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Snake Oil

Alkaline Lemons. Not a Misprint.

Here, folks, is someone to explain to you that “lemon water is very alkaline” (a direct quote), and that cayenne pepper has been “proven to boost your metabolism”, and that “an acidic body promotes disease” and. . .oh the hell with it, I can’t keep reading that crap. It’s the Food Babe, of course, profiled in New York magazine, and it’s the usual geyser of nonsense.
Is there any use in pointing out that the body regulates its own acidity and alkalinity very tightly? And that anyone talking about how disease is somehow related to a systemically out-of-whack body pH is almost certainly a fool or a con artist? Or that lemons are actually acidic, a fact known to many fifth graders? Or that someone who sets themselves up as a beacon of good sense and sound nutritional advice and who still doesn’t know any of this might perhaps be just a bit out of their depth?
Why no, there isn’t. Because anyone who would do such a thing is clearly an evil person who eats bowls of industrial waste for breakfast, whose liver remains unstimulated, and whose lemon water won’t make him alkaline no matter how many gallons he downs. But soaked in chemicals as I am, I must somehow find the motivation to carry on.

52 comments on “Alkaline Lemons. Not a Misprint.”

  1. Anonymous says:

    She’s getting skewered pretty bad in the comments, which is nice to see.

  2. Hap says:

    Or that someone who sets themselves up as a beacon of good sense and sound nutritional advice and who still doesn’t know any of this might perhaps be just a bit out of their depth?

    I know I’m supposed to assume stupidity before evil, but it’s kind of hard here. If you are immune to facts for long enough, it ought to be clear that you are not interested in the truth of what you say you are. If you were interested in people’s health and well-being, you would probably try to find out how things work, how people live and what is in what they eat and why, and what those things do, so that you might best figure out how to change them. If she doesn’t care about how things work, then it’s presumably irrelevant to what she’s doing (which would, probably, not be helping people).
    People presumably feel out of control and blind in a world they don’t understand and wish to assert some control over pieces of their lives; I wish, though, that they would find better and more honest exponents and implementations of those wishes.

  3. SP says:

    “Unfortunately, our water is contaminated with everything from chlorine to fluoride.”
    That’s great news, it’s only one row of the periodic table then, no heavy metals in anyone’s water.

  4. SP says:

    OTOH the paragraph where she talks about what she eats at each meal isn’t bad advice, just not really obtainable for a lot of people who don’t make megabucks off their blog. Unfortunately she goes back off the rails in the very next paragraph and talks about how people want to keep us dependent on chemicals. I agree, we are all 100% dependent on chemicals.

  5. luysii says:

    Fortunately, we have sound science (such as the dietary guidelines) to rely upon (or do we?). For details see

  6. TR says:

    Don’t forget this one, from the same… Finally someone reporting that airlines are giving us adulterated oxygen, mixed with up to 50% NITROGEN!
    “The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through. The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this! The nitrogen may affect the times and dosages of medications, make you feel bloated and cause your ankles and joints swell.”

  7. John Wayne says:

    Wow. Delivering a 50:50 oxygen:nitrogen mix to breath on a plane would be both an unnecessary expense and wildly dangerous; read up on the Apollo 1 accident.

  8. Anonymous says:

    #7 I know! They go out of their way to make you ill 🙂
    If only they just gave you the pure stuff, the 100% pure oxygen you find in a forest at sea level, everyone would be much safer…
    Also notice “the air […] is recycled from direclty outside your window”. At the macroscopic level, all air is recycled I guess…

  9. Mike says:

    Food Babe is not stupid. She knows exactly what she is doing. She is telling people things she knows they want to hear. She is making a lot of money doing so and she has made it clear that truth is not going to get in the way of money making.
    The truth doesn’t matter to her because she knows that even when she spouts nonsense, it just gets more people talking about her. And even bad press is good for the bank account.

  10. Am I Lloyd says:

    #9 Mike: Agreed. She is not so dumb as to not realize that people love an underdog who takes on seemingly evil Big Bad Ag and Pharma. Simply portray yourself as the little guy (or gal) fighting for everyone’s health and against big moneyed interests, distort or ignore the facts and you are guaranteed to win, no matter how much quackery and disingenuity comes out of your mouth. There’s indeed a sucker born every minute for her brand of charlatanry.

