by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
- Testing your pH
- Acid forming foods and drinks
- Advantages of an Alkaline diet
- Disadvantages of an Alkaline diet
- Case study link
It has been said many times that disease and health imbalances cannot take root in a body with a balanced pH. But what is pH? pH is short for the ‘potential of hydrogen’. In the case of our body’s pH, we are talking about how acidic or how alkaline our body fluids or cells/tissues are.
pH is measured on a scale from 0 to 14. The more acidic a solution is, the lower the number of pH, or closer to 0. The more alkaline, the higher the number is, the closer to 14. A pH of 7 is in the middle of the range and called neutral, but the optimal pH of most of our body should be around 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. Our body’s pH can vary in different areas, with the stomach being the most acidic at around pH3.5.
Human life requires a very tightly controlled pH level of the blood of about 7.35–7.45 and our body will do almost anything to stay at this level to maintain life. Our body knows it can rob calcium (an alkaline mineral) from other parts of our body such as our bones to keep the blood at a safe pH range.
An acidic diet causes the body to release calcium from our bones as needed, potentially triggering osteoporosis.
An alkaline diet is one that helps to balance the pH level of your body.
Over the years, since the agricultural revolution, our diets have changed to be more about grains and processed foods than the traditional diets of meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables and some fruits. With this change, we are now eating significantly less potassium and magnesium (alkaline minerals) along with consuming more sodium compared to diets of the past.
Normally, the kidneys maintain our mineral electrolyte levels. These are calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. When we’re exposed to overly acidic substances, these electrolytes are used to combat acidity, but when these resources get low the body breaks down bone and other tissue to get what it needs to maintain homeostasis (balance). These days most diets are also low in antioxidants, fibre and essential vitamins as well as often being quite high in refined fats, simple sugars, sodium and chloride.
High degrees of acidity force our bodies to rob minerals from the bones, cells, organs and tissues, which causes gradual loss of organ functions, degenerates tissue and bone mass, and accelerates the aging process.
Testing your pH
Some people like to monitor the pH of their body by testing the pH of urine or saliva with tests strips you can buy from your local health food store or chemist. Choose one body fluid and be consistent, but whatever you chose to test, the ideal pH of urine or saliva is between 6.8 and 7.2 an hour before or two hours after a meal. If your number is lower than 6.8 (say 6.2), for every decimal point below the ideal you are effectively one hundred (100) times more acidic that you should be. If your number is greater than 7.2, you are either too alkaline or you may have recently consumed an alkalising mineral supplement or ‘green juice’ recently.
- Poor chewing and eating habits. Chewing releases digestive enzymes and digestive acids needed to break down food, otherwise our body must become more acidic to compensate and break down the food after the food has left the stomach. The upper digestive system needs to be acidic, but not the rest of the body.
- Chronic stress is very acidic on the body, which is why some people get ulcerations.
- Alcohol and drug use are acidic to the body
- If you need antibiotics, use them but then have an alkalising diet and probiotics to replace and repair the damage done.
- Declining nutrient levels in foods due to industrial farming
- Low levels of fibre in the diet stagnates food waste departure and creates an acidic environment in the colon
- Lack of exercise. Stagnation creates acidity and movement clears stagnation
- Hormones from foods, health and beauty products, and plastics
- Exposure to chemicals from household cleansers, and radiation from microwaves, computers and mobile cell phones
- Over-exercise (lactic acid in muscles)
- Pesticides, herbicides and any chemical on our food and in our body
- Pollution is extremely acidic. If you find yourself exposed to pollution, then some green smoothies may help to rebalance your pH plus an alkaline diet.
- Shallow breathing. Breathing gives us oxygen which is alkalising to the body but if we shallow breathe then we have more carbon dioxide in our body which is acidic.
Acid forming foods and drinks:
- Processed and refined foods are all acidic to the body. Processed foods contain lots of sodium chloride (table salt) which can constrict blood vessels and create acidity.
- High caffeine intake from caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, soft-drinks/sodas) or food. Any caffeine intake is acidic
- Cold cuts and processed meats
- Excess animal meats in the diet, especially if grain-fed. Eating too many animal sources of protein in general can contribute to acidity, not alkalinity. Beef, pork, chicken, cold cuts and shellfish can contribute to sulphuric acid build-up in the blood as amino acids are broken down. Try to obtain the best quality animal products you can (pasture raised, organic) and vary your intake of protein foods to best balance your pH level. Plant proteins are less acidic to the body.
- Food colouring, preservatives and any additives are unnatural and acid forming in the body
- Artificial sweeteners and sweeteners of any kind (except whole fruit) are acidic in the body
- Processed packet breakfast cereals
- Eggs, however small quantities of pasture raised organic eggs can be OK
- Legumes such as lentils and chickpeas that are soaked, sprouted and then well cooked are less acidic than straight cooked legumes
- Pasta, rice, bread and packaged grain products
- All grains, whole or not, create acidity in the body
- Dairy products are acidic. Some research shows that populations which consume lots of dairy products have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis. That’s because dairy foods create acidity in the body. When any part of your body becomes too acidic, your body will steal calcium (a more alkaline substance) from the bones to try to balance out the pH level. The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to eat lots of alkaline green leafy veggies that also contain calcium in a more bio-available (absorbable) form.
- Peanuts and walnuts are more acidic than other nuts. Almonds are the only alkalising nut if eaten in moderation and preferably soaked. Soaking removes the enzyme inhibitors which are intended to stop the nut from germinating too early. Enzyme inhibitors inhibit your digestive enzymes and make nuts difficult to digest unless they are first soaked, or roasted. Soaked almonds are healthier than oven roasted. You can re-dry soaked nuts in a dehydrator or very low oven to get the crunch back but they don’t last as long, so keep batches limited to last no more than a week. Or eat them soaked (and rinsed) and they taste like coconut flesh.
