The subject of pH balance (acid/alkaline) is one that is confusing for most people. It’s one I get questions about all the time. This concept originated in the east and was known as Yin and Yang. This way of eating (and in fact way of life; which resonates with me) stresses the need for balance when eating from all food groups however noting that disease was preventable through eating a slightly more alkaline diet.
You may be familiar with George Ohsawa who popularized the Macrobiotic Diet in the 1960′s. I remember (yes I am that old!) when this diet was first introduced here in the states it was very popular among us “hippy” types! While the macrobiotic diet does include grains, beans and legumes which is in contrast to Paleo guidelines, it also encourages high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts seeds and pasture or wild caught animal products; naturally fermented foods and strictly forbids sugar in all it’s forms. So in this regard it was a step in the right direction away from our SAD diet. But I digress…
Most western approaches have strayed significantly from the original meaning of Yin and Yang as balancing properties of health. The western interpretation of eating acid and alkalizing foods has been focused on acidic foods being disease promoting and alkalizing foods being disease preventing – which is only partially correct.
By definition a body fluid pH of 7.0 is neutral; below 7.0 is acidic and above 7.0 is alkaline. The preference is to maintain a fluid pH (intra-cellular and extra-cellular fluids) of 7.3 or 7.3 – slightly alkaline.
Western acid/alkaline pH balance diets focus on:
- Eating 80% of food from the alkaline foods list and 20% from the acid foods list to help reduce excess acid formation in the body fluids
- the need for frequent detoxification
- using alkalizing supplements to help the body replenish excess acid.
Western theories categorize foods based on whether a food is acid or alkaline forming or whether the food itself has acidic or alkaline properties.
Whether a food is acid or alkaline forming is determined by burning the food to ash, adding water to make a solution and testing that solution to see where it falls on the scale relative to its reaction to other tested foods.
Very basically, those foods that produce more acidic residues have come to be deemed potentially harmful and disease producing while those that are alkaline are deemed more potentially health promoting. Taking this approach is an incomplete and incorrect of ascertaining which foods are supportive and which foods are un-supportive.
The original Yin / Yang list has been modified according to which author you read. Thus the measurement and methodology used to determine what constitutes an acid vs. an alkaline food comes into play. If you Google Acid & Alkaline you will get many different lists that have specific foods in one category or the other and explanations on how they categorize the. All of this can become very confusing for most of us.
Unfortunately too many people get so focused on the lists of acid and alkaline foods that they lose sight of the fact the body is in a state of constantly going from acidic to alkalizing and back as a necessary and natural process of digestion of food. And this drive me a bit crazy!
The middle ground approach to pH balance
One of the ways I evaluate a nutritional theory is to see how much of the theory is collaborated by scientific evidence and what reputable health professionals that I agree with endorse. Using this method helps me decide what protocols make sense to use in my practice to help my patients.
Normalizing acid-alkaline balance in the blood should not be the only basis for working out a suitable diet for several reasons. First, many diets that have been found to be historically, very healthful are comprised of primarily acidic forming foods like eggs, seafood and meat in cultures of the Eskimo and other tribal peoples and beans and legumes and even grains in many Mediterranean cultures.
Second, the amount of enzymes, bile and other metabolites a person’s body manufactures to breakdown nutrients is affected by many other factors besides blood pH. A person’s genetic code (epigenetics), and ability to cope with stress, exercise level as well as numerous other factors influence health.
And third, we need to remember that a key driver in unhealthy pH in our bodies is really due to poor quality, processed foods devoid of nutrients the body can actually breakdown, absorb and use.
What’s clear to me from all of the acid alkaline theories is that different people metabolize and thus burn calories at different rates. This is determined by many overlapping metabolic processes to be sure. Finding the proper balance for each individual involves evaluating many factors in addition to diet; such as those mentioned and includes the current/past stress level, past traumas and exercise habits of the individual. Simply eating non-acid foods would lead to significant nutritional imbalances and be detrimental to health. A good place to start is by eating closer to our ancestral backgrounds and seasonally according to the climate we live in.
Weight Loss, Acid Reflux and Cardiovascular disease
Naturally grown and freshly harvested raw foods contain vast amounts of nutrients, minerals and live enzymes. This is why I encourage all my patients to eat raw foods each day, preferably with every meal. For those looking to lose weight raw foods are very figure friendly. Eating raw foods helps improve body mass index. All raw foods contain minerals that assist in utilization of nutrients and enzymes that breakdown food that we use for energy. If minerals (which are naturally alkalizing) are low in your diet acidic wastes cannot get neutralized. Some wastes get stored a fat and some gets stored as cholesterol and lactic acid. This also increases acid levels in the blood and lymph which makes the body more susceptible to weight gain. As blood becomes overloaded with circulating wastes it clogs up the organs, slows down metabolism so less fuel (calories) are burned. All of this result in weight gain.
Acid Reflux is another condition that can be improved by our understanding of the body cycle of acidifying and alkalizing. Proper digestion depends upon alternating actions of alkaline digestive juices that split up food molecules. For example; the enzyme ptyalin (in the mouth) breaks down starch while other acidic gastric juices, such as pepsin break down protein in the stomach. Alkaline pancreatic enzymes digest protein and alkaline bile emulsifies fats and oils in the small intestine. Acidic flora continues the digestion of protein in the stomach and small intestine. Acid reflux can disrupt this sequence by altering the pH factor in the stomach and small intestine. Eliminating acid forming foods such as tea, coffee, orange juice, tomatoes, garlic and onions is the first step. Beyond this we can help re-set the pH by adding alkalizing foods such as potatoes, celery and leafy greens. You can make a potato skin “broth” that is very alkalizing. Other alkalizing foods are green foods such as chlorella and Spirulina.
Cardiovascular disease is driven by inflammation inside the walls and veins and arteries. Current research suggests that inflammation of the heart can be caused by bacteria induced infections. This correlates with the concept of increasing acidity of the blood flowing through the veins and arteries damaging the heart. Remember bacteria and viruses live off dead organisms so any fermenting or undigested food left in side of us increases likelihood of inflammation and disease. In addition to adding digestive enzymes and pro-biotic supplements specific nutrients are also needed. Some nutrients that help alkalize that are recommended for CVD include magnesium, vitamin C, E, B6, B12, folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Hawthorn berry is a herb that has recently shown good results for those with CVD. It lowers blood pressure by dilating the peripheral blood vessels. The amino acid Taurine is also used in Japan to treat congestive heart failure.