  11. Cato the Elder says:

    Her upcoming NYT best seller: Natural Foods “They” Don’t Want You to Know About

  12. Biff says:

    Obviously, y’all are stooges of Big Pharma. Fortunately, Big Lemon is out there to balance all your silly book learning!

  13. John Wayne says:

    @12 “Big Lemon” sounds like a bad guy in a Disney movie; love it.

  14. DCRogers says:

    The acidification/alkalinization stuff is likely related to the known properties of some foods to change the pH of urine (ammonium chloride, Vitamin C), with the mental model being that the pH of what you’re peeing must be the same as your internal pH.
    In any case, adjusting the pH of your urine can have profound effects on drug excretion.
    So let’s not throw out the baby with the (high-pH) bathwater here! 🙂

  15. qetzal says:

    @luysii #5:
    I’d heard about FB’s whine that airplanes aren’t using 100% O2, but I’d never seen a copy of her complete rant. It’s hilarious! (Or would be, if there weren’t so many people who believe her.)
    I think my favorite part was this:

    When your body is in the air, at a seriously high altitude, your body under goes some serious pressure. Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t. You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!
    Compression leads to all sorts of issues. First off your body’s digestive organs start to shrink, taxing your ability to digest large quantities of food.

    Does she really believe that airplane cabins are at higher pressures in the air than on the ground? It almost makes me think she’s trolling us all!

  16. anon the II says:

    Seriously, this isn’t very complicated. The Food Babe is good looking. Everything else is secondary.
    Do you think Jenny McCarthy would get the time of day if she looked like Golda Meir?

  17. SP says:

    @9,10- At some level I wonder if people like her are intentionally making errors that are obvious to trained scientists. Who do most trained scientists work for? Either some academic institution (ivory tower!) or some large corporation (big business!) Make dumb mistakes, those people call you dumb, and you can sell your underdog story to the public about how the Establishment is just trying to hide the latest secret that They don’t want you to know.

  18. schinderhannes says:

    In Germany we teach 5 year olds (not 5th graders) that lemon juice is acidic! (I did it myself in a kindergarden, great fun with red cabbage juice…).
    Maybe it helps that in our language sour and acid are clearly related:
    sauer and Saeure.
    Is that why we don´t have a German food babe? Dunno LOL

  19. dr z says:

    I especially love her comment about how she pledges to no longer consume any chemicals.
    Therefore, the whole Food Babe problem will correct itself in only a few weeks…

  20. drongo says:

    I found the following statement very telling: “I started by researching food like I was a debater in high school.” When you are researching a topic for a high school debate, you don’t look for the truth but only for material that supports your side of the topic (or refutes your opponent’s side). So it’s no surprise that she cherry-picks her sources or even manipulates and misrepresents them to suit her point of view.

  21. sepisp says:

    She isn’t referring to lemons being alkaline as is. It’s a hypothesis that its metabolites are alkaline. Supposedly, metabolites that are acidic “stress” the body (don’t ask me) and alkaline urine is good (ibid). So, it’s not completely stupid, just esoteric.
    But, it’s better not to view this as science, even if they claim it is. It’s religious superstition. Its elements are not falsifiable claims and factual statements. Instead, the claims must be simply *believed*, and the motivations are *rhetoric*. It is irrelevant if the claims are factually false, as long as the rhetoric – appealing to emotion – is successful.

  22. hannahc says:

    “I eat organic because I want to avoid soil sludge, which is from sewers and gutters.”
    Err, what exactly does she think organic farmers use as a source of nitrogen on their crops?
    (hint: it’s brown, aromatic, and bears a striking resemblance to the crap she comes out with)

  23. Hap says:

    Except she is making falsifiable claims – they have either been shown false or haven’t been shown to be true (or, at minimum, she doesn’t know them to be true before she says them), but they are falsifiable. She may not intend them as such, but the concept of “private language”, I thought, bit the dust a long time ago.
    The fact that she says something she doesn’t mean to mean something else…I’m not sure why anyone would take that as some sort of comfort or support. If you believe what lies underneath her rhetoric, why should the need to cover it in half-truths, stupidity, or lies give you any security in your beliefs? And it’s possible that you can’t believe what lies underneath her rhetoric, either – given what she says, how do you know what she means by anything at all, other than to part you from your money?

