There are a lot of fad diets out there. Often, they claim to be the ultimate healing regime. They will cure you of disease or cancer, melt the extra pounds right off your midriff, or make you look ten years younger. As soon as I start reading something that tells me that once I perform one special routine or purchase certain brands, I will start feeling amazing and all my health problems will go away, I move on. Some of these schemes have some great things to offer, but I am skeptical of their good intentions.
A couple of years ago an obnoxious website completely turned off any interest I had in the Alkaline Diet. Thankfully, I began studying more about the pH balance of foods in one of my nutrition classes, and, while I admit I was rather skeptical at first, what I have learned just might have changed my mind.
What Is pH Balance?
According to Dr Susan Brown (2006) the term pH was originally defined in 1909 by the awesomely named Soren Peter Lauritz Sorensen, a danish biochemist.
Literally meaning “potential for hydrogen”, pH is used to indicate the concentration of hydrogen ions in a fluid. Since dissolved acids are what produce hydrogen ions, we know that the more hydrogen ions there are present, the more acidic the solution will be. Therefore, by showing the concentration of hydrogen ions, pH also indicates whether a fluid or compound is acidic, alkaline, or neutral.
The Acid Alkaline Food Guide, Page 10
In other words, the acid/alkaline status of a substance is determined by the density of its hydrogen ion population. Dr Brown, in the her book The Acid Alkaline Food Guide, explains that, by definition, an acid is a substance that gives off hydrogen ions, while its opposite, a base (also known as alkali), is a substance that accepts hydrogen ions.
While we need a certain amount of ionic hydrogen in our body for proper health, an overabundance of unstable hydrogen ions can cause serious disruptions to our normal bodily functions.
All acids in the body contain hydrogen ions in varying concentrations, with stronger acids having a greater concentration of hydrogen ions than weaker acids.The hydrogen ion is unstable and very reactive. Specifically, it seeks to react with a negatively charged molecule. So hydrogen ions can be thought of as “hiding” in the body’s water molecules, ready to react with other molecules. These hydrogen ions, once they become attached to various proteins, alter a protein’s structure, or “denature” it.
The Acid Alkaline Diet, Page 14
The pH balance of our body is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, 7 being neutral, 7 being alkaline. The higher the hydrogen concentration, the more acidic a substance will become. According to Dr Brown, the human body stays at a stable alkaline 7.365 – 7.45 – not a broad spectrum. Significant shifts from this numbers are life threatening; in fact, the body strives very hard to maintain this balance unless there are foreign viruses or cancerous cells attacking it.
Modern medicine has suggested that what we ingest can’t significantly alter the acidity or the alkalinity of our bloodstream.
The body has a complex system that makes sure the blood stays in its healthy, slightly alkaline range. If blood becomes too acidic or too alkaline, the body automatically corrects this on its own. You blood may become slightly more acid or alkaline after eating certain foods – but it will stay within the healthy rage without a special diet. (Source)
While the modern diet has become more acidic than ever before, our bodies faithfully maintain their blood stream’s normal pH range.
So What’s The Big Deal?
The news here isn’t all that comforting though. Our bodies may naturally work maintain a stable pH – and keep us alive doing so – but if we don’t give our bodies what they need to maintain this balance in a healthy fashion, we pay the price in other ways. How? Our blood achieves this balance by robbing our organs, glands, tissues and bones of important minerals.
Calcium in the form of phosphates and carbonates represents a large reservoir of base in our body. In response to an acid load such as the modern diet these salts are released into the systemic circulation to bring the pH homeostasis. It has been estimated that the quantity of calcium lost in the urine with the modern diet over time could be as high as almost 480 gm over 20 years or almost half the skeletal mass of calcium. Source
Our kidneys are one of the main cleansing portals that help flush excess acid from our blood stream.
