.
Here is a short video that puts the pH diet in clear perspective, evaluating it for what it is and is not.
An excellent review of the alkaline diet, this WebMD articles tells the whole story and leaves nothing to the imagination.
How to Research a Diet: Ask the Right Questions
Learning how to do basic research on diets is a valuable tool. Not only will you be able to assess future diets that come along, you will gain an understanding of what the elements are that make a diet either “good” or “bad.” Many will fall in between, combining some healthy components with unhealthy or neutral ones.
When assessing the effectiveness of a diet, keep several things in mind:
Practice your diet research skills on the list below. If you want to know more about the diets on the list, simply use your favorite search engine with the diet’s name and the word “Wikipedia,” and you’ll be taken directly to an entry point to read up on that particular food regimen. The following diets are in the “miscellaneous” category, so when you research them, you’ll want to ask certain questions. Ask all the questions in the research tutorial above and rate the diets for yourself.
Blood type diet
Fit for Life diet
Food combining diet
The Graham Diet
High residue diet
Low carbon diet
Low glycemic index diet
Low sodium diet
Negative calorie diet
Organic food diet
Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise
Scarsdale Medical Diet
Slimming World diet
Smart For Life
Spark People diet
Tongue Patch Diet