  24. JT says:

    Potential science advisor to Ted Cruz?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Nah, she’s over qualified

  26. julien says:

    Our blood pH is quite constant, though acidosis and alcalosis do occur. And our kidneys play a role in that homeostasis as well, as far as I know. Potassium can be exchanged against hydrogen ions. I see this as the content of potassium in the food. Deficiency in potassium may cause high blood pressure, among other. So my interpretation is that their “alkaline and acidic foods” are classified according to a mysterious ratio between potassium and sugars. Vegetables will be “alkaline” and sodas will be “acidic” (pun intended).
    And usually I don’t bother explaining my grandma what acidity and alcalinity really mean. That sort of concept really takes sense in a lab, with definite observables (voltage on pH meter, paper color), and once you have a sound grasp of the structure of matter.
    People confuse hydrogen and helium, despite the slight difference in reactivity. I don’t care.
    The sort of experiment I would like to see : urine pH in a plain sugar soda diet VS vegetables diet. Any correction of my assertions I will appreciate.

  27. Quantum Cat says:

    Thanks, Derek.
    You’ve given my intro for tomorrow’s gen chem II class. We’re discussing acids & bases.
    I fear that the Food Babe won’t be getting a good grade.

  28. Wavefunction says:

    OK, let’s calm down now and think hard about this. Really hard. We all know that nitric acid – which is ACIDIC – can be metabolized into its constituent elements which include nitrogen. And the nitrogen can then react with the hydrogen in our body to form ammonia – a base which is ALKALINE. Citric acid which is the acid in lemon juice can then reabsorb this nitrogen in an ion exchange electron tunneling reaction and itself turn ALKALINE.
    It’s we who need to reexamine our assumptions and it’s the FB who is blazing new directions in chemistry here.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I’ll have what #27 is drinking….

  30. gippgig says:

    There is evidence that eating a more alkaline diet may be beneficial:
    Alkaline diets favor lean tissue mass in older adults, Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 87 662
    The effect of the correction of metabolic acidosis on nitrogen and potassium balance of patients with chronic renal failure, Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 40 623
    Potassium Bicarbonate Reduces Urinary Nitrogen Excretion in Postmenopausal Women, J. Çlin. Endocrin. Metab. 82 254

  31. julien says:

    That was so constructive, #30, thank you !

  32. Kumar says:

    Erwin Schrodinger has written a small book called ‘What is Life?’ which has influenced great many biologists (Schrodinger was a chemist/physicist). In the book he says something along the line, “the train of evolution has come to its last station, and it will start going in a reverse direction.” He was talking about evolution of the intellect. In the name of so many new age fads, people are shunning science and common sense. Think what the food babe groups are teaching to their kids! It is stupidity now, but soon will lead to evil. Science and rational thinking, have not only solved physical mysteries, but also the mental afflictions arising out of stupidity and superstition. I am sure the food babe didn’t write this article for scientists, and that indeed is the problem.

  33. sad says:

    And this blog post gives her more publicity. Do you think her fans are reading here to get information?
    This comment is even a waste of time.

  34. souls_at_zero says:

    You’d think that if science on its own is not enough, then reality checks like the recent death of the “Wellness Warrior” (an advocate of woo who succumbed to her otherwise treatable cancer, for those of you who don’t know) would be enough to nip this kind of idiocy in the bud. But no.

  35. julien says:

    33, 35 : your post made me think : this is not the intelligence going backwards. But it is a sort of the other side of vulgarization. In academia, we are constantly told by the administratives to participate in popularizing science. I hate this. When you try to explain something to students or laymen, one week after they have mixed up 99 percent of the message. What they get correct is the “it’s complicated”. Perhaps I am very bad at explaining… Then you should not be surprised to see ads chanting the benefits of “quantum medicine” against “electromagnetic sensitivity”. Sounds sciencey, no ? I would no mind keeping my science for sscientist. That would avoid the destruction of experimental gmo fields by new age hairy activist that get away with it (at least in France). Sigh

  36. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Back in the 1980s when I was a TA in Physiology Lab, I recommended my students read The Andromeda Strain: a best-selling novel whose plot turned on blood pH regulation. Remember Chricton was a recent MD when he wrote it.