Whenever possible, try to buy organic foods. Even a food that is considered ‘acidic’ such as meat, is likely to be more alkaline when pasture fed and organic, rather than grain fed animals that are considered very acid forming when eaten.
Another reason for eating organic and spray free foods is that the soil used for growing food this way is more mineral dense which tends to be more alkalising in your body.
The types of soils for growing plants can significantly influence the vitamin and mineral content of our foods.
pH not only affects our body but also that of soil. For instance, the best overall availability of essential nutrients in plants is between a pH of 6 and 7. If soil pH is below 6 then there will be reduced calcium and magnesium available to the plant and hence to us. Soil above a pH of 7 may result in bio-chemically unavailable iron, manganese, copper and zinc. Soil that is well-rotated, organically sustained and exposed to wildlife or grazing animals tends to be the healthiest.
Advantages of an Alkaline Diet
Healthy bones and muscles
Most minerals (except sodium-salt) are alkalising and so your mineral intake via fruits and vegetables plays an important role in the development and maintenance of bone structures. Research shows that the more alkalizing fruits and vegetables you eat, the better protection you will have from decreased bone strength and muscle wasting as you age. Alkaline diets help to promote the production of growth hormones and also vitamin D absorption, which also helps to protect your bones.
Prevents magnesium deficiency
An alkaline diet has been shown to increase magnesium in the body, as you can only get magnesium in its natural state from vegetables. Magnesium is required for the function of hundreds of enzyme systems and bodily processes. Without adequate levels of magnesium, many experience heart complications, muscle pains, headaches, sleep troubles and anxiety. Magnesium is also used to activate vitamin D, which is important for overall immune and endocrine functioning.
Lowers inflammation and pain
Chronic acidosis has been found to contribute to chronic back pain, headaches, inflammation, joint pain, muscle spasms and menstrual symptoms. An alkaline diet can reduce pain and inflammation.
Healthy vascular system
Because an alkaline diet reduces inflammation and increases growth hormone production, this can also help protect against cardiovascular problems such as cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke.
Healthy immune function
When cells lack enough alkaline minerals to clear waste or fully oxygenate the body, then the whole body suffers. Vitamin absorption is compromised by low minerals; consequently, toxins and pathogens accumulate which weakens the immune system and increases our risk of cancer. Being on the slightly alkaline side can help reduce inflammation and the risk for cancer. An alkaline diet has been shown to be more beneficial for some chemotherapeutic agents that require a higher pH to function appropriately.
An alkaline diet is usually loaded with fibre to help satisfy hunger. Also, by avoiding many acid-forming foods, you reduce inflammation, which makes your body store fat. By reducing inflammation with an alkaline diet, you will most likely store less fat.
Disadvantages of an alkaline diet
Because an alkaline diet does not include grains, dairy, gluten, sugar or much in the way of meats, poultry or fish (small amounts are considered ok) then this does limit what you can eat.
But if you use the alkaline diet to help support any health conditions (along with your practitioner’s support) then you may find that the re-introduction of some of these foods in small amounts could be fine for you.
Case study link
Click to read the case study: Alkaline diet helps clear up Vaginitis and Cervicitis
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Fresh fruit and vegetables promote alkalinity the most. Some of the top picks include mushrooms, citrus, dates, raisins, avocado, alfalfa, spinach, grapefruit, tomatoes, black radish, cucumber, kale, broccoli, oregano, garlic, ginger, green beans, endive, cabbage, celery, red beetroot (beets), watermelon, figs and ripe bananas.
Ideally try to consume a good portion of your produce raw as it has more enzymes and the vital nutrients won’t have been cooked out of them. Cooking foods depletes alkalizing nutrients. If you want to cook your produce, then lightly steaming or a light stir-fry are the best options. There are certain nutrients, such as the minerals, that can handle heat, so slow cooking of a hearty winter stew, soup or broth can still give you many alkalising minerals. Variety between raw and cooked is great.
Plants are definitely more alkalising than animal proteins. Almonds are the most alkaline of the nuts, but other nuts and seeds that have been soaked and sprouted are still quite alkalising to the body. Navy beans, lima beans and most other beans are good choices, but need to be soaked overnight and rinsed before cooking.
If you like to eat animal proteins but want to keep your body slightly alkaline, then it’s important to eat pasture raised or organic meats which are less acidic than their grain fed cousins. Eat small amounts as they are still somewhat acidic to your body, and are usually more expensive.
Alkaline water usually has a pH of around 9 to 11. Distilled water is fine to drink, but check the pH. Water filtered with a reverse osmosis filter is slightly acidic, but is still a far better option than tap water or purified bottled water, which is often quite acidic. Adding lemon or lime juice to your water can boost its alkalinity. Ironically, lemons and limes are acidic, but they have an alkalising effect on your body.
Drinks made from blended green vegetables, alfalfa or Spirulina and chlorella algae, are all loaded with alkaline-forming properties and are rich in chlorophyll, which is highly alkalising for your body.
Chlorophyll’s chemical structure is so similar to our blood that I have recommended it many times for clients who need more iron but are vegetarian (iron is found rich in meats). Chlorophyll also contains good amounts of magnesium, a potent alkalising mineral needed for many functions in our body. Magnesium is one of the most deficient minerals in society.
Note: Cravings in a clean body are a sign from your body telling you what to eat to get specific nutrients. The words ‘clean body’ refers to one where no toxic and acidic foods have been consumed for at least three weeks. Before that time, the body may crave the very things it should not have, purely from withdrawing from that substance.
For example, when I gave up eating sugar and chocolate, my body craved it daily for about three days, but it was definitely not what my body truly needed, but was instead a chemical withdrawal, not much different to the withdrawal of any drug.