BEEN having trouble sleeping lately? Feeling constipated? Run-down? Constant headaches? Perhaps your skin isn't as clear as it could be, your eyes as shining. Have you developed allergies?
OK, next question: what's your diet like? Do you eat much red meat and dairy produce? Alcohol and caffeine? Sugar and processed foods? Most of us do; that's what constitutes the modern western diet. But it's creating a hostile environment in our bodies; one in which cancer and heart disease thrive, where obesity, fatigue and premature ageing are the result.
That, at least, is the claim of alkalarians – those who subscribe to the alkaline lifestyle. The acidity in our diets, they say, is toxic and needs brought back under control. To do that, we need to take a long, hard look in our shopping baskets.
Vicki Edgson, a Harley Street nutritionist for 16 years, was introduced to the concept by Dr Robert Young, who pioneered the lifestyle in the US along with his wife Shelley. “Sometimes in life people walk through your door and you take one look at them and you think, ‘I don't know what it is they're doing, but whatever it is I want a piece of it,’" says Edgson. “They were the embodiment of health: good skin, sparkling eyes, vibrant – they had it all."
Equally important was the body of research-based evidence behind the lifestyle in terms of immunity and cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology and endocrinology. At its heart, though, was what she had known all along – “If you eat food as close as to what nature intended, you can do no harm."
That means the obvious suspects like alcohol, tea, coffee and sugar are all off the menu, but so are some slightly less predictable things, like dried fruit, oat bran, potatoes, peanuts and cashews, cheese and shellfish. Meanwhile, alkalarians can stock up on beans, seeds, vegetables and grains (quinoa, buckwheat and spelt are best).
It sounds restrictive, but Edgson insists it's not. “It doesn't suit me to be totally vegetarian, but I don't really eat red meat. I eat a lot of fish, a lot of eggs and a little bit of cheese.
“I am an absolute chocoholic," she admits. “I always have been. My parents were very good friends with the Cadbury family, which wasn't helpful. The hardest thing for me was to convince myself I really was much better off without pre-packed, cheap chocolate. And what I've learned is that there is chocolate, and then there is real chocolate. And real chocolate with high-percentage cacao or even raw chocolate is absolutely delicious and nutritious."
As with any new diet, of course, it has attracted its fair share of celebrities, keen to be connected with a healthy lifestyle. Kirsten Dunst is said to have tried it, as have Robbie Williams and swimwear designer Melissa Odabash. “I'm always very reticent to cite celebrities relating to anything that is to do with health, for two reasons," protests Edgson.
“The first is that it places rather a lot of pressure on that individual to maintain the health they happen to be exuding at the time. Secondly, it produces rancour in those individuals who will turn round and say, ‘It's all right for them, they can afford a cook in their home, they can go to the gym for three hours every day, their personal trainer turns up on their lawn at 7am every morning.'
“My response is, nobody's expecting you to live like a celebrity. The benefit of this is that you lose excess pounds if you need to lose them, but more important are the health benefits in the long term, which are well proven. Why would you not be prioritising your health?
“For those people who haven't had a predominantly fresh food diet, the difference within a matter of days is so profound to your energy and the quality of your sleep and your get-up-and-go, your stamina, concentration and focus, and so on, it almost speaks for itself."
More than that, though, Dr Young has been quoted as saying that diseases cannot survive in an alkaline environment. So does that mean alkalarians never get ill? “What's more profound to say, I think, is that an awful lot of ills can get well in an alkaline environment," says Edgson. “Sugar, we now know, is hugely disruptive to blood sugar levels, hormone balance, insulin regulation – it is the single most devilish food. But if the body is functioning in an alkaline environment, it's functioning the way it was designed to function.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who have come in with very-high-protein diets – Dukan, Atkins, South Beach, that sort of thing – and they might have lost lots of weight but they're agitated and they have problems with insomnia, they're irritable and they're not necessarily feeling great themselves. My question to them is always, ‘Do you want to be skinny and ill or do you want to be healthy and balanced?’"
She's keen to point out that you don't have to buy into it all lock, stock and water ioniser. “I like to show people how small changes can have quite profound effects on their well-being. We're not asking everyone to follow a singularly alkaline, vegetarian diet. What we are saying is if you cut down significantly on the amount of animal produce you're eating you will notice the difference."
But for those who want to adopt the lifestyle wholesale, there is a market out there selling everything from ph-balance drops to supplements to something called a whole-body vibrational machine. Edgson and her goddaughter, vegetarian chef Natasha Corrett, have come up with a genius range of dry mixes that just need water added – they're like (and she probably won't thank me for the comparison) the Pot Noodle of alkaline eating.
And in June they will publish a book introducing people to alkalarianism, containing recipes for everything from soups and pizzas to cakes, muffins and biscuits. Proving, she says, that “you can have your cake and eat it – providing you use the right ingredients".
Honestly Healthy: Eat with Your Body in Mind, the Alkaline Way, is available for pre-order on Amazon (Jacqui Small, £20)