  37. Anonymous says:

    I would like to send the Food Babe to a chemical-free “spa” that will remove all the chemicals from her body. Basically it would involve ejecting her into space without a space suit.

  38. Anonymous academic says:

    @33: Please, tell us, at what point in human history did large numbers of people *not* shun science and common sense? The only thing that’s changed is that the Internet and other mass media have given them a wider platform to acquire new superstitions and spread their ignorance.

  39. OB says:

    “I want to know why companies aren’t coming up with chemical inventions that are improving our health. And people can’t argue with that.”
    Christ. I want to weep.
    Antibiotics. Vaccines. Oncology drugs. Things that Food Babe et al scoff at and do their best to undermine, as they would every single chemical invention.
    I don’t work for pharma (big or otherwise). But that people listen to this nonsense makes me genuinely sad.

  40. NoniMausa says:

    To my annoyance, many people say “I can’t eat lemons/limes/grapefruit — they too bitter!” Trying to correct them only gets me funny looks. Sigh.
    As far as I know, bitter = alkaline. But it’s possible that FB got her alkaline lemons from an early, unjudgemental exposure to the bitter lemon trope.
    Doesn’t make her a non-idiot, of course.

  41. Dr. Manhattan says:

    Wait, you mean all of us who stuck metal strips in a lemon and measured electrical current actually invented alkaline batteries years go???

  42. Anon says:

    So who wants to start the kickstarter campaign for FB to get a degree in chemistry?

  43. This reminds me of a recent discussion I had with someone who was a foodie much in the same vein as FB. She was arguing that fluoridated water was bad for you since the fluorine (being a halogen and “stronger,” exact terminology) in the water would prevent you from uptaking iodine for your thyroid. The trivial counterpoint to that is, by extension, iodized salt should be useless for delivery of iodine, since the chloride would be preferentially uptaken before the iodide.
    I didn’t test the response to that since said discussion ended up going to… elaborate enzyme theories followed by a rather testy debate over the validity of non-falsifiable theories. The scariest part of all of this is that my debating opponent also homeschooled her children, and I’m scared as to what science curriculum would be acceptable that would avoid the scientific method, basic biology, or understanding periodic table trends well enough to give better descriptions of reactivity than “stronger.”

  44. Bluto says:

    Glad to see Orin Hatch’s daughter is still working at Whole Foods.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I start off my day with a big bowl of lye. I personally prefer it as pellets, because then it’s crunchy like granola, minus the evil GMOed grains from big business. The toasty warnmness I feel when I pour my water (fortified with nutrients extracted from the wood pipes that protect it from ever seeing nasty dirt) on it tells me that it’s full of life giving energy that warms me from the inside out.

  46. MoMo says:

    FB you had your chance! I offered to help you with scientific facts but Nooooooo! You had to go Bonzai on me and get your facts wrong yet again.
    We are through FB! You can keep the ring as well, it was fake anyway!

  47. Antonio says:

    They added:
    [Editor’s Note: Although lemons are acidic, some alternative-medicine supporters believe that once metabolized, they have an alkaline effect on the body.]
    Also, they seem to have turned off comments?

  48. Harrison says:

    Everyday, the movie Idiocracy is starting to look more and more like a documentary.

  49. Piero says:

    It stroke me suddenly, maybe she misquoted something she had heard and wish to say “lime water” instead?? 😀 (Lime, as in calcium hydroxide)

  50. Luke says:

    Basically, in pseudoscience quack land of Mercola, Food Babe etc, everything that is sterotyped “good”, such as kale, biodynamic mung beans, expensive supplement pills, activated almonds and all fresh fruit and vegetables, including citrus fruit, is “alkaline”.
    And everything that is “bad”, like artificial sweeteners, sugar, processed food, Monsanto, pharmaceuticals, dihydrogen monoxide etc is all supposedly “acidic”.

  51. AllaD says:

    “The gods themselves struggle in vain against stupidity”

    There are times when I wish serial acts of stupidity constituted a criminal offense…

    and “willful public displays of stupidity” and/or encouraging others to the same stupidity should be a capitol offense.

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