You may have heard of the importance of an alkaline diet. It can help reduce acidity in the body and prevent bone demineralization, kidney stones, back pain, muscle wasting, hypertension, stroke, cancer, asthma and exercise-induced asthma. The foods you eat profoundly affect how acidic or alkaline you are, and thus your health.
Let’s begin with some chemistry… pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is. On a scale of 0 to 14, a pH of 0 is totally acidic, 14 is totally alkaline, and 7 is neutral. Blood is slightly alkaline at between 7.35 and 7.45. The kidneys and respiratory system tightly control blood pH with little room for variation. Your stomach is very acidic at 3.5 or below. This acidity is necessary to break down food and protect you from harmful bacteria and other organisms. Your urine pH changes depending on what you eat.
The nutrients in food have either an acidic or alkaline effect on the blood. Fish, meat, cheese, eggs, legumes and grains are considered acid forming, while fruits, vegetables, and mineral soda waters are considered alkalinizing. All junk foods, sodas, and processed foods are considered acid forming, and should be avoided. Note that just because a food is acidic itself doesn't mean that it will be acid forming in the body and vice versa with more alkaline foods. For instance, although lemon and raw apple cider vinegar are acidic they are alkalinizing in the body.
Acid and alkaline imbalances
When the body’s pH gets out of balance, health issues can arise:
Acidosis (too acidic)
In acidosis, the enzyme systems of the body run on high speed, forcing the adrenal glands into overdrive. Symptoms include:
- Feeling fast and racy
- Being physically tired but mentally wired
Alkalosis (too alkaline)
While acidosis is more talked about, one can become too alkaline. In alkalosis, the enzyme systems of the body run below par, reducing blood pressure and pulse, contributing to:
- Low thyroid activity
- Low stomach acid (digestive issues)
- Sluggishness and slowness
- Fertility issues
So, what’s for dinner when you want to reduce acidity?
There is little question that the mainstream western diet imposes a high acidic load on the body. You might think the fix would be to eliminate all acidic foods. Instead, increasing the ratio of alkaline foods to acidic foods is what makes the most sense. It's all about balance. An added benefit; this reduces the total number of calories consumed.
When you consider that many classically acid forming foods have important vitamins, fats, minerals, and other nutrients, it makes sense to find a reasonable place for them in the diet. Remember, the acidic foods you consume should be nutrient-dense, quality foods, not a binge in the chip aisle! Instead, focus on a plant-based diet that is made up primarily of vegetables, fruits in moderation, and enough protein and healthy fat to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable.
Increased fruits and vegetables in an alkaline diet improve the sodium/potassium ratio, which can benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, as well as mitigate other chronic diseases such as hypertension, strokes and cancer. On the other hand, an overly acidic diet (such as too much meat and not enough veggies) can reduce bone density. In fact, in a recent study of 136 trials that examined the effects of dietary calcium (mainly from dairy) on fracture risk in osteoporosis, two-thirds of the trials showed that a high calcium intake does not reduce the number of fractures. Meanwhile, it was found that eating fruits and vegetables improved bone density in an amazing 85 percent of studies that looked at the effects of such foods.
A more alkaline diet can also increase growth hormone, which may improve cardiovascular health and memory and cognition.
Based on the alkaline/acidic nature of foods, scientists have created a way to rate foods called the Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) score. But take note: becoming too concerned with pH and doing constant measuring of urine pH (the most accessible form of testing) will likely cause more stress than good; it’s balancing the big picture that matters!
The acid-alkaline diet is about balance
Food isn't the only thing that affects pH in the body; stress also plays a big part. Stress causes us to breathe shallowly, creating a buildup of highly acidic carbon dioxide, which is acidifying. Therefore, it's important to utilize positive stress reduction methods to help manage your body’s acidic load.
Alkalinizing lifestyle tips
- Engage in regular, weight-bearing exercise.
- Eat a diet strong in alkalizing vegetables and fruits.
- Use positive stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, laughter, qigong, and walking.
- Deep breathing reduces stress and increases the rate at which carbon dioxide is released from the body, reducing acidity.
- Go Organic: pesticides are acid-forming.
- Make the change gradually: If you think a quick switch will be stressful or set you up for failure bingeing, make the transition slowly over a matter of weeks.
- Adequate dietary Vitamin D levels may help with absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate, which can help with acid/alkaline balance. Most populations in northern climates are deficient in vitamin D, so getting tested may be a good idea for you.
Remember, the big picture is what matters; balancing diet, exercise, and lifestyle will provide you with the best tools for maintaining a healthy pH balance in your body.