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Jan. 12, 2015 photo shows red beans and rice in Concord, N.H. (AP) Jan. 12, 2015 photo shows red beans and rice in Concord, N.H. (AP)

Jan. 12, 2015 photo shows red beans and rice in Concord, N.H. (AP)

Grace Abels
By Grace Abels August 5, 2022

No, these grocery list staples do not cause young people to get sick

If Your Time is short

  • There is no scientific evidence that eating rice, beans, milk, cheese, butter or eggs frequently causes disease. They are safe to consume in moderation. 

  • The claim comes from a self-educated herbalist known as "Dr. Sebi." No scientific evidence supports his alkaline diet or his theory that mucus and acidic foods cause all diseases.

  • According to physicians, our bodies regulate pH naturally, and dietary choices cannot substantially impact it. 

Rice, beans, cheese, milk, butter, eggs. 

It sounds like a college student’s grocery list (give or take a case of beer). But according to a reel on Facebook, these staple ingredients are not your innocent pantry basics but rather a dangerous source of disease. 

The July 27 Facebook reel was initially shared on TikTok in December 2021 and features a 30-second vintage clip of Alfredo Bowman, known online as "Dr. Sebi." 

"When someone consumes rice and beans, milk, cheese, butter and eggs," Bowman says in the grainy clip, "by the time that person reaches the age of 30, there's already the manifestation of a disease. Why? The membranes, the mucus membrane has been compromised to the acid food we’ve been ingesting."

According to Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the Washington.D.C.-based National Center for Weight and Wellness, "There is no reputable scientific evidence supporting this claim."

The Facebook post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Physician-reviewed articles from WebMD report that rice, beans, and eggs are all healthy to eat regularly and are good fiber and protein sources. 

Milk and cheese both have calcium, vitamins and protein — important building blocks for the human body. But because of the saturated fat in dairy products, consuming them in moderation or substituting low-fat and low-sodium versions can help minimize the risks of heart disease. 

Even butter is fine to eat in moderation. 

Bowman, who died in 2016, was not a real medical doctor. He was a self-educated herbalist who invented his own line of supplements and promoted an "alkaline diet" that permits an extremely limited list of foods based on his belief that diseases were caused by a buildup of mucus and acidity in the body. The foods he listed are prohibited in his diet. 

The so-called healing properties of Bowman’s alkaline diet have been debunked numerous times, as has his claim that mucus is the cause of all diseases.

Who was Dr. Sebi? 

Bowman was born in Ilanga, Honduras, in 1933. He received no formal education and was raised by his grandmother, who Bowman said inspired his natural healing methods. According to his website, he suffered from many ailments as a child, and after learning the "limitations of Western medicine," he turned to herbalists who instructed him to follow an "original African diet." Bowman went on to develop supplements he would call "Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food."

According to an obituary in The Telegraph, one of Britain’s three major newspapers, Bowman’s products began to break into the American market in the 1980s. But in 1987, he was charged with practicing medicine without a license after claiming that his methods could cure AIDS, herpes, lupus, sickle cell anemia, and leukemia. Another 1993 lawsuit from New York state prevented him from making therapeutic claims about his products. 

His diet still attracted many celebrities, including Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC, Michael Jackson, and Nipsey Hussle.

He continued to promote his diet and supplements until 2016, when he died of pneumonia in Honduran police custody after being arrested in connection with money laundering. But his website, Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food, still sells a wide range of supplements, some costing more than $100, and books continue to be published about his methods.

The science behind Dr. Sebi’s diet 

Bowman believed that the key to a healthy body all came down to one thing: pH. His website explains his beliefs: 

"Dr. Sebi recognized that disease is a symptom of the accumulation of mucus and excess acid in the body. He believed that there is in fact only ONE disease, caused by eating acidic foods." 

Because of this belief, Bowman recommends an "alkaline diet,"which prohibits "acidic" foods like meat, dairy, and most grains, and his own supplements, claiming that his method would return the body to its "natural alkaline state." 

First, Bowman’s mucus theory is flawed. "Almost all epithelia of the body can produce some form of mucus, usually to protect itself from an aggression like a virus or an irritant," said Dr. Benjamin Caballero, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. "Mucus would be a consequence, not the cause, of the disease." (Epithelia are thin tissues forming the outer layer of the body's surface and lining hollow structures such as the alimentary canal.) 