The kidneys help regulate acid – alkaline balance of the bloodstream by eliminating solid acids, also known as fixed acids – especially sulfuric and uric acid – through urination. When the levels of such acids become excessive, the kidneys excrete increased levels of hydrogen ions. This process acts as a filtering mechanism that dilutes the acids and moves them out of the bloodstream to be eliminated by the urine. In its excretion of acids, the kidneys utilize various alkali reserve compounds, and if these are not available from the diet, the body calls upon alkali reserves stored in the watery layer around the bone and the bone itself. At times, even the muscles are affected as muscle tissue is broken down to release an alkalizing amino acid called glutamine, which is used by the body in its pH recovery-rescue processes. Page 16, The Acid Alkaline Diet
In fact, if acid wastes can not be eliminated, they get reabsorbed, re-filtered through the liver, and released into circulation, which facilitates free radicals and various bacteria. This acid waste is caused by overly acidic food, like processed snacks, sugar, pasteurized dairy, and CAFO meat.
One 12 oz can of cola contains enough phosphoric acid to dramatically change our pH. The pH of the cola is between 2.8 and 3.2, but the kidneys cannot excrete urine that is more acidic than about 5.0; in order to dilute this can of cola to an appropriate urinary pH, you’d need to produce 33 liters of urine! So the body turn to its store of alkalizing minerals. If there aren’t enough reserves of potassium and magnesium in the extracellular fluid, the calcium will be taken from the bone. The amount of minerals needed for this particular task is equivalent to the buffering capability of four Tums!
Liz Lipski, Digestive Wellness, Page 181
Some of the symptoms of acidosis are:
- impaired celular function
- weight gain
- diminished immunity
- premature aging
- muscle loss
- anxiety and irritability
Even some nutritionally valid foods – like fresh meat, raw dairy, pastured eggs, and well, quite a lot of foods – are very acidic. In other words, even nourishing, natural foods can contribute to the bone-sucking acidity of your body’s pH.
IF you don’t eat a balanced diet.
Then What Should We Eat?
This does not mean you should renounce meat, cheese, eggs, and become a vegetarian. This is the mistake I see frequently made by proponents of alkaline diets.While meat, eggs, and cheese are acidic, they are also incredibly upbuilding and nourishing for the body. These foods help build new cells and support your system under stress and chronic illness, growth, pregnancy, intense physical activity, etc. They are not to be confused with depleting acidic foods like sugar, factory farmed meat, or pasteurized dairy. In other words, these foods can be acidic, but you also need them to stay healthy.
The key is to eat enough alkaline foods to keep your pH balanced, while you eat the those other nourishing – if acidic – foods.
Alkaline foods are very soothing and detoxifying for the body. They have a high water content, and we typically consume them raw. Alkaline foods clear up acid wastes, toxins, and free radicals.
It is essential that our foods contain buffering minerals to offset this naturally acidic internal state. Fruit, vegetables, seaweed, and some other foods help alkalize our systems – but we don’t usually eat enough of these. Liz Lipski, Digestive Wellness, page 180
We need both alkaline and acidic foods in order to achieve balance and health. Too much acidic food will cause inflammation, osteoporosis, (source), free radicals, colon cancer, and more. Too much alkaline food can cause a depressed immune system, undernourishment, vitamin B complex and D deficiency, and anemia.
Here are a few examples of acidic foods and alkaline foods:
|Healthy Acidic Foods||Healthy Alkaline Foods|
|Farm fresh meat||Lemons, limes and other acidic-tasting fruit|
|Raw dairy||Sea vegetables|
|Sprouted Grains||Sweet potatoes|
|Wild Salmon||Sprouted seeds and nuts|
|Olives||Onions and garlic|
While eating fat and protein on a daily basis is important, it is equally important to pair it with alkaline foods like fresh and fermented veggies, fruit, and drinks like lemon water, kombucha, broths, herbal teas, and fresh squeezed vegetable juice.
If one meal takes a more acidic direction (over 50% fat/protein) try to go more than 50% alkaline for your next meal. Just paying attention to some simple proportions and using a little moderation may be all it takes reverse your body’s acidity and prevent a myriad of serious health problems.
Bartholomy, P. (2013), Food Characteristics, Hawthorn University, Audio Lecture, retrieved from https://student.hawthornuniversity.org/Course_AudioLecture
Brown S, and Trivieri L. (2006) The Acid Alkaline Food Guide (1st edition)
Lipski L, (2012) Digestive Wellness ( 4th edition)
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