And there is no scientific evidence to support the effects of an alkaline diet. This is because food can’t substantially change bodily pH, said Caballero. "The rationale for the alkaline diet goes against all known facts about food, digestion, metabolism, acid-base physiology, renal function, and pathophysiology."

The body regulates acid-base balance on its own. "Blood pH is one of the most tightly regulated variables in the body," Caballero said, maintaining a slightly alkaline pH of about 7.36 to 7.44. 

"We don’t tolerate large fluctuations, so our system prevents them with very strong controls," said Caballero. "Blood pH outside of the normal range usually means there is a disease process going on." 

Our kidneys and lungs work hard to keep blood pH within a narrow range. "By altering respiration rate, we can eliminate more CO2 and restore the acid-base equilibrium," Caballero said. "And the kidneys can produce urine with variable pH, getting rid of alkaline or acid molecules as needed."

Digestion won’t allow wild pH swings, either, Caballero said; our stomachs contain very strong hydrochloric acid (pH ~ 2) essential for digesting large molecules in food. 

"By the time any food you eat reaches the stomach, its pH is determined by the stomach acidity, not by the original food’s pH," he said. And once the food has been digested into smaller molecules like amino acids, fats, and carbohydrates, "the original pH of foods is totally irrelevant." 

Moreover, "diseases caused by foods are surprisingly rare," said Caballero. Some people are born unable to digest certain foods, have food allergies, or require specific therapeutic diets. "But these restrictions are not because of the food itself but because of the disease." 

Bowman’s diet does promote plant-based eating and consuming fewer processed foods, which can benefit the body. However, Medical News Today warns that the diet’s prohibition of beans, lentils and meat can make it challenging for followers to consume the protein and vitamins their bodies need.

Our ruling

Bowman’s claim that rice and beans, milk, cheese, butter and eggs cause disease and his alkaline diet and theory of what causes illness are not supported by scientific evidence. 

We also found no evidence that the foods enumerated in the video, if eaten in moderation, regularly cause disease in young people. 

We rate this claim Pants On Fire!

Our Sources

Facebook video (archived), July 27, 2022

TikTok video (archived), Dec. 14, 2021

Email interview with Dr. Scott Kahan, M.D. Ph.D., Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, Aug. 3, 2022

Email interview with Dr. Benjamin Caballero, M.D. Ph.D., Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Aug. 4, 2022

McGill University, "‘Dr.’ Sebi: What Do We Make of this Non-Doctor?" April 12, 2019

Healthline, "​​What Is the Dr. Sebi Alkaline Diet, and Is It Beneficial?" Dec. 16, 2021

Medical News Today, "What is the Dr. Sebi diet, and does it work?," Jan. 2, 2020

UC San Diego Health, "pHear pHactor: Debunking the Alkaline Diet," April 30, 2019

BMJ Open, "Systematic review of the association between dietary acid load, alkaline water and cancer," June 13, 2016

Health Feedback, "Excess mucus is a common symptom rather than cause of disease; soursop is not a cancer treatment," September 2, 2021

Science-Based Medicine, "Alkaline Water Surges Despite Lack of Evidence," October 31, 2018

Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, "Acid-Base Homeostasis," Dec. 7, 2015

WebMD, "Alkaline Diet Plan Review: Does It Work?" July 28, 2020

WebMD, "Health Benefits of Rice," Sept. 18, 2020

WebMD, "Beans: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, Preparation Information, and More," Aug. 24, 2020

WebMD, "Eggs: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, Preparation Information, and More," Sept. 8, 2020

WebMD, "What Milk Can Do for You," accessed Aug. 5, 2022

WebMD, "Cheese: Are There Health Benefits?" Dec. 13, 2020

WebMD, "Butter: Are There Health Benefits?" Nov. 23, 2020

USA Today, "Fact check: Mucus is a symptom of several diseases, not the cause," Oct. 15, 2021

The Telegraph, "Alfredo Bowman, celebrity herbalist – obituary," (archived,) Aug. 23, 2016

The New York Times, "Singer at the End of Time: The Video Diary of Lisa Lopes," May 19, 2007

BET, "Dr. Sebi's Family Addresses Nipsey Hussle Conspiracy Theory And Nick Cannon Completing Documentary," July 25, 2019

Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food, accessed Aug. 4, 2022

Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food, "Alfredo Bowman | About Dr. Sebi," accessed Aug. 4, 2022

Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food, "Nutritional Guide," accessed Aug. 4, 2022

Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food, "Method," accessed Aug. 4, 